Life in the Boma

by Luca Catalano Gonzaga

The Maasai live in kraals of extended families, which today have come to be popularly known as bomas. This is a large circular thorn enclosure containing huts and animal pens to protect the family and their cattle from predators. Every wife has her own hut where she lives with her children. A son starting his household chooses one end of the boma and builds his house. The Maasai hut is oval with a curved roof. It is built by the women with sticks, grass and cow-dung mixed with ash and it is their job to mantain the structures by smearing them with cow-dung from time to time to prevent leaks. The interior is very dark to keep away the flies that roam around the goats and herds of cows. Traditionally, the Maasai are polygamous. The bigger the herd, the more people  will be needed to tend the cattle. A Maasai woman has a chain of duties to perform dor the family: she must build and repair the huts, fetch water, collect firewood, milk cows and take care of the children. When there are two or three wives in the household, the work is shared. Thus, for the Maasai, polygamy is more a way of survival than a sign of prestige. Young girls in the family help thei mothers with the house chores and also sometimes help their brothers to graze calves close to the boma. Driving cattle to the pastures is largely the work of the younger boys who have not yet undergone the circumcision rite of passage. When cattle are driven further away, the junior warriors may join in. (text by Luca Catalano Gonzaga).