DAY 1

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SUNRISE AND INTRODUCTION 

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Welcome to Maasailand, which straddles the boarder between Kenya and Tanzania.  This is the Shampole Region where the Maasai are one of East Africa’s last indigenous tribes still practicing ancient rituals.  Today is the first of a three-day ceremony where Maasai Warriors will gather, slaughter a Bull, drink its blood and graduate into Elderhood.

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BOMA / MANYATTA

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This is a typical Maasai home known as a boma.  For this ceremony, 49 bomas have been constructed in a giant circle, which is known as a MANYATTA.  To build a boma, Maasai women collect warm, moist cow dung and apply it over a skeletal structure made from tree branches and bushes.   Once the dung is applied it bakes to a hard skin under the African sun.  It also provides a nice backrest for the Elders to watch their grandchildren play.

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CHILDREN

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Like most cultures, children represent the future and are held in the highest regard.  It is not uncommon for a male to have multiple children from several wives.  These children bring constant joy to the entire Manyatta for their only chore is to have fun.  If a daughter is born, she will marry and her dowry will include Bulls.  If a son is born he will become a Maasai Warrior and capture cows in future raids.  Either way, children always result in owning cattle, which is one of the most important things in Maasai culture.

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COWS

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Without cattle there would be no Maasai and without Maasai there would be no cattle.  Theirs is a symbiotic relationship and is the cornerstone of their culture.

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This white bull has been selected from thousands of cows in the region to be sacrificed.  On the third day of the ceremony, the Elders and a few distinguished Warriors will capture and suffocate the Bull.  Then the neck will be cut open and every Warrior will drink its blood.  Afterward, the bull is butchered and the flesh is consumed.

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Like communion, the Maasai Warriors drink the Bull’s blood and eat its flesh to honor and strengthen their relationship in the belief that cattle will always provide food, nourishment and wealth.

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But there is more to this ceremony than just the Bull.  Preparations have been taking place for months and it’s a big job to organize the festivities.  This duty falls on the shoulders of one man known as the Warrior Chief. 

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OLE SANKALE interview:  (Kimaasai in English Subtitles)

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Hello, my name is Ole Sankale and we are at the Warrior’s Manyatta named Ontoei.  All the Elders met in this Manyatta. They discussed many Warriors from many families and decided who was the right Warrior to lead this generation.  They said, “in this age group, in this community, Ole Sankale is supposed to be the Warrior Chief.”  It’s like a vote and that’s how I was elected.

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HONEY HUNTER

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As with any leader it is important for the Warrior Chief to assign responsibilities to trusted allies.  Ole Sankale has requested Moloke to hunt and retrieve fresh honey to be used in the ceremony.  Smoke is used to confuse the bees and slow them down, which prevents him from getting stung.

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The honeycomb is gathered three weeks before the ceremony.  The Maasai women will take the honeycomb, place it in a large container, add ginger root, sugar and water.  This mixture will ferment producing a local wine that will be added to the Bull’s blood during the ceremony.  The Maasai will also drink the wine throughout the festivities.  Even in remote corners of the world it’s not much of a celebration unless there’s some homemade brew.

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Men are not the only ones with responsibilities.  Maasai women play a vital role with childcare and a variety of home duties.

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WOMEN

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MOTHER NTITI INTERVIEW: (KIMAASAI IN ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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“As a Maasai woman, I must light the fire every morning.  Then I milk the cows.  After that I prepare the food.  I get firewood and water in the middle of the day.  In the evening I must make the fire before anyone comes back.  Then I have to milk the cows again and prepare more food for the entire Manyatta.  Then my duties are done.”

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Collecting firewood for this three-day ceremony is an ongoing task for there must be enough wood for over one thousand attendees.  The firewood will be used for cooking, light inside the bomas and heat for the cold arid nights.

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Maasai women are the backbone of their culture.  They work hard and bear many children.  As young girls they will enjoy a certain amount of freedom to date and love the Warriors.  But once they reach puberty they must perform an individual rite of passage.  Once this is achieved they will be allowed to marry and begin their motherly duties. 

