Masai-Carlisle parallels

On my first visit to Tanzania I met someone who knew Lone Star Dietz as those who read the introduction to my first book know. This trip I had a quite different experience. Last week Wednesday we visited a rural elementary school that serves the Masai children who live in the area.

Tanzania now has compulsory education but the Masai are very traditional people, nomadic herdsmen whose shrinking range once included the Serengeti plains. Few of the children actually attend school and those that do are often considered weaker or in some other way less desirable by their parents than the ones they don’t send. The Masai have their own religion and language but are taught Swahili and English in school. Both sexes are circumcised as part of a rite of passage into adulthood.

Very few girls attend school because, due to the practice of polygamy, there is a constant demand for brides. Many girls are promised in marriage before they are born and livestock would have to be returned if the girl does not eventually marry the man. Masai don’t want their children going to school and having contact with children of the 119 other tribes in Tanzania because, in part, due to the possibility that children might leave the tribe or girls wouldn’t follow through with the marriage contract. Apparently, some mothers encourage their daughters to get pregnant so that they can get married sooner and receive the remainder of the dowry.

Some Masai children go three days without water due to the area being arid and their homes being distant from the wells. To encourage attendance, teachers provide students with food and water when it is available. The school catches rainwater in a cistern for drinking water, but in the dry months there is little or no rain. As there are no buses students walk long distances to school, up to four hours I’m told.

As the teacher described the situation, I noticed some parallels to the issues Pratt attempted to deal with at Carlisle Indian School. Due to being confined on reservations, the Indians’ range was shrunk dramatically and was often the least desirable land. American Indians had their own languages and religions but were forced to learn English and attend Christian churches at school. Polygamy was practiced by some tribes and girls were sent to school with less frequency than were boys because they had value as brides.

In spite of all that, one of the Masai girls completed school and became a doctor as did some Carlisle students.

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