Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Maasai, A Possible Injustice and the Connection to Paris

Full disclosure: I've stated right up front that I have kind of a soft spot for the Maasai and not just because they gave Charles, HRH Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland etc, etc., another title, but also because of what they did after the murderous events of September 11, 2001.

This post is a bit of advocacy on their behalf.

First up, the possible injustice. From the Thompson Reuters Foundation:

Maasai locked in Tanzania legal battle with US safari firm, land conflicts grow
NAIROBI, Nov 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Maasai herders used to fighting to survive on the savannah have moved to a new battleground - a Tanzanian court - in a case highlighting increasing conflict in Africa between traditional culture and foreigners investing in land.

The Maasai, a semi-nomadic people known for dressing in distinctive red blankets and colourful beads, say they are trying to reclaim 12,617 acres of grazing land in northern Tanzania from a U.S. safari company.

The row, dating back more than 30 years, is currently being fought out in the nation's courts and centres on the Maasai claim that land where they have herded cattle for generations was illegally sold without their knowledge.

The case comes at a time when rising numbers of large-scale land deals in Africa are pitting indigenous people against investors, with resource and tourism projects bringing money and jobs but campaigners fearing loss of land for marginalised communities....MORE
And the backstory:
A couple days before the tenth anniversary of the mass murders in New York, Washington and Shanksville we posted:

To the Maasai People: On The Anniversary of 9/11, Thanks For the Cows

There are groups of people I put in the mental filing cabinet with the label Bad Ass.

In "Just a Friendly Heads-up: Don't Mess With a Gurkha, They Think 1 on 40 is a Fair Fight"  I of course linked to the story of the Gurkha who decided to stop a gang rape.
He killed three, wounded eight and chased the other 29 off.
He had a knife against firearms.

That post also had my recollection of a conversation with an old Turkish dude. He told me that during the Korean war the Turks didn't think they were outnumbered by the Chinese until the odds got over
5 or 6 to 1.

Here's some commentary after one of their battles:
"The heroic soldiers of a heroic nation, you have saved the Eighth Army and the IX'th Army Corps from encirclement and the 2nd Division from destruction. I came here today to thank you on behalf of the United Nations Army."
- General Walton H. Walker, Commander, U.S. Eighth Army

"The Turks are the hero of heroes. There is no impossibility for the Turkish Brigade."
- General Douglas MacArthur - United Nations Forces Commander in Chief
You read that right. An American four-star said they had saved a freakin' division of the U.S. Army.
A five-star was a bit more flowery with his language.

In the same league are the Maasai folks of Kenya and northern Tanzania.
They live in some rugged spots and relate to their cows the way Plains Indians related to the Bison:
big critter = life.

They no longer make the boys prove their manhood by killing a lion but they do expect them to protect the cattle and, if the lion is hungry and the kid only has a spear, the old-timers figure it's a fair fight.
Serious bad ass.

Here's a story from 2002 via the New York Times:

Where 9/11 News Is Late, but Aid Is Swift

ENOOSAEN, Kenya, June 2 — Skyscrapers are a foreign concept to the Masai who live in this corner of Kenya, where the tallest things on the vast horizon are the acacia trees and giraffes that feed on them.

So when Kimeli Naiyomah returned recently to this tiny village from his studies in the United States, he found only the vaguest understanding among his fellow Masai of what had happened in that far-away place called New York on Sept. 11.

Some in this nomadic community of cattle raisers had missed the story entirely. "I never knew about Sept. 9," said William Oltetia, chief of the young warriors known here as morans, who was still confused as to the date. "I just never heard about it."

Most Masai had learned of the attacks from the radio soon after they occurred. But the horrible television images passed by many Masai, who got electricity in their village only shortly before the attacks. In the oral tradition they rely on, Mr. Naiyomah sat them down and told them stories that stunned them.

Through his tales, Sept. 11 became real. The Masai felt sadness. They felt relief that Mr. Naiyomah was unscathed. They wanted to do something.

Today, in a solemn ceremony in a grassy clearing, they did, blessing 14 cows being given to the people of the United States. Elders chanted in Maa as they walked around the cows, animals held sacred by the Masai (often spelled Maasai). After the blessing, the cows were handed over to William Brancick, the deputy chief of mission of the United States Embassy in Nairobi.

To reach Enoosaen, Mr. Brancick had flown to the Masai Mara Game Preserve, then driven two hours along the most rugged of roads. At the ceremony, he seemed tentative as he held a rope given to him by a Maasai elder that was attached to a rambunctious bull. He thanked the people who had given cows from their herds. But, he said, transporting them would be difficult so he will probably sell the cows and buy Masai jewelry to give to America.

