photograph by Jandries Groenendijk

Here are some chapters from the book in English.




(Toya, a former Maasai warrior, recalls the three day ceremony during which he and 2000 other Maasai warriors were initiated into a new age group. This ceremony is also on the DVD)


We left with a small group of warriors for the valley where the ceremony would take place. As we got closer we met more and more other warriors. Some of them we knew, others I had never met before. When I got to the top of the hill and saw the valley below me, full of people, of cows, of dancing warriors, women in their best clothes and priests from all over Maasai land, I was overwhelmed by emotion. I felt myself grow, I realised I was not just one man, but part of a larger whole.
There was a big enclosure where rich Maasai had sent oxen to be slaughtered during the ceremonies. Fires were burning and big red flags were flying in the wind above the sacred huts. Everywhere I heard the battle cries of arriving warriors and the singing of women welcoming them. The atmosphere was very special, a feeling of expectation and excitement but also of enormous power. That old feeling the Maasai must have had in the past, when they were the lords of all East Africa and all other tribes took flight before them. It was a religious feeling, as if our God Engkai was very close that day.

The next morning the rituals began. That night we had hardly slept, because we were so excited. First the warriors formed a long line. Everyone was dressed in his best outfit and carried all his weapons. Everywhere I saw warriors with headdresses made from lion’s manes or ostrich feathers and for the first time, I saw men who had painted their faces half red and half white. Those are the ones that have killed a human enemy.
We began to dance, hundreds, thousands of warriors at the same time.  We formed battle formations and executed mock skirmishes. We were one, we sang with one voice and the sound rose up to the sky. Some warriors got into a trance. They shook and shivered, they screamed, they fell to the ground and foam came out of their mouths. Two of our group were touched by god in that way, we had to hold them down so they would not hurt themselves.

They brought a big black ox. There wasn’t a single spot on its skin. It was drunk on the honeybeer they had been giving it and it staggered around. Green leaves had been woven around its horns and it smelled of the sweet herbs they had been feeding it. The warriors grabbed the animal by the horns, wrestled it to the ground and wrapped a leather skin around its muzzle. It was slowly choked to death. It has to be done that way to keep the sacred breath inside it. The blood was tapped from its veins and collected in a flap of skin that had been cut loose. One by one we had to kneel and take a sip of the blood, that the priests had mixed with milk and special herbs. That way we sealed the unison of our age group. We had all drunk the blood of the same holy ox, we belonged together and it would stay that way until we died.
While the old men carefully began to skin the ox, the warriors left for the forest. There, at a special place the priests showed us, we hacked out lumps of white clay and softened it with the water streaming at our feet. We painted eachother with it, our arms, our legs, our faces. We no longer felt like individuals but like something different, something bigger and more important, we had forgotten who we were, everyone sang, danced and embraced eachother, we were one, the bravest generation of Maasai warriors that had ever existed.
Then we returned to the holy village. The girls were waiting for us there, they formed long lines and danced with us. They sang us songs, some in which they insulted us and said we wanted to stop being warriors because we had become old and cowardly, but in other songs they praised us because we were finally ready to start a home and a family.
When the dance was finished we filed past the priests who blessed us by spitting milk on our heads. Then it was time to eat meat and drink honey beer. We went on until we were so tired we fell asleep in the high grass and only the old men and the priests stayed awake.

