Lenana’s Oreteti

Lenana was a well-known Laibon (oloiboni, “ritual expert”) of the Maasai, b. sometime between 1860 and 1870 (he was circumcised in 1882, perhaps at the age of nineteen? … traditionally, Maasai did not keep track of their birthdates, but only of when they were circumcized) and dying in 1911.  The name Lenana means “of the gentleness.”  An important Maasai leader during the colonialization of East Africa by Great Britain, he is better known among the Maasai themselves by the other form of his name, Olonana (“he of gentleness”).

Lenana is a fairly common Maasai boy’s name. I’ve not heard (though I don’t know everything) of anyone else named Ololana, though.

The term, as an adjective, is a term of endearment —
Li alashe lai lenana is “O my brother of tenderness
Lo ltau lai lelana is “O my heart of tenderness, the dynamic equivalent of “Sweetheart in English.  I (Joshua) often address Ruth with the short form, lo ltau lai (O my heart!).

I probably hear the adjective more often than the name.  For “sweetheart” more literally, you could say oltau lemelok (or lo ltau lemelok in the vocative).

The feminine equivalent of lenana (pronounced, by the way, like LAY-NAH-NAH, for English-speakers) is nanana.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard it, though.  Namelok ([feminine thing or person] which-is-sweet) is more common as an adjective for females.

It is said that upon his death, Olonana’s corpse was secretly moved from his homestead (enkang) in Kiserian to this site, where his body was accorded the rare privilege of burial, marked by planting an oreteti sapling. (Historically, corpses were laid out on the ground and hyenas come to eat the body at night.  Burial is a rare salutatory honor in traditional Maa culture.) The oreteti is a sacred tree of ceremonial significance in Maasai culture. Oreteti trees are places of sanctuary and holiness.

Oreteti refers to fig trees:  ficus natalensis, ficus sycomorus, ficus gnaphalocarpa, ficus mucosa.  It is one of four types of trees considered sacred or holy by the Maasai.  Note the smooth green leaves (even in the dry season), and also that there are no thorns.

Lenana’s Oreteti:
(click pictures for a larger images)

This oreteti tree is now nearly 110 years old, and is an important landmark — geographically and culturally. The Oreteti AIC (Africa Inland Church) congregation has its building a short walk down the mountain from here, taking its name from this tree.

(Photos taken on 1 October 2019.  I was meeting with Benson ole Kurraru, the pastor of Oreteti AIC.  He also oversees AIC church planting and ministerial training in the Olalaiser area of Kajiado county.)

Locusts!

The Maa word for locust is olmaati (ɔlmáatî for linguists); the plural is ilmaat (ɨlmáāt). I don’t know whether these are the same species of locusts and plagued the ancient Egyptians (and others), but they are African locusts and can thus swarm.

Today I saw more of these ILMAAT than I’ve ever seen before in one place — not quite EMUS OOLMAAT (a swarm of locusts), which is probably a good thing. These were around the famous Oreteti Tree of Lenana, near the lower peak of the Ngong Hills toward Kona Baridi, Olepolos, and Kiserian.

Enjoy the 27 second video clip:

(click on the photos to see larger images)


OLMAATI / ILMAAT can refer to a number of different species of grasshoppers/locusts, some of which are consumed by some African communities (though not by the Maasai). Don’t try to mimic John the Baptist and dip these in honey, though! — these pictures are of Green Milkweed Locusts (aka African Bush Grasshopper or phymateus viridipes for our latinophone or entomologist friends). They like to eat milkweed and various members of the nightshade family, and so are decidedly NOT good to eat.

Edit:  (5 November 2019)
What’s the difference between a grasshopper and a locust?
The difference between a locust and a grasshopper is that they’re locusts when they’re swarming, and otherwise just grasshoppers. (That’s a bit simplified, but close enough.)  Except in some parts of America, cicadas are called “locusts”.

Language is Fun

Maa (the language of the Maasai people) is delightfully reflexive.  For any of our friends who are language nerds, here’s a grammatical excursus.

Where English has simply “of“, Maa has six different prepositions.
o
e
lo
le
oo
loo
So “o” indicates that what follows is grammatically masculine, “e” indicates that what follows is grammatically feminine, “oo” indicates that what follows is plural (without reference to grammatical gender), the prefix “L” indicates that what precedes is grammatically masculine, and the absence of the prefix “L” indicates that what precedes is grammatically feminine.

Are you confused yet?

Here are a few examples.
entito (daughter, girl) and enkitok (women, wives) are, naturally, grammatically feminine. (The plural forms are, respectively, intoyie and inkituaak.)  Note that the initial vowels will be dropped when following one of the prepositions for “of.” Thus
entito e nkitok (the daughter of the woman)
intoyie e nkitok (the daughters of the woman)
entito oo nkituaak (the girl of the women)
intoyie oo nkituaak (the daughters of the women).

olayioni (boy, son) and olpayian (man, elder, husband) are, of course, grammatically masculine. (The plural forms are, respectively, ilayiok and ilpayiani.)  Thus
olayioni lo lpayian (the son of the man)
ilayiok lo lpayian (the sons of the man)
olayioni loo lpayiani (the boy of the men)
ilayiok loo lpayiani (the sons of the men)
entito o lpayian (the daughter of the man)
intoyie o lpayian (the daughters of the man)
intoyie oo lpayiani (the girls of the men)
olayioni le nkitok (the son of the woman)
ilayiok le nkitok (the sons of the woman)
olayioni loo nkituaak (the boy of the women)
ilayiok loo nkituaak (the sons of the women)

It’s actually quite logical and therefore simpler than you may think.

But here’s something that threw me for a loop back in 2007 when we were just learning.

Followers of Jesus” is ilasujak le Yesu. “Followers of the Lord” is ilasujak lo Laitoriani. Again, the “le” and “lo” are equivalent to the English preposition “of.”

To review:
LO” and “LE” —
• the -L- indicates that what precedes (in this case ilasujak / followers) is grammatically masculine (the absence of this consonant indicates that what precedes is grammatically feminine — thus “inkasujak e Yesu” is “the [female] followers of Jesus“);
• the -O- indicates that what follows (in this case Olaitoriani / the Lord; the initial -o- of the noun drops off for linguistic reasons) is grammatically masculine; and
• the -E- indicates that what follows (in this case Yesu / Jesus) is grammatically feminine.

Wait.  What?  Jesus is feminine, a woman?!

Nope, of course not.

But the Maa word for “name” — enkarna — is grammatically feminine. Thus as a class, in Maa *all personal names* are *grammatically* feminine, even though there is no confusion in the language between male and female names. (For example: Nashipai is a female name, Enchipai is the male equivalent; Lemayian is a male name, Namayian is the female counterpart.)

Both male names and female names are *grammatically* feminine.  Thus “ilasujak lo Yesu” (or for that matter, “illasujak lo Joshua“) is just grammatical nonsense.  It must be “ilasujak le Yesu” (or “le Joshua“) to be correct.  No Maasai thinks that Jesus is a female or feminine, just as I am male and masculine.

Thus while I am an olpayian, my children (inkera) could be referred to as either:
inkera o lpayian (the son of the man), OR as
inkera e Lemayian (the children of Lemayian).

(Lemayian, “the one of blessing,” is my Maasai name.)

This was a great puzzlement for me before I figured out what was going on. Because enkarna (name) happens to be grammatically feminine, all personal names are grammatically feminine, irrespective of the masculinity or femininity of the subject of the name.