The Masai are cattle herders living in the East African rift valley: they grow no crops and are proud of being a non-agricultural people. Cattle are the all-important source of wealth and social status, and Masai love their cattle, composing poems to them. However, it is the men who have exclusive control over rights to cattle, and women are dependent, throughout their lives, on a man – father, husband or son – for rights of access to property. A woman’s status as ‘daughter’, ‘wife’ or ‘mother’ is therefore crucial and this film examines with depth and sensitivity the social construction of womanhood in Masai society, concentrating upon women’s attitudes to their own lives. The film details a series of events in women’s lives, from their circumcision ceremonies which mark their transition from girlhood to womanhood, to the moment when they proudly watch their sons make the transition to elderhood in the eunoto ceremony. This is one of the most admired of the Disappearing World films, not least because of the skill and sensitivity with which these non-literate Masai women are interviewed; the lucidity of their replies provides insights into what it is to be a Masai woman, in a manner which enriches the visual material. The commentary spoken by the anthropologist is detailed without overburdening the image, and the subtitled translations of women’s songs – which express their desire for children and the love they feel for their moran – contribute to making this one of the high points of the series.
T. O. Beidelman, 1976. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 78, pp. 958–959.
P. Spencer, 1975. Review of the film. RAIN, 6, pp. 10–11 (title given as ‘The Masai; see also letter by M. Llewelyn-Davies in RAIN, 8, p.16)
Language and subtitles
English with English Subtitles
Gender Role and IdentitySocial ChangeRitualSocial OrganisationNomads and NomadismHerding