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Masai

Masai, a large and powerful predatory people of East Equatorial Africa, whose ill-defined territory (Masailand) lies mainly on both sides of the equator on the elevated steppe lands between Lake Victoria and the Kilimanjaro and Kenia highlands, and stretches from about the parallel of Lake Rudolf (Samburo) southwards to Unyamwezi. But the Masai raids have in recent times extended far beyond these limits, the coastlands both about and below Mombasa having frequently been visited by these dreaded marauders during the present century. Their power, however, is now regarded as practically broken, partly by the establishment of orderly government in the territory of the British East Africa Company, partly by the fearful ravages of the cattle plague, which has wasted a great part of East Equatorial Africa for several years, and has thus deprived the Masai nomads of their main resource. Some have already offered to take service as police or carriers under the company; while others, like their Wa-Kwafi kindred in a previous generation, have turned to the peaceful pursuits of husbandry. Their ethnical relations have been much discussed by ethnologists, and present difficult problems, which have not yet been satisfactorily solved. They appear, however, to be a Negroid people of magnificent physique intermediate between the true Sudanese Negroes and the Ethiopian Hamites, inclining more towards the latter than the former both in appearance and in speech. The Masai language, as far as it has been studied, would seem to belong to the Hamitic Galla group; and, should this view be confirmed, it will be safe to conclude, as is now generally assumed, that the Masai are fundamentally Gallas greatly modified by long contact with the surrounding Negro populations. This con61usion is also confirmed by their traditions, their predatory habits and their preference for a nomad pastoral over a settled agricultural life. Joseph Thomson, by whom they were first visited and described (1883-84), speaks of the superior clans as "splendidly-built savages, the most magnificently-modelled men conceivable, not one under six feet," with straight European nose, thin, well-cut lips, prominent cheek-bones, jaws rarely prognathous, black hair, "a cross between the European and the Negro," and figures in general suggestive less of strength or of "the ideal Hercules" than of the Apollo type, "presenting a smoothness of outline which might be called almost effeminate" (Through Masailand, p. 427). The Masi, who call themselves Uoikob ("Freemen"), are divided into about twelve noble or superior clans, the elite of the nation, who owe each other no kind of allegiance and under whom are the Andorobbo and other servile tribes not regarded is of pure Masai descent. The nobles do all the ighting and raiding, while the serfs till the land, larry on all trading transactions with the surrounding peoples, and hunt the elephant in the rooded districts. In the noble clans there are igain two distinct classes, the old people who stay it home, marry, and tend the cattle, and the young nen occupied exclusively with war and plunderng expeditions. Polygamy, and even promiscuity, prevail, and their religion, which rejects a future life, is limited to a vague belief in Ngai, a mysterious being enthroned on the snowy heights of Kilimanjaro. There appear to be also one or two inferior deities; but their chief faith is in the leibon, wizards or medicine-men credited with supernatural powers, whose chief business is to propitiate, or turn away the wrath of Ngai. No Christian missionaries have yet undertaken the conversion of these lawless nomads.