Maasai Cultural Intricacies: FGM and Changing Social Perspectives
Taiyo and Resian appropriately epitomise the complexities of changing times insofar as culture is concerned. In this novel, Ole Kulet demonstrates the challenges plaguing traditional African mores in the face of contemporary trends that threaten to dismantle such structures that most people have strove to hang onto or even at times to institutionalise. It is a story that casts two daughters on a collision path with their parents and their community’s cultural beliefs.
Their parents, Mr Kaelo and Mama Milanoi symbolise the dilemma for many African families that find themselves torn between urban lives and the rural one. It appears that Kaelo’s time in the town of Nakuru has come to an end since Agribix Limited his employer has closed shop. However, Kaelo seems to have prepared for this eventuality as we are informed that he has decided to set up an agrovet distributing shop in his rural home town of Nasila. However, as we come to discover much later Kaelo’s venture into business is tainted by financial aid from a thrifty unscrupulous business man who usurps his financial and moral authority over his family.
Indeed both Taiyo and Resian have a bad premonition about going back to the rural village where their father hails from. They are both at their prime age having been denied the rich cultural milieu of the Maa people. They are aspiring to join Egerton University to quench their thirst for education. As Resian says, she would like to be called Dr. Resian Kaelo, if only their father would allow them to join the university so that she can pursue a course in Veterinary Science. Unbeknown to them, their father’s and mother’s thoughts have begun to be beleaguered by cultural expectations from which they have been shielding their daughters from. Mama Milanoi’s biggest fear is the fact that her daughters are Intoiye Nemengalana – the derogatory term for uncircumcised women amongst the Maasai.
As a matter of fact, the novel depicts the unenviable position that families who have straddled between two different types of lives find themselves in. They are neither town people nor rural people. The chasm between being recognised as urbanites or rural folks depicts the main conflict in the story. This is because the Kaelos will have to redefine themselves no longer as people of Nakuru but orphans of Nasila. As a result, the Kaelos will have to find ingenious ways to battle the expectations of the Nasila people. The breaking down of one of the lorries could insinuate the challenges on their journey towards being integrated into the lifestyle of the Nasila people.
The sojourn from Nakuru to Nasila foreshadows a clash between the beliefs of the young girls who represent the way of life of urban people and that of the indigenous Nasila habitats who strongly believe in the adherence to communal beliefs like female circumcision. Thus, the expectations of the two sets of people are at odds with each other thereby signifying the inevitable clash and the potential fallout of Resian and Taiyo with their parents. The fallout is compounded by the father’s indebtedness to Oloisudori – a cruel businessman whose evil nature precedes his name. In fact, the text describes Oloisudori as part of the people who have desecrated the Maa culture allegorically referring to how Nasila river was being polluted by chemicals and other poisonous pollutants.
Although the Kaelo’s can to a certain extent pride themselves in being proactive towards change, their faith is greatly tested when the parents have to host a party in order to be received back into the Ilmolelian clan fold and the bigger Nasila cultural family. It is during this occasion that the demands on the Kaelo’s family begin to appear clearer. For once, the girls realise that being female is disadvantageous amongst the Maasai. A man, Joseph Parmuat, is tasked with the responsibility of coaching the girls about their culture implying the lack of faith on the part of the society towards women’s ability to educate themselves. This is one example of the varied instances through which the community’s culture is depicted as being biased towards women folk. Others include FGM, dowry and marriage negotiations, choosing a partner, education and career amongst others.
A story within the story is told about the myth on FGM and the rise of the fame of the Enkamuratani (female circumciser) and her tool of trade the olmurunya (razor-sharp blade). Like most other cultural beliefs, it has been adopted and perfected over time such that no one dares to challenge it. On the contrary, modernisation, especially through formal education, has brought about a splinter group headed by Minik ene Nkoitoi famously known as Emakererei. She is educated and she believes in individual choices and the pursuit of one’s dreams. It is a position that has seen her alienated from the community – considered an outcast who is out to undermine the authority of Maasai elders. However, she ends up being the voice of reason and the source of hope for most girls like Resian and Taiyo.
Kaelo succumbs to the pressures of his community and selfishly trades his daughter to Oloisudori. Although he would like to present himself as remorseful and a victim of Oloisudori’s greed, we are persuaded to see him as inconsiderate, authoritarian and uncaring towards the desires of his daughters. Indeed, this is clearer from the beginning of the novel when he callously mistreats Resian because he had hoped to get a son for his second child. Resian’s troubled spirit later in life is attributed to this open hostility from her father although she finds solace in her sister’s protective care.
Resian’s adamant spirit pays off when she triumphs over the treacherous snares before her to survive death narrowly. She escapes marriage to Oloisudori only to end up in the hands of Olarinkoi who lures her with the false promise of taking her into safety but he intends to marry her for himself. She has to physically fight him off in order to rebuff an attempted sexual assault, overcome sickness and eventually find help through Nabaru who takes her to Minik’s farm. It is at Minik’s farm that she is reunited with Taiyo, who is unlucky because the olmurunya has been applied on her and she has lost a dear friend Parmuat who dies rescuing her. It is at Minik’s farm that their dreams eventually blossom when they receive the good news that they will be joining the university to further their education.
Kulet’s Blossoms of the Savannah presents a melting pot of cultures and envisions a social continuum in which culture can never be static. It is a text that recognises individual psychic dilemmas, one that pits family members against each other and acknowledges the inevitable clash when an individual’s desires and aspirations are at odds with old and at times outdated cultural beliefs. Ole Kulet recognises that it is not enough to lay blame on colonial structures and changing times, we have to take responsibility for our own shortcomings and individual choices. However, just as certain species of plants bloom in the hot Savannah climate, we will have individuals amongst us who will thrive or blossom irrespective of the debilitating cultural hurdles.