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Like most women of the world the Maasai love jewelry and clothing most of which has traveled from India, to Kenyan port towns and into Maasailand. 

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Looking closely there are subtleties, which distinguish Kenyan Maasai women from Tanzanian Maasai Women.  Kenyan Maasai typically wear colorful garments and colorful beaded jewelry.  Tanzanian Maasai wear rust colored garments and white beaded jewelry.  Since Shampole is located in Kenya most of the women will be dressed accordingly.  But this young girl is unique.  She wears colorful garments yet white beads.  This mix can be attributed to this region, which straddles the Kenyan / Tanzanian border.  In either case the garments and jewelry are a pleasing compliment to the African landscape.

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MOTHER NTITI INTERVIEW:  (KIMAASAI WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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“I like the duties of the Maasai woman.  With these duties I am no longer bored.  I also like to sing.  There are many songs about the rain, the cattle and the Warriors.  And, I like them all.”

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WOMEN CONTINUED

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Women from neighboring communities travel to the Manyatta for the celebration.  They are the first to arrive and greet each other with a traditional dance.   For the next three days the women catch up with old friends, share secrets and sing traditional Maasai songs.  Their voices carry throughout the Manyatta and welcome the graduating Warriors.

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WARRIORS

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Maasai men have several stages in life that are clearly defined.  The first stage is youth where the primary responsibility is to have fun and tend to the herd.

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Every boy dreams of becoming a Maasai Warrior.  Once a boy enters puberty, he along with his peers, is circumcised.  Only then do these boys represent a new warrior generation.

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Maasai Warriors are free to roam throughout the land with their brethren.  They live sporadically in this Manyatta and share practically everything including food, chores and women.

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Warriors bring excitement and romance to the region, build thorn fences for the homestead, clear sand from wells and tend to cattle.  They constantly explore their surroundings to obtain news, settle disputes and maintain the well being of the community as a whole.   When the pressure from the next generation becomes too great, the Warriors are forced to graduate into Elderhood.  For the next few days, over 300 Warriors will pass from adolescent to adult, from single to family man, from Warrior to Elder.

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DAY 2

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The sun rises over the Manyatta and already Maasai women are collecting milk for the second day.  Today is important, as final preparations are finished, which include the arrival of green grass and the slaughter of over one hundred animals.

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OLE SANKALE INTERVIEW: (KIMAASAI IN ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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“For this ceremony, I called all the Warriors for a meeting.  Without permission, I will point to certain Warriors and tell them what is needed.  I will point and ask for a cow, or maybe twenty cows.  Even if the Warrior doesn’t have it, he must get it.  And the Warriors will not quarrel with me.  Maybe I need twenty goats.  I will ask the Warriors to give up their animals for the ceremony.”

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GOATS and FOOD

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The goat is essential to the Maasai, because it provides milk and meat.  When a goat reaches maturity and is no longer useful, the owner slaughters it.  For this ceremony, only healthy, strong goats are eaten. 

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The Maasai believe the most humane way to kill an animal is by suffocation. Tomorrow, the Elders and Warriors will use this same technique for the Bull.

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As with any celebration, food plays a critical role.  With over 300 hundred graduating Warriors and over one thousand attendees it is a big job to feed the entire Manyatta.  Today, the Warriors will slaughter both goats and cows to make sure everyone is fed.  

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Moloke uses a traditional Maasai knife made of sharpened steel.  It is rare to see a Maasai Warrior without his blade, which is used for cutting trees, defense and to slaughter animals. 

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OLE SANKALE INTERVIEW: (KIMAASAI WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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As the Warrior Chief, I maintain peace in the community.  Every activity that concerns the community has to involve me.  Elder, Warriors, everyone will ask me for advice and to lead the way.

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OLE SANKALE AND WARRIORS: (KIMAASAI WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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Moran:  “You know the weather is no good.  There is little rain, little water and there’s not much grass for grazing.  They are my father’s cows and are not very healthy.  They are thin and maybe they aren’t good to slaughter.  This is a problem for my family. – Can’t you see I’m talking.  Go away. – Also, my cows are grazing far away.”

