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Maasai Shields and Their Place in African Life

05/20/2009 16:36

Maasai shields are used not only as weapons in the Maasai culture of Kenya. They also express the art and culture of the Maasai people in Kenya. Each shield is crafted from buffalo hide sewn onto a wooden frame. The handle is attached at the center back of the shield and wrapped with leather strips. Among the Maasai, red paint was traditionally obtained by mixing earth with blood or the red sap of the solanum campylae fruit. White was derived from local clays and black from the skins of burnt gourds. Younger warriors were only allowed the use of black, white, or gray on their shields, while red shields were for the senior warriors. A Maasai warrior is rarely seen without a spear and shield. Spears are a warrior's most precious possession and are used for defending herds and the community against predators. Spears are used as walking sticks and staffs, most commonly seen thrust in the ground by the warrior's side. The metal is kept rust-free by polishing it with animal fat. Wood separates the leaf-shaped blade from the sharpened end. Dark ebony wood is used only among senior warriors, where lighter wood indicates a junior. In Maasai culture, a boy grows into a junior and then senior warrior (mid teens-mid thirties). When a new age set matures to replace them, senior warriors become junior elders, and finally senior elders, or ancients. Warriors are protectors of the tribe. They are the first line of defense against animals such as lions, and outsiders. They are also expected to perform the hard work around the encampment. Shields remain one of the Maasai warrior's most important tools. They were used in warfare and hunting as well as practice and training. Outside of the warring context, however, shields were used in rites of passage and also functioned as prestige objects and symbols of identification. Early studies revealed that spear markings and shield designs were once used to tell between some of the Maasai subgroups and also hinted at a larger, complex lineage identification system. Shield designs are known as sirata. Different designs and colors represent different things; a red badge signifies great bravery in battle and is only painted with the permission of a high-ranking chief. The intricacy of design and high craftsmanship of Maasai shields extend beyond utilitarianism and convey the sense of honor and status with which their warrior owners were invested. If you're interested in ordering your own Maasai shield, check out the links below to find out how you can get them at the most affordable price!

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