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By Paul Spencer

Uncertainty is a regular point of lifestyles for the Maasai of East Africa. They take ritual precautions opposed to mystical misfortune of their small and dispersed villages, and position neighborhood lifestyles within the arms of elders whose collective knowledge is underpinned by way of a trust in an ethical, best and unknowably provident god. This balance is, notwithstanding, edged with quandary for mystery malcontents who may perhaps search to create havoc via sorcery and whose elusive magic lies outdoors the elders' energy. Time, house and the Unknown follows on from The Maasai of Matapato and The Samburu to teach how uncertainty and misfortune impression the social lifetime of the Maasai.

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With no spectators that are not themselves elders, the performance projects itself inwards rather than outwards. As orators, those who wish may put forward their arguments, commanding the space around them and the timing of their thrusts as the initiative passes – or is wrested – from one performer to another, as they once did in their dances as moran. The performance is pitched at a higher and more mystical level by the exclusion of others. Then, at irregular intervals, the elders of a local clan group may muster the moran for harangues, drawing on this mystique to threaten their curse before blessing them.

The outcome is inevitable since time is always on the side of the younger men. As elders in their prime, firestick patrons need to absorb and interpret the cross-currents of gossip and rumour at all times, mustering their numbers to attend important discussions, and then to retain their mental vigour in the heat of debate. Much depends on the fitness of their most adept and imaginative orators. The only uncertainties, as with the battle over privileges, are precisely when the seniors will retire, and if they will do so gracefully and even with considerable credit, rather than being humiliated into old age.

The distinction between personal ownership and unstinting hospitality is accepted by the elders, but is challenged by the moran, who face the contradiction that their pride in the ideal of shared bachelor poverty plays into the hands of polygynous elders. Among Maasai moran, acquiring manyata discipline underpins a developing relationship with the elders. Apart from congregating for their occasional ilmugit festivals, the Samburu do not appear ever to have had a manyata organization comparable with the Maasai or the opportunity to cultivate the finesse of self-government as moran.

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