On the second day they brought the skin of the holy ox that had been slaughtered the day before. The old men cut it into long strips, and the strips into short bits. A priest tied the short strips of leather around the ring finger of each of us. That is how we all got our rings of cowskin. The uncut hide symbolises the whole generation of warriors, which is undivided. The ring around the finger of each warrior means he is now an individual and must go his own way, but will always remain a part of his age group.
Yes, our Eunoto was a beautiful time. Only the third day was difficult. It was the day our mothers came to cut off our long dreadlocks. We had to sit down and the mothers stood behind us with razorblades. When I felt the razor on my head, I knew my life as a warrior was really over. My long locks, which were heavy with ochre and grease, fell to the ground. With each fallen lock I became a little less of a warrior. Now my youth was finally gone.
When everyone was shaven, the women came to grease our bald heads with cowfat and paint them red. Then the priests prayed with us and asked god that we should become responsible tribal elders with many children and lots of cattle.
At the end of that day everything was different. We were no longer warriors. I felt sad and lost. I think we all felt that way. Our thoughts went to the future and the life ahead of us. We would have to make a life of our own, find a wife, start a herd, build a house, we were going to have children.
The priests and the tribal elders spoke to us earnestly, they told us stories and gave us advice about the future. In the meantime, the women were packing up and saddling their donkeys. We said goodbye to our friends, some we had known for years and others we had just met. We were blessed for the final time by the priests. Then we took our things and left the holy village, some alone, some in small groups. Everyone was silent, different, changed for ever. Behind us the ceremonial huts were torched, for that is our tradition. The sky was full of fire and smoke. It was not only those huts that went up in flames, but my youth and my years as a warrior too.



(the author and his travelling companion Senteu are sitting by a small stream with Toya and Meromo, two Maasai herdsmen they have made friends with)

We sit down on the trunk of a fallen tree by the bank of a small stream. Toya gathers some dead wood and starts a fire. Meromo plants his spear in the ground and vanishes into the forest. He has promised to cut me a rungu, the cattle stick that all Maasai herdsmen use.
Toya calls something out to him in Maasai.
‘When he gets back you should ask Meromo about the day of his lion hunt,’ he says to us with a wink. 
‘He asked him why he did not bring his spear with him,’ Senteu translates for me. ‘In case he meets a lion.’
A few minutes later, Meromo reappears with a sturdy branch.
When we are settled around the fire and Meromo is carefully peeling the bark off the stick I ask him whether he saw any lions in the forest.
His face lights up.
‘Not today. But if I did meet one, I would know what to do,’ he says in an offhand manner.
‘How do you mean?’ Toya asks.
Meromo does not seem to notice his teasing tone of voice.
‘It was in my days as a warrior,’ Meromo begins. ‘Someone had spotted a lion and we had decide to track and kill it. I had been chosen to round up all the warriors at daybreak in their bush camps because I was the fastest runner.’
Toya winks at us but Meromo does not seem to notice.
‘I had tied an iron bell to my thigh to wake everyone up. That is our tradition. While I ran from camp to camp I sang the song of the warrior who is afraid of nothing.’
Meromo gets up and takes a deep breath. His eyes are glowing.

‘Bird of prey, friend that flies high
Meet me at the battlefield
In the land where the lion lives
For there you will find much food
If I will not be killed there
I will kill. You will feed
On my body or that of my enemy.

