Miterienanka: it’s not just another name
Olamayiani – the blessed one, Mingati – one who is fast and doesn’t lag behind, Miterienanka – one who is quick to claim (win) glory by killing a lion. These are just some of the most popular lion names a moran (a Maasai warrior) can receive from spearing a lion.
In Maasai culture the first warrior to spear a lion in a successful hunt is given a name that represents the characteristics of both the warrior and the lion he speared. A lion name conveys upon the young warrior recognition and prestige amongst his community and peers. A warrior with a lion name feels that something great has happened to him. When the successful warrior brings the lion’s mane and tail back to his manyatta (his home in the community) to be put on display, he is treated and celebrated as a hero. Other warriors who don’t yet have their lion names yearn to have this same recognition and so dream about the day that it will be their turn to bring home the lion trophy.
When a Maasai boy is born, he has two names. One name reflects his father’s family. He also has a given name, which is usually chosen to honor a family friend, or someone respected by the family. If for some reason this given name becomes tainted, the boy’s father can give him a new name, but the family name never changes. Once a boy has been circumcised (usually between ages 16 to 18), he stops being called by these names. He is from that point on addressed with the generic name “Moran”, unless he has somehow already killed a lion, in which case he is called by his lion name. So there is more pressure than ever for a young Moran to distinguish himself from his other nameless peers and get a name that recognizes his strength, fearlessness and ability to protect his community.
However, the Maasai communities are beginning to discourage lion killing, due to the rapidly dwindling lion population; therefore many new warriors are not being given the opportunity to earn themselves a lion name, which is something that they have been dreaming about since childhood. In Eselenkei group ranch, just as a passing experiment, Lion Guardians started calling a few young Moran by lion names, even though they had not yet killed a lion. We found that the younger boys and girls of the community began addressing these young Moran by these lion names, and soon thereafter, the older members of the community did so as well. The idea caught on like wildfire and soon their peers in their age-set also wanted to have lion names. But we also found that there were still several warriors who felt that they wanted to prove themselves and their bravery in order to earn their lion name. For these warriors we have been assigning them Lion Guardian tasks, and if they are able to show that they understand conservation and are able to protect a lion, then they get a lion name that reflects the characteristics of the lions they are protecting. So it is a win-win situation for all. They are now earning the respect and admiration of their community for having protected a lion. This is just yet another example of how the Maasai are willing to adapt their culture to changing times while still holding on to the core principles and the essence of being a Maasai Warrior, a Moran.