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OS:  “I understand your problem so I will not ask you for a cow.”

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Moran:  “We need to get together and choose the Warriors who are going to hold the Bull when we slaughter it.”

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Moran:  “Oh, that’s easy.”

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OS:  “So, come and help us.”

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Moran:  “Easy?  Join us and let’s do this.”

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Moran:  “Come on.”

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Moran:  “You know which Warriors to choose.”

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Moran:  “Don’t worry about him”

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Moran:  “Him?  Don’t listen to him.  He doesn’t know anything.”

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OS:  “I’m giving you the responsibility to choose the Warriors who are going to help slaughter the Bull.”

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Moran:  “It’s a busy day.”

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OS:  “Oh, too busy.”

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Moran:  “You are responsible.”

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OS:  “I know, but it’s very big for me.” – “I am looking for Warriors to help me tomorrow.  I need you to get the Warriors and Bull ready.”

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GREEN GRASS

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In the middle of the day another group of Warriors arrive.   This group was sent by Ole Sankale to retrieve long green grass for the ceremony.  This region is extremely arid during this time of year, but the grass they carry is green and lush.  These Warriors traveled a great distance to find these reeds and bring them to the ceremony. 

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The grass is used for two things.  One, to emphasis its relationship to the Maasai way of life.  Without grass their cows have nothing to eat.  If the cows don’t eat, then they die.  If the cows die, then the Maasai die.  The second use is to provide bedding while the Bull is being slaughtered.   As the Bull is butchered, the green grass provides a layer between the meat and the ground. 

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The entire Manyatta greets the Warriors who have achieved success and the Elders look on to make sure the green grass protocol is performed to Maasai tradition. 

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Once this group of Warriors has been welcomed, they are escorted into the Manyatta toward a special boma that has been designated to hold the grass until tomorrow.  Once the grass is safely delivered and their responsibility complete, the Warriors are free to enjoy the celebration.  

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OLE SANKALE WITH ELDER: (KIMAASAI WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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Elder:  “You are responsible for this ceremony.  We should talk about the meat.  I’ve seen this before.  No matter what you do, they are going to complain, because there are so many people here.   Make sure the portions of meat are the same for everyone.”

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OS:  “Okay.” - “Give us a moment.”

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Elder:  “We’ll talk later.” – “When you cut the meat, please consider me first.  Slice the meat into small pieces.  Very thin, thin, thin, thin.  Then put it into small portions and distribute to the Chiefs and the Warriors, then everyone else.  You may need someone to help you distribute the meat.  Are you okay with this?”

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OS:  “Yes.”

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EATING MEAT

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The Maasai rarely eat beef.  Only on special occasions such as this are cows consumed.  Multiple fire pit s are constructed to roast the meat and the Elders keep a watchful eye over the precious resource. 

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Once the meat is cooked all boys, Warriors and Elders retreat to nearby woods to enjoy the feast. 

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Young boys talk of their impending circumcision and their dreams of becoming Warriors.

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Warriors talk of their bravery, the girls they’ve loved and the fun they’ve shared over these past years.   It’s a time to secure the bonds that hold them together throughout their adult lives.

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And Elders discuss family, cattle and reminisce about the days of their graduation.

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No matter what stage of life you’re in, everyone enjoys eating meat.

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ELDERS

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Elders hold a special place within the community. First and foremost, they are family men.  They are also wise men, medicine men, advisors and judges.  They must guard Maasai culture, uphold tradition and maintain the welfare of all Maasai. 

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This time marks a period of responsibility, marriage and the acquisition of wealth from children and cattle.  The Maasai Elder looks forward to an old age not of isolation but of continuing involvement within the Maasai community.

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DAY 2 - SUMMATION

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Towards the end of the second day, the young boys return with their livestock after a long day of feeding.  The sacrificial white Bull is also brought back to the Manyatta after being carefully tended to. 

