Children & Traditional Beliefs
In the past Maasai families lived exclusively off their cattle and other animals. The wealth of a family was determined by 2 things – the number of children you had (the more the wealthier) and the number of cows you had (the more the wealthier) - there was no money, cows were currency. This has led to overpopulation and hunger. The older generation does not want to change, but change needs to occur to create a sustainable future for the people.
In the past when no Maasai men had salaried jobs and they lived exclusively off their cattle and other animals, the way the wealth of a family was determined by 2 things – the number of children you had (the more the wealthier) and the number of cows you had (the more the wealthier) - there was no money, cows were currency. Therefore today many of the older maasai, and those not having a formal education in a school, still have some of those beliefs. So the man I know of who has 52 children, and the one I know personally with 25 children have multiple wives and all these children.
The problem is that today they have not thought through how on earth they can send children to school at $250 a year in primary school, so those children will not go to school unless someone else pays for them. We are working with many people now to explain the problems and to try to have them understand that 2-3 children is enough. The other factor playing into that in prior times was that many children would die in childhood from malaria, typhoid and other such diseases so as you needed children to support you in old age when you could no longer work, you need a lot of children as many of them were likely to die.
Cows were also very important and today there are still massive herds of hundreds of cows owned by “wealthy” men. Problem is that there is not enough pasture land for them to graze on – more people each having many cows means no food for the cows. There are now problems with cows encroaching on the land of others, cows having to be moved many many miles to find food, cows in the national parks at night. We have learned of a different breed of cow that has 8 times more milk than the normal maasai cow, and we are told that the milk is much sweeter than milk from the usual maasai cows also.
So we are now working to try and have older men understand that it’s better to have fewer of the new breed of cow so that they won’t need as much land to graze on. It’s an uphill battle but we have convinced some people at 2 communities and would like to find a way to convince all the other maasai men in Kenya. But still for the old guard having 12 cows producing the same amount of milk as 100 would produce should be a good thing, but if you take wealth into account it is not the best thing.