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Cultural Spotlight: Maasai People of Kenya and Tanzania Funeral Traditions

by | May 4, 2018 | Cultural Spotlight, For Families

Maasai people

Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.

But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.

This article looks at Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Estonian funeral traditions and Armenian funeral traditions, among others.

Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.

Maasai People’s Pastoral Lifestyle

The Maasai people live a pastoral lifestyle — meaning that they herd cattle and live off the land. They’re semi-nomadic people, as they don’t have a permanent home and move from place to place. Their simplistic lifestyle and cultural traditions reflect their beliefs surrounding death.

Maasai Religious and Death Beliefs

Traditionally, most people believed that the god Enkai created the world and they considered themselves God’s chosen people. Today, many people have converted to Christianity. However, most people don’t believe in the afterlife, so they don’t have elaborate funeral or burial traditions.

Once someone dies, they believe their journey has ended, and the soul has left the body. They also believe their sins are transferred to their loved ones, so it can affect their family’s future generations.

The Father’s Chest

This ritual occurs before a father passes away. Their sons must visit him in his final days of life to show their respect, or they may have bad luck. They also determine the inheritance for all his children, which is typically his cattle. Each son receives at least one valuable possession.

Green Burial Practices

They have simple burial traditions since they don’t believe in the afterlife. Similar to Ancient Tibetan and Mongolian traditions, the Maasai people leave the body out for scavengers. They consider this a form of green burial to reduce pollution. However, those who practice Christianity may have traditional burials for their loved one.

For the scavenger burial, they cover the body with ox blood or cattle fat and leave them in a bush for scavengers to eat. The deceased is considered a good person if they eat them on the first night. However, the deceased is considered a bad person if they don’t eat them by the second night. To make up for the deceased being bad and to avoid bad luck, their family has an animal sacrifice.


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