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Now that the green grass has been delivered, everyone has eaten and the sacred Bull is safe, the entire Manyatta will gather, dance and sing under an auspicious moon in anticipation for tomorrow’s activities.

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DAY 3 - INTRODUCTION

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The Warriors have been waiting up to eight years for this day to arrive.  Today, the Elders and a few select Warriors will suffocate the Bull.  Then the Warriors will drink its blood, be given a special ring and consume its flesh.  The ceremony ends with a final blessing and iconic dancing that celebrates the Warrior’s entry into Elderhood.

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SUFFOCATION

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To properly suffocate the Bull, a blue cloth secured by a leather strap is placed over its snout.  Designated Elders hold the cloth in place until the Bull has been butchered.  Only then will they remove it from the Bull.

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OLE SANKALE INTERVIEW: (KIMAASAI WITH ENGLISH  SUBTITLES)

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“The Bull is slaughtered in the center of the Manyatta.  No other animal will be slaughtered today, only the Bull.  And, everyone in the Manyatta will eat only the Bull.”

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DRINKING THE BLOOD

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The next part of the ritual is to cut open the Bulls neck.  The Elders separate the skin from the muscle, making a bowl for the Warriors to drink from. 

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An Elder decorates the Warriors with chalk from a local riverbank.  Even the Elders are decorated. 

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The honey wine along with milk is added to the Bull’s blood.  Tea is eventually added and the blood will be blessed before the Warriors drink.

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BLESSING:  (KIMAASAI WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES)

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“God has blessed it.  Drink this blood.  Drink it.  You will be strong.  Very strong.  It is protection from illness.  It will protect you from evil.  It is the power so you can do you duties.  You will have the power to fight.  It will protect your family.  Drink it.  It is the medication.  Bless you.  Bless you.  It is protection.  It is protection.  It is protection.”

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Every Graduating Warrior will bow before the sacred Bull and drink it’s blood. 

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SKINNING THE BULL / RINGS

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Not only does the Bull provide meat, but its hoofs are used as ornaments and the horns as containers.  The hide will be stretched and dried under the sun.  It is used for bedding inside the boma, to make rope, shoes, shields and even skirts for the women to wear.  The skin is cut into strips, then into small pieces with a center slit, which creates a ring.  The Elders bless these rings and place them onto the Warriors’ finger signifying a marriage between the Warrior and Bull.

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ONCE THE BULL HAS BEEN SKINNED

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Once the Bull has been skinned, the Elders will butcher and roast the meat for the next part of the ceremony.  After all of the meat has been removed, the blue cloth is finally taken from the Bull’s snout and the head will remain as is.

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The Warriors who live in the Manyatta wait for the Bull’s horns to decay and fall from the skull.  Once the horns fall the Warriors are free to leave the Manyatta and start their lives as Elders.

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EATING THE MEAT

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Now that the meat is cooked, Elders bless and feed it to each Warrior.

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And finally, Ole Sankale, the Warrior chief takes the Bull’s flesh. 

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After a final blessing, the Warriors have become Elders.

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DANCING and CLOSING

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After roaming the bush for years, suffocating the Bull, drinking its blood, and eating its flesh, the Maasai Warrior can finally rejoice.  It’s a time to celebrate, a time to dance and a time to praise Maasai culture.   This Warrior Ceremony has come to an end and upheld the proud traditions of all Maasai.

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Writer                           Brad Minnich

Producer                                   Brad Minnich

Director                                     Brad Minnich

Editor                                       Brad Minnich

Sound Design                Brad Minnich

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Narrator                         Kiesha McCorry

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The Warrior Chief                 Ole Sankale

Maasai Mother               Mother Ntiiti

The Honey Hunter               Moloke

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Editorial Consultant                     David Brenner

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Assistant Editor             Jonathan Howard

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Camera Operator                        Alan Smith

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Translators                                Simon Komeyian

                                                Peter Mpanda

                                                John Ntiiti

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Research                                  Kakuta Ole Maimai

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Web Design                              Ian Robertson

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Fiscal Sponsor              Documentary

Educational

Resources

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Maasai Community                    Shampole Maasai

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