Samantha du Toit chances upon a Maasai rain dance, and reflects on the power of belief to bring change
At first, I wondered what the sound was. It was faint but somehow familiar. I walked outside the cottage by the river and listened harder. And then I realised that it was Maasai women, many of them, voices raised in song.
Hearing Maasai singing was not unusual for us, given our neighbours across the river often enjoyed traditional evening celebrations, but today something was different. For a start, I could only hear women, and it was the middle of the day. And the voices were moving, heading downstream, like the slow trickle of water left in the river.
Curious, I persuaded the children into shoes and hats, and we headed off in pursuit of the sound.
A few minutes later, we rounded a bend in the river, and saw them. Probably over 60 Maasai women, dressed in their traditional brightly-coloured wraps and beads, singing as they stood by the water’s edge. The sun’s direct heat was intense and beads of sweat framed their faces.
As we approached, I saw most of our camp staff, all men, watching. Nixon came over to explain. The rains had failed, and people were desperate. The women of Shompole had decided it was time to take matters into their own hands with a traditional ceremony to pray for rain.
This was the first of many groups of women to sing today and in the days to come, journeying from the river to the swamp, to the open plains and back.
The women saw us and beckoned us over. We were slightly overwhelmed by the greetings of so many people at once, and the children and I were adorned with beads and asked to join in with the singing, accompanied of course by the traditional dance moves.
This gave cause for much merriment as the women watched me try, and fail, to replicate their shoulder and head gyrations. As ever, I was struck by the ease at which our friends and neighbours were able to laugh, even during the hardest of times.
After a brief pause to cool themselves off in the shallow water, the women headed out through the trees to the plains. As they walked and sang, one elderly woman sprayed milk from a gourd on the ground as if as an offering to the parched soil and to the listening ears of Ngai, the Maasai’s traditional god.
Throughout the rest of the day, we heard the sounds of singing ebb and flow as they passed near the camp. I could not help feeling a sense of being transported back in time, to when I believe that more societies had faith that collective action could indeed have an impact on their situation.
To my children, who know that I check the weather forecast on my laptop, I hoped that somehow this was a lesson in the power and value of both tradition and modern science in guiding our lives.
Maasai men’s beliefs
Did the rain come, you may wonder. Yes, it did. In the days that followed, there were scattered showers around the ecosystem.
The Maasai men at our camp were convinced that the showers fell in places where the women sang. As I write today, however, there has still not been enough, so I will continue to check the forecast, and the women will continue to sing.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.
[Photos by Samantha du Toit]
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