Maasai - Fables and Legends

The Origin of Death

From Naomi Kipury's excellent "Oral Literature of the Maasai" (1983: East African Educational Publishers Ltd., PO Box 45314 Nairobi, Kenya). See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

The Origin of Death, collected by Naomi Kipury

In the beginning there was no death. This is the story of how death came into the world.
   There was once a man known as Leeyio who was the first man that Naiteru-kop brought to earth. Naiteru-Kop then called Leeyio and said to him: "When a man dies and you dispose of the corpse, you must remember to say, 'man die and come back again, moon die, and remain away'."
   Many months elapsed before anyone died. When, in the end, a neighbour's child did die, Leeyio was summoned to dispose of the body. When he took the corpse outside, he made a mistake and said:
   "Moon die and come back again, man die and stay away." So after that no man survived death.
   A few more months elapsed, and Leeyio's own child went missing. So the father took the corpse outside and said: "Moon die and remain away, man die and come back again." On hearing this, Naiteru-kop said to Leeyio: "You are too late now for, through your own mistake, death was born the day when your neighbour's child died." So that is how death came about, and that is why up to this day when a man dies he does not return, but when the moon dies, it always comes back again.


1. Naiteru-kop literally means 'the beginner of the earth'

2. The Maasai never refer to a dead man as 'dead'. In the case of young people, they talk of him as being 'missing' (etalaki). For old people, they are said to 'have slept'.


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