The ceremony begins with each family, together with me, going into their homes and pouring milk and honey beer on the stones of the fire. This traditional Maasai ritual asks the ancestors and deceased members of the family to join us and bless us as the family and village begins a new life as followers of Jesus.
After calling upon our ancestors to join us, the elders of the village gather in the center of the cattle enclosure for prayer and the blessing of the cattle and other domestic animals. We make a procession with the elders around the inside of the cattle enclosure sprinkling the cattle with milk and honey beer, and then with all the people of he village, around the outside of the whole village blessing the houses and gates.
Now we give sign of the cross to the people who are to be baptized. As cattle are branded with the sign of their owner, similarly we are signed for all to see that now we belong to Jesus. The cross is traced on the foreheads of the people with a kind of chalk found most places in Maasai country. This is done in the traditional ceremonial way. In some traditional ceremonies the medicine man marks the body of a person with this chalky stuff to ward off curses, spells and every kind of evil. It seems fitting to adapt this ceremony for the giving of the powerful sign of the cross of Jesus who protects us from every evil.
We wear black, the sacred color for the Maasai, the color of the rain clouds by which God brings us all good things. In fact the word for God and the word for rain are the same, EnkAi. My black vestments are sewn with cowry shells, the decoration for sacred objects and things of special blessing like milk gourds.
The blessed water for baptism is poured over the head of the person to be baptized from a gourd stuffed at the neck with rich green grass. If the person wants to take a European name we only mildly discourage it. We do insist that everyone also take a Maasai name at baptism, usually the one that he or she was given as an infant with ceremony and prayer by parents and relatives. These names are meaningful and beautiful. Examples would be Lemayan, the one who blesses, Nasha, She of the rain, Naserian, the peaceful one, Nadupa, the successful one, Narikunkera, the one who brings children, Noolparakuo, The one who is rich in cattle and children, Nooretet, The one of the sacred Oreteti tree, Nooseuri, the exceptional one, Naishngai, The gift of God.
The elders and I bless the new fire following the traditional ceremony that takes place when a new village is built by the Maasai people. We heap green branches on the burning fire praying as smoke rises and, as in all our Christian prayers, use traditional Maasai ways of praying. We bless the fire with milk and honey beer from a gourds sewn with cowry shells and grass stuffed into the mouths of the gourds. Tufts of Green grass are carried in traditional religions ceremonies, especially by the women. Green grass is one of the most important signs of the blessing of God. To tie green grass to ones’ clothing or to carry a tuft of green grass is to publicly invoke the blessing of God. Tufts of green grass are especially carried by people asking forgiveness of an individual or of the community. Gourds of blessing have green grass stuffed in the neck. The new fire will be taken by the people to their homes and used to kindle fire that was extinguished the night before. The new fire lit in all of the houses of a village signs graphically both the community becoming new and Christian and also the light of Jesus entering each family.
Finally an unblemished ox is slaughtered and eaten with much singing and dancing.
Pat Patton of the Flying Medical Service sent me an email that summarizes well the plight facing parents who want to send their children to secondary school. I quote Pat:
This month, new students start high school. On paper, and by Tanzanian law, the school fees for a year are about 15 dollars. Even the poorest of the poor can afford that. But the reality is that no kid goes to high school here for less than 250 dollars a year because of all the add-ons which absolutely must be paid or the student is refused: uniform, shoes, sports clothes, desk fee, teacher over-time, night watchman salary, school feeding program, note books, ruler, math set, dictionary, bucket, broom, machete, grass slasher, electricity fee, school car fee, development fee. It goes on and on. And there are many mid-term fees as well. School principals simply say that they cannot run a school for 15 dollars per student. And they can’t.
Till next month,