Maasai warrior shares his life in the jungle with students at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose
Posted by Administrator on February 10, 2012
Sabore Ole Oyie, dressed as the Maasai warrior and tribal elder that he is in Kenya, mesmerized a large group of Bellarmine College Preparatory students as he spoke about his own life and his hopes for the future.
Oyie acknowledged the differences in his life and that of the students, telling them, “You wake up to cars. For us the first thing we might see is a giraffe, a zebra or a gazelle.”
He told them of a life where he eats two meals a day, primarily meat and milk, blood from his cows and sometimes a mixture of both blood and milk.
A life lived in the jungle where he is more fearful of elephants than lions: “Elephants kill you, they step on you and gouge you with their tusks. I have been chased several times, and you cannot climb a tree and you cannot go into a hole to escape.
“Growing up Maasai, you learn to understand the direction of the wind, the sounds of birds and the footprints of animals, to tell the difference between the footprints of lions, gazelles, leopards, giraffes and water buffalo.”
A life where young boys become warriors in traditional steps and ceremonies that include ritual piercings, brandings, the extraction of two lower teeth and circumcision around the age of 13.
All are performed without anesthetic, and Oyie acknowledges each step as “painful” and warns, “If you show pain you lose the respect of the elders.”
Successfully masking the pain is often rewarded with the present of a sheep or a cow from your family.
“Cows are the most precious thing we have; they are like a bank is to you,” he says.
There is also the task of hunting a lion, where warriors in training go out with spears in groups of 14 to 25. The first to spear the lion is declared the killer.
Oyie killed two lions and has the trophy lion manes to show it, but the practice is no longer allowed in Kenya. There tourists eager to view wildlife are more valued than tribal traditions.
Oyie told the students that, in “becoming a warrior, it is most important to learn how to respect others, to respect young boys and old men and girls and women.”
For his Jan. 31 talk, Oyie wears sandals, beaded anklets, necklaces and earrings, a wrapped garment of red cloth with beading, topped with a plaid wrap and lastly a dark brown cowhide wrap.
Oyie explains he is the eldest of 17 children and unusual in that he is educated, thanks to the efforts of his grandmother, who convinced his father to allow it. The sponsorship of a missionary from Michigan gave him the opportunity to continue on to high school after elementary school.
Oyie attended high school for two years, but left after painful peer pressure. Other members of his tribe were asking if he was “a coward boy,” shunning the rituals and practices necessary to become a warrior.
Once he achieved warrior status, Oyie returned and completed his final two years of high school.
His education and fluency in his native Maa as well as English and Swahili, the official languages of Kenya, have helped to make him a cultural ambassador for his country. He has traveled to the United States, Japan, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden and South Africa for the Kenyan Tourism Board and works as a tour guide for local safari camps.
When Oyie first started to travel, he needed a passport but was unable to tell officials his birthdate, as the Maasai do not record births.
The passport official gave him the birth date of Oct. 14, as that was the date he was making the application, and guessed the year of his birth as between 1974 and 1977, based on the official IDs issued to his parents.
In 2010, Oyie participated in a weeklong, intensive Global Leaders for Justice program at Santa Clara University. The program focuses on building leadership qualities and transforming individual visions into realities.
Oyie’s personal vision is to bring clean, fresh drinking water to his village by digging wells.
Currently, mothers and daughters walk from 10 to 13 miles each day to reach fresh water, bringing it home in 40-gallon containers they carry on their backs.
Oyie believes if the time spent carrying water was freed up, girls would have a chance to gain an education.
Girls don’t have the chance to attend school as their time is spent gathering firewood, milking cows, doing the intricate beadwork on jewelry and clothing worn by the tribe and the never-ending chore of carrying water.
Most girls are married around the age of 14, Oyie says, explaining that men are allowed more than one wife.
When a young girl marries, her family is given six cows in exchange for her hand. With that, she is then considered the property of her husband and his family.
There is no divorce among the Maasai, and if a woman becomes a widow, she never remarries. Much of this is because there is no way to pay back the cows given for her.
The impetus to raise money for wells started after Oyie was invited to speak to a class studying African culture at Castilleja School in Palo Alto.
He told the girls of his village dream of building a well, and after his talk, one girl gave him $15.
“That got me started,” he says.
He is aided locally in his fundraising by Therese Hjelm, a philanthropist living in Aptos who was introduced to the magic of Africa through her mother’s college roommate, Dian Fossey.
Hjelm and Oyie work with Blue Planet Network, a water-based nonprofit that allows 100 percent of donations to go directly to their project. Visit http://www.blueplanetnet work.org/sabore for more information.
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