With Kenya's government preaching nationhood and denouncing tribalism, the warrior class of the proud Masai has become obsolete. As a result, a centuries-old rite of passage, in which young men of the Masai tribe serve as warriors, has been phased out by Kenyan officials. They said the young men, known as ``Morans,'' were missing education and job training that would help them contribute more to their tribe and to Kenya.
The spear-carrying Morans traditionally served as defenders of the tribe, battling enemies, killing lions and roaming the bush for five or more years before rejoining their villages as elders. But in recent years, Morans have been criticized for frittering away their time or turning to cattle rustling, fighting, and petty crime.
This summer, Masai elders meeting in the Kajiado district south of Nairobi resolved to comply with the government order, although a minority argued that the ban would deprive future generations of their cultural heritage.
That heritage, symbolized by distinctive costumes, headdresses, and ceremonies, has made the Masai one of the best known tribes in Africa even though it numbers only 240,000 out of Kenya's nearly 20 million people.
As a result of the elders' decision, a series of ``final'' Moran ceremonies is taking place through September across Masailand in southern Kenya.
Phillip Odupoy, a parliament member and assistant minister of planning and development, said the government did not wish to impose behavior standards on the Masai but sought to convince the tribe that Moranism prevents it from sharing fully in Kenya's development.
``If the Masai leaders see that a particular activity will not help in their development, it is their responsibility to educate their people about it,'' he said.
Mr. Odupoy said the government hopes the young men who would have formed the next generation of Morans will be weaned from the tradition smoothly and stay in school longer.