Meromo sits down again.
‘The warriors came together. Everyone was fully armed with spears, swords and shields.  Otherwise we were naked for a Maasai warrior knows no fear. Our skin shone with grease and red ochre, our hair was long and our knives glittered in the morning sun. There were about twenty of us, all young, strong and healthy. That day, Black Engkai was with us.’
(The Maasai recognise two aspects of their female god Engkai. Engkai Narok, the black god, is benevolent. She is present in the black clouds and the rain that they bring. Red Engkai, Engkai Nanyokie, is the lightning which strikes and kills cattle and people. She also stands for the season of drought that brings hunger and death.)
‘We discussed where we might find the lion and then we started off in a long line. I was one of the best runners and went ahead. Soon I was alone for I ran faster than the others. I ran and ran, I never tired until I saw the lion in the high grass. I stopped and cried “Eele!”. The warriors behind me took over my cry. When we had all gathered we crept closer. The lion had already heard and smelled us, of course, but it hid among the grasses, it pressed itself against the ground. Suddenly, when we were very close, it jumped up and ran.’
‘When a lion sees Maasai warriors, it always runs,’ Toya adds. ‘Normally it will turn around and fight but it knows that it has no chance against us.’
‘The lion wanted to escape,’ Meromo continues, ‘but we were faster and formed a large circle around it. We sang the songs our fathers had taught us, the words that every lion fears, and slowly closed in on him. It was a male, a large animal with black manes. I knew what he was going to do, every warrior knows that. He will attack the man who throws the first spear. The warrior who throws the first spear must call out his name and the name of his clan. That way, everyone knows who he is and he can claim the honor of the kill. If he lives, that is, for when he has speared the lion he must step out of the circle and draw his sword. The lion will run for him and that is the moment when the other warriors attack and throw their spears. If they do not manage to kill the lion right away the first warrior must kill it with his sword. In such a fight people often die.’
‘There is another possibility,’ Toya says. ‘If a warrior is very brave he will throw away his spear, step into the circle and grab the lion by the tail. Once he has grabbed it, all warriors attack at once.’
‘Anyway, we had circled the lion,’ Meromo continues impatiently. He has gotten up again. His knife and the half-peeled stick are lying on the ground, forgotten. ‘I thought of my ancestors and of eternal fame. I thought of the girl I loved and stepped forward while I called out my name and that of my clan. A few moments later the lion was dead on the ground, with twenty or more spears in its flanks and its belly.’
‘You are forgetting something,’ Toya interrupts.
Meromo continues without a reaction.
‘When we got back to the village everyone was waiting for us. The girls were wearing their best beads and dresses, the women had roasted meat and the old men arrived with gourds full of honey beer. The most beautiful girls danced with the warriors who had claimed the kill and adorned themselves with the manes and the claws of the lion. Everyone danced and sang and praised our immortal courage.’
‘So during the Eunoto ceremony you wore a lion’s mane?’, Senteu asks. ‘I was there but I never noticed that.’
Meromo suddenly sits down.
‘Meromo did not wear any headddress at his Eunoto,’ Toya says with a laugh.
During the Eunoto, a ceremony which marks the transition of a warrior to young elderhood, every warrior wears the symbol of his courage. Some have a headdress that is made from the manes of a lion. They are those (rare) warriors who threw the first spear and managed to kill the lion. Some wear a lion’s claw on their belt; it is awarded to the man who threw the second spear during the hunt.
At the Eunoto, there are more warriors who wear the signs of the ostrich or the buffalo, which are easier to kill. Other animals are not considered dangerous enough by the Maasai to be a trophy. Then there are those who have painted their faces half white and half red, a horrendous mask that signifies they have killed a human enemy.
‘I stumbled,’ Meromo says sadly. ‘I called out my name and stepped forward to throw the first spear but I fell.’
He picks up the branch again and starts whittling away furiously.  ‘He did try to catch an ostrich later’, Toya says with a grin, ‘but however fast he ran, the ostrich always ran faster.’
He throws some wood on the fire.
‘It does not matter. I haven’t even been on a lion hunt at all. Most warriors don’t get the chance nowadays. There are so few of them left.’
The number of lions in Kenya is declining steadily. According to the latest count there are only two thousand of them left, whereas there were still more than ten thousand in the nineties. One of the reasons is their shrinking habitat: farmers need more and more land for agriculture, so the lions move to the parks. But there, they are often caught and killed in traps that poachers have set for larger animals like elephants and rhinos. Also, a lot of lion cubs are smuggled to the west via the ports of Somalia. The poachers pull out the teeth and nails of the little animals to make it easier for the buyers to keep them as pets. Then there are the farmers whose cattle is eaten by lions. In revenge they often kill a sheep or a goat, poison the carcass and leave the lions who eat it to a slow and painful death. 
Toya puts his hand on Meromo’s shoulder.
‘At least our man here has been on a real lion hunt. He is the only one in our village. We do like to tease him a bit, but we are also very proud of him.’