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Maasai society is strongly patriarchal in nature with elder men, sometimes joined by retired elders, deciding most major matters for each Maasai group. A full body of oral law covers many aspects of behaviour. Formal execution is unknown, and normally payment in cattle will settle matters. An out of court process called 'amitu', 'to make peace', or 'arop', which involves a substantial apology, is also practiced. The Maasai are monotheistic, and they call God Enkai or Engai. Engai is a single deity with a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is vengeful. The "Mountain of God", Ol Doinyo Lengai, is located in northernmost Tanzania. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is the laibon who may be involved in: shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, ensuring success in war or adequate rainfall. Whatever power an individual laibon had was a function of personality rather than position. Many Maasai have become Christian, and to a lesser extent, Muslim. The Maasai are known for their intricate jewelry.
The Maasai (also called Masai) are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa, they are among the most well known of African ethnic groups. They speak Maa, a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family that is related to Dinka and Nuer, and are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English. The Maasai population has been variously estimated as 377,089 from the 1989 Census or as 453,000 language speakers in Kenya in 1994 and 430,000 in Tanzania in 1993 with a total estimated as "approaching 900,000". Estimates of the respective Maasai populations in both countries are complicated by the remote locations of many villages, and their semi-nomadic nature.
History of the Maasai
According to their own oral history, the Maasai originated from the lower Nile valley north of Lake Turkana (North-West Kenya) and began migrating south around the fifteenth century, arriving in a long trunk of land stretching from northern Kenya to central Tanzania between the seventeenth and late eighteenth century. Other ethnic groups were forcibly displaced as they settled there. The Maasai territory reached its largest size in the mid-nineteenth century, and covered almost all of the Great Rift Valley and adjacent lands from Mount Marsabit in the north to Dodoma in the south. At this time the Maasai, as well as the larger group they were part of, raided cattle as far east as the Tanga coast in Tanzania. Raiders used spears and shields, but were most feared for throwing clubs (orinka) which could be accurately thrown from up to 70 paces (appx. 100 metres). In 1852 there was a report of a concentration of 800 Maasai warriors on the move in Kenya. In 1857, after having depopulated the "Wakuafi wilderness" in southeastern Kenya, Maasai warriors threatened Mombasa on the coast of Kenya.