Traditionally, the Maasai rely on meat, milk and blood from cattle for protein and nutritional needs. People also drink cattle blood for special occasions. It is given to a circumcised person (esipolioi), a woman who has given birth (entomononi) and the sick (oltamueyiai).
It is also believed that blood helps alleviate intoxication and hangovers. Hence, it’s not rare to find drunk elders (ilamerak) drinking blood to cure their woes from the night before.
The process of extracting the blood involves a simple process. A blunt arrow is shot at close range to puncture the jugular vein of the cow. The blood is drawn into a skin gourd and later mixed with fresh or curdled milk to be drunk by the gathering. The appearance is something similar to a strawberry milkshake. The animal is not left to bleed but is carefully tended to, until it fully heals.
As the blood squirts out of the incision, it is collected in a special container.
The wound on the animal’s neck is sealed with a blob of manure. The drink is an indication of one’s place in the society. For example, it is a privilege to be served with the first blood from a slaughtered bullock.
The drinking of cattle blood is done for both practicality and occasion. The Maasai drink blood during the dry season when they run short on milk. People with a tendency to worry too much, often drink blood in the belief that it gives them strength.
At childbirth, the mother is given a drink of honey and the father or his representative is mandated to get blood to mix with milk for the mother to drink. But the source of the blood depends on the sex of the newborn. If the baby is a boy, the blood is obtained from the jugular of a bullock, but if the baby is a girl the blood is taken from a heifer.
My friend, Will, gives it a try.
The drink also plays an important role during circumcision. After days of dancing in the wild established by elders, an age-set leader ol-aiguenani is selected from among the more mature initiates. He receives a special black club called an ‘o-rinka’ as a sign of office and a bullock is slaughtered. He then drinks the first warm blood of the slaughtered animal.
During graduation to a junior elder in the eunoto ceremony, a warrior with good reputation and without physical blemish, temperate and good natured is selected to ‘open the way’ for the other initiates. It is he who leads in drinking the blood from the animal’s jugular.
The Maasais believe blood makes the body stronger and warmer and is good for children and the elderly to build up their strength. So, when you are traveling in Kenya and need a little something to take the edge off or give you that little extra push you need, you know where to turn.
Photos by Hilary Kimuyu