Mr. Naiyomah, a student at Stanford University, helped to arrange the gift after seeing his people's reaction to his account. He used his connections to plan the roundup and contact embassy officials. His rise from Masai land to Palo Alto had enabled him to rub shoulders with everyone from President Daniel arap Moi to Chelsea Clinton, who met Mr. Naiyomah with her parents last year when she graduated from Stanford.

Mr. Naiyomah, who is taking pre-medical courses, is to graduate next spring. After medical school, he plans to return to his village.

He had been visiting Manhattan on Sept. 11 and came home last month with first-hand accounts of the horror of that faraway event. Now a young elder in the community, Mr. Naiyomah, 25, told the others of huge fires in buildings that stretched high into the clouds, and of men with special gear who entered the structures to save lives.

"They couldn't believe that people could jump from a building so high that they would die when they reached the ground," he said.

In the ceremony today, Mr. Brancick was given 14 cows, a sizable herd for the Masai.
"We're out with our cattle every day so we're not always up to date on the news," said Vincent Konchellah, 22, who donated one of his 12 cows. "We had heard about a disaster in America but we didn't know much about it. Now we feel the same way we would feel if we lost one of our own."

There are three most cherished things that a Masai can offer as a gift — a child, a plot of land and a cow, which is far more than a source of meat and milk.

The Masai, who wear bright red tunics and elaborate multicolored jewelry, stand out among Kenya's 40 tribes for the high leaps of their traditional dances. During ceremonies, they drink the blood of the cow, mixing it with honey beer, and they use every last inch of the animal for clothing and decorations. A groom pays the father of a girl he wants to marry in cows, and even dung is put to use, as a lacquer to protect the outside of huts.

"The cow is almost the center of life for us," said Mr. Naiyomah. "It's sacred. It's more than property. You give it a name. You talk to it. You perform rituals with it. I don't know if you have any sacred food in America, something that has a supernatural feel as you eat it. That's the cow for us."

The Masai have a reputation as warriors, which developed in the colonial days when they fought those who trod on their range land. The tribe still teaches young men to fight, but it is now torn between its traditional ways and life in a modern world.

It is now illegal for Masai to hunt lions, which had been a rite of passage for young men. Increasingly, youngsters are staying in school, dreaming of lives away from the range land. Television sets are appearing in huts, with images from a very different world.

Most Masai are still not up to speed on the intricacies of the Qaeda terrorist network. But they understand what it means for around 3,000 people to die at once. In Enoosaen, a disaster that grave would wipe out all of them.

"That guy — surely we would have to kill him," Mr. Oltetia, the village's chief warrior, said of Osama bin Laden. "We as the Masai have ways to kill, just using a spear and bows and arrows."
When pressed about his tactics, Mr. Oltetia said: "He's a strong man so we couldn't do it directly. We would surround him in the bush." 
Thanks to the New York Times for keeping the story on the internet and thanks to the Maasai for thinking of us:
...The ceremony was attended by hundreds of Masai who held banners, some of which read, "To the people of America, we give these cows to help you," according to an embassy spokesman.

But because the animals will be difficult to ship to the U.S., the embassy plans to sell the cows and use the funds to buy Masai jewelry, which will then be displayed at a Sept. 11 memorial in New York City.
Some New Yorkers said they wanted the actual cows.

"The cows are the most amazing gift we received ?- I mean, who else sent cows?" insisted Ed McCormick, a construction worker from the Bronx. "If those guys wanted us to have jewelry, they would have sent it. They wanted us to have cows. We should take the cows and raise them on a nice farm upstate and then send the cow puppies back to them someday."...
How to Thank Kenya for 9/11 Cows

Here are a couple stories from the fifth anniversary in 2006 on what happened to the cows:
Kenya's Maasai Commemorate 9/11 Victims 
Maasai: US Honors Tribesmen
And from 14 Cows for America:
The Brands
The Maasai brand their cattle by making small slices in their ears. Each clan has their own special earmark for identifying their cattle, and every cow bears an earmark on both ears. The American cows needed an earmark of their own, so the Maasai charged American ambassador Ranneberger with designing the earmark. When Ranneberger visted Emanyatta, the sacred warrior camp of Enoosaen, for a ceremony honoring the graduation of the Ilmeseyieki/Iltalala warriors and the presentation of the fourteen cows, the elders approached him. They brought out a cowhide and drew shapes of ears on the cowhide with charcoal. Kimeli remembers presenting it to the ambassador, saying, “Now you represent your people. You are the elder of the Americans, you decide what earmark the American cows will have from now [until] forever.” After careful consideration, the ambassador hit upon the simple image of the twin towers. Now each new American cow is branded with two small upright bars on each ear representing the twin towers.
So the question is, what would show the people of Paris the same respect and solidarity the Maasai showed the Americans?