The Eunoto ceremony is a vital male rites of passage ceremony that is performed every generation (every 20 years) to mark the important transition of morans (Maasai warriors) entering into manhood. This is the most highly celebrated ceremony amongst the Maasai distinguished with its colorful and unique customs that are greatly honored in the life of a Maasai. The morans who undergo the ceremony evolve from a junior warrior (Il-barnot) to senior warrior (Ilmorijo), it permits the men to marry and allows them to engage in the decision-making processes in the community to prepare them to become future elders.
Eunoto Ceremony in Kenya & Tanzania
The Eunoto ceremony is practiced all across Maasai communities in Kenya & Tanzania yet, it is important to note that the initiation begins with the Ilkisonko Maasai in Tanzania. All the ilaguanak (traditional chiefs) will call of a declaration of Eunoto in Tanzania, they are the first people to undergo the ceremony. Each chief will prepare the Eunoto ceremony for their village throughout all sections of the Maasai spanning throughout Tanzania and Kenya until each warrior competes the ceremony.
Why Is It Urgent To Document The Eunoto Ceremony?
The Maasai are in a race against time to preserve their heritage for future generations, their traditional cultural knowledge is at risk of disappearing. This Eunoto ceremony only happens every 20 years for each age-set, therefore this is highly likely to be the last pure Eunoto ceremony with the traditions still intact because the Maasai are losing access to the communal land where these ceremonies traditionally take place. It is highly critical that the Maasai have an opportunity to document this ceremony to preserve their history for the next generation of Maasai and the world at large. The Eunoto ceremony is inscribed on UNESCO’s Urgent Safeguarding List of Intangible Heritage.
Eunoto preparation takes more than half a year to plan, it is ordained by the Oloiboni (spiritual leader) in Tanzania once he receives 9 cows by the age group. A few of the extensive preparations include selecting the right number of warriors to go to the manayatta, the location selection of the ceremony, building of the emanayatta with Osingira (house) at its centre, and many more preparations.
The building of the emanayatta with Osingira (house) at its center:
The ceremony takes place in another specially chosen camp that includes a total of forty-nine houses. The forty-ninth house is known as Osinkira, a large mud hut made specifically for the Oloiboni. Warriors on a daily basis will entertain the Oloiboni until the event is over.
During this rite of passage ceremony, there are various important activities that lead up to the final ceremony including selecting the 5 top official leaders for the generation. The officials of the Ol-porror (age set) are selected including Ol-otuno and Ol-oboru en-Keene bringing the official number of the age set leaders to five.
Three important leaders must be chosen by the warriors before the ceremony; Olaiguanani lenkashe, Oloboru enkeene and Olotuno (the initiate one). No one would like to be one of these leaders, particularly the Olotuno. This person shoulders all of his age set’s bad and good deeds. The Olaiguanani lenkashe is honored with a specially chosen female cow; Oloboru enkeene is honored with a leather strap with a knot that symbolizes his age set. By the end of warrior-hood, this knot will be untied to free the warriors from their isolated world. The knot allows warriors to do things independently from other age mates. This stage of life is a transition to an elder.
Dancing / Celebration:
Maasai warriors enter the ceremonial manyatta for their four-day ritual passage to elderhood. Wearing lion-mane and ostrich-feather headdresses and carrying buffalo-hide shields, they encircle the sacred ritual house. Throughout the initiation, the warriors and their female companions perform courtship dances, during which the men leap high into the air to prove their agility. At the climax of the ceremony, the men often fall into impassioned states during which their bodies become rigid and their mouths foam.
Every graduating warrior must have his mother shave his hairs to signify the end of warriorhood. The moran must sit on a traditional carved wooden chair (Olonikoa) which is filled with milk while his mother stands on a cow skin to shave his long ochre-stained highly prized locks. The hairs are mixed with milk the mother made 4 (four) gates from the hairs. The four gates represent blessings (Enkishon) to come into the family of the prepared elder through the four gates.
After the shaving, the hairs are secretly taken with a lot of quickly to cover the hairs inside the group immediately. The mother cannot go away until the hairs are covered. This is believed that someone can harm the son through the hairs the other (Orpirun) age group can use the opportunity to harm or take power over there.
The final ceremony involves the five official leaders and 49 morally upright warriors that are selected by the godfathers (Loo menye ilmurran) of the age set and as directed by the Oloiboni (Spiritual Leader) to slaughter and roast all the meat of the sacred Ox (orkitteng osinya) that was selected and provided by Ol-oboru enkeene. The meat will be eaten by all the warriors. The feast finishes with a dismissal ceremony (Il-asho loo nkamulak); the calves of the spittle. The senior warriors then continue to lead for a number of years, but their roles will transition with members beginning to marry and settling with their families while a new age set begins.
A special oil from the briscket (Enkiyeu) from the bull is used to anoint each Moran by touching their forehead by the selected elders (Il-payiani).
During the ceremony, warriors are prohibited to carry weapons such as sticks, spears, knives, etc.
Horn in Fire:
Also, during this event, an animal horn is set on fire and warriors are forced to take a piece out before it is completely burned. No one wants to take the piece out, because whoever takes the horn out of the fire will suffer misfortune throughout his entire life. However, if warriors refuse to take the horn out from the fire, the entire age-set will be cursed. It is better for one person to be unfortunate than many.
The ceremony ends with a blessing from the senior elders, who spray the new generation of elders with mouthfuls of milk and honey wine.
MCV is committed to supporting the Maasai cultural custodians to manage their own archives and conduct their own ethnographic documentation to recover their own cultural patrimony from colonial institutions and share their own narratives to the world.
My Chosen Vessels (MCV) Maasai Media Team of Ilkisonko cultural custodians has been documenting the Maasai traditional knowledge for the past 9 years to preserve their cultural knowledge systems for the Maasai people and to educate a broader global audience. MCV is working with the Ilaiguenak (Maasai traditional chiefs) from Kenya and Tanzania to document and safeguard Maasai heritage. MCV has been documenting the Iltuati age set throughout the entire process of each stage and rite of passage ceremonies protecting the traditional knowledge including the three male rites of passage ceremonies Enkipaata, Eunoto, and Olng’esherr, that have recently been inscribed on UNESCO’s Urgent Safeguarding List of Intangible Heritage.
MCV is in the final stages of launching a Maasai Cultural Heritage Digital Museum and is opening a physical museum in Amboseli, Kenya in partnership with the Kajiado County Government of Kenya. We have curated exhibits using photography, videography, audio recordings and cultural materials to document sacred dances, chants, ceremonies, rites of passages, language, and traditional knowledge with over 200 high-quality videos and sound recordings.
Virtual Reality Videography
With your support, MCV will utilize the latest technology of 360-degree cameras to provide a virtual reality immersive up-close look at the rites of passages for the Maasai — taking viewers right into the middle of Maasai land surrounded in the breathtaking landscapes of Mount Kilimanjaro to an important sacred ceremony that only happens every 20 years when a Maasai morans (warrior) undergoes the rituals of becoming a man.
Maasai Media Training
Maasai Cultural Custodians will be trained on 360 camera equipment to film the ceremony and provide viewers a first-person experience.
Our goal is to transport viewers into the heart of this ceremony to experience Eunoto, just like the Maasai experience it.
Help Safeguard Maasai Culture
Upcoming Art Exhibitions & Opportunities
This film will be made available to the tourist that visit the Maasai Cultural Heritage Museum near Amboseli National Park, we have an average of 600,000 park visitors annually. MCV will also showcase this Art Exhibition for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN Headquarters in New York. This film will be also available to film festivals, museums, higher institution to show to their visitors upon request.