The lion hunt

A Masai elder's coming-of-age tale. Sort of.

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After two years of invitations, I finally made it to Africa to visit my friend Moses, a Masai elder, at his village in Kenya.

The Masai have a long history of being great warriors, and that first night while sitting around a fire, Moses offered to tell me about hunting lions. This was an honor, as his people also consider themselves to be great storytellers and do not often share such private tales with visitors.

A Masai boy is expected to hunt a lion with only a shield and spear before he is considered to be a man. While he does not have to kill the lion, he must participate in the hunt. Moses was about 13 when he faced this trial, which is an integral part of his culture.

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Moses put on a grave face and began to tell about the lion dance that is performed the night before a hunt and how the warriors jump high into the air while moving in a circle to imitate what they will do in the morning. They begin the hunt by driving the lion into a thicket and surrounding it in a wide circle, then slowly advancing until the lion is so threatened that it attacks a warrior. That warrior then throws himself on the ground, covers up with his shield, and hopes his fellow hunters kill the lion with their spears before it kills him.

Moses stared into the fire a long time before continuing, and I thought perhaps he had awakened a bad memory.

Reaching down, he pulled up his bright red shuka (robe) and showed me a long jagged scar on his calf, saying he'd gotten it on his first lion hunt.

I was shocked. I said, "The lion did that to you?"

He leaned forward as if to impart a great secret and said, "No. I was so scared, I speared myself in the leg, and the lion got away!"

With that he threw his head back, giggling uncontrollably. I had received my introduction to Masai humor.

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