Taita - Fables and legends

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The Taita and the Maasai

The Taita and the Maasai

These two legends relate to the song "Don't Chase the Boys Away at Night", which you can hear and read a quick description of by clicking on "sound clips" on the left of your screen.

The following short tales were told to me by Harrison Mwachala of Wundanyi, in relation to a song about a boy who tried to seek permission from his sweetheart's parents to stay at her home for the night...

The Taita, the Kamba, and the Kikuyu, who lived on higher ground and in forest country, were rather better placed than the Rift Valley peoples to defy the warring Maasai. On the edges of their country they even entered into some permanent trade and marriage relations with the Maasai.

The boy invokes the spectre of the Maasai coming to raid, meaning it is better that he stays, for that way the parents will have to remain awake at night not just to protect their daughter's reputation, but to guard against attacks.

The Maasai used to raid women from Taita as well as cattle - when they were eventually recovered, some of course had been made pregnant by Maasai, which means that the Taita people living around the western and northwestern fringes of the hills are related by blood to the Maasai. This group is known as the Wawa va Wawai (pronounced Va-waiwawee), and live near Vuria, the district's highest hill. They form part of the Muanda (Mwalamba?) group.

The Maasai, however, feared the Wawa va Wawai, as they believed that they could eat fire. A story relates that one night, as the Maasai snuck up to the Wawa va Wawai's camps to spy before a raid, they saw them plucking embers out of a campfire with their hands, and then eating them! What the Wawa va Wawai were really eating were potatoes, which were unknown to the Maasai at that time.

This legend was soon bolstered by another, which relates a battle in which the Maasai were repulsed, leaving many dead. One Maasai, who feared for his life, pulled out the exposed intestines of a dead colleague, and placed them over his own stomach to feign death. After the battle, the Taita came and saw that he was still moving, so to ensure he was really dead, they planted a spear through his head. A Maasai survivor ran back to tell the story, and from then on, the Maasai knew the Taita as a people who refused to let even the dead escape.

Aside from the obvious, the tales also suggest a time when the Taita were more vulnerable to Maasai attack, meaning that they had not yet moved up into the Taita Hills.

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