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Community communication is the practice of sharing information amongst individual of a given society. Communication has always been hailed as one of the key unifiers of members of particular communities. The easier it is for individuals to share what is in their minds, the easier it is for them to relate with one another.
Communication as a social aspect is multi faceted in the sense that it comprises various different aspects working both independently and in conjunction with other components to maintain a harmonious understanding between parties. In most societies around the world business is regarded as the mainstay.
All activities within a given community generally tend to be under the influence of economic activities both directly and indirectly. This essay seeks to illustrate the importance of communication particularly in fostering social interaction. To this end, the Maasai community from east Africa has been selected to provide the focus of the study.
Introduction/principles of communication
The Maasai is one of the tribes from Africa that has strived to maintain culture in its original form by trying to stay away from modernization to a great extent. As a result, most of their practices are viewed as wayward and unpolished by the other tribes of the region which have long abandoned traditional lifestyles and wholly embraced westernized ways of living.
The Maasai are primarily nomadic herds-people who depend entirely on their livestock to earn their livelihood. Cows in particular are extremely valued by members of the community and the more one owns, the wealthier he is seen to be regardless of the living conditions of the person.
The first principle of communication in this community is the differentiation between speech and talk. Like with any other community, the Maasai have clearly identified ways of differentiating the act of an individual uttering words (speech) and the act of an individual saying something that makes sense to another person (talk). Culturally, a younger person within the community, a young man is not allowed to initiate communication with an elder.
This goes even when conducting business transactions. For example, in the market places, the young men can only communicate with their peers without any prompting but have to wait for elder persons to engage them in conversation before responding.
This pattern of cross-generational communication is seen as a method of ensuring that respect is maintained at all times. At the same time, in a market setting, it is realized that the seller and the buyer are out to seal a worthwhile deal. This therefore somehow allows the young people a chance to ‘fight’ for their right without coming out as submissive.
Interactivity as an aspect of both talk and speech also bears some significant bearing in the communication patterns of the community members. For a meaningful business transaction to take place, both parties must be able to communicate at levels that are comfortable with either side and using codes that are known to both parties.
A social interaction amongst the Maasai is just another form of communication and therefore operates by one party making proposals to another via elements of speech and the respondent party recognizing such insinuations and responding accordingly.
Good listenership has been given immense appreciation amongst the Maasai. The doctrines of the community propose that for anyone to have a meaningful conversation and particularly in business, he or she must be in a position to take time and listen to what the other person is saying. It is quite unlikely that communication can occur if both of the parties involved talk at the same time. Communication is a one way event that calls for one of the parties to stay quite and receive the message and then respond as the other party stays quiet.
Gatherings that bring community members together amongst the Maasai employ communication and its established principles at all levels to foster proper relations amongst involved persons. Such gatherings include weddings, cattle raids and inter-tribe battles, rites of passage such as circumcision, funerals and annual family gatherings. These shall be explained in detail below with specific emphasis on how communication takes place at the selected meeting.
Pregnancy, child birth and naming ceremonies
Child birth is given a lot of symbolism amongst the Maasai community. It is regarded as a representation of the beginning of the continuous cycle of life where an individual gets born, lives, dies and gets reincarnated. When a woman is pregnant, a special hut is constructed for her and the husband is required to abstain from entering the said hut for the entire length of the pregnancy.
Female relatives are expected to come visit her and attend to her every need especially as the pregnancy progresses. Maasai tradition allow for men whose wives are pregnant to get their sexual needs met by the wives of their agemates. All they have to do is ensure that they go to the house of a friend when he is not around and ask the woman of the house for sexual favors.
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If she agrees, the man plants his spear (Maasai men are required by customs to always walk around with spears) at the entrance of the hut while his sexual needs are taken care of. Should the man of the house come home while the activity is going on, the spear at the door will alert him and he is required to walk away and come back later.
On the day of delivery, midwives and even more relatives of the woman giving birth visit the home while their male counterparts prepare festivities to welcome the newborn baby. Once the baby is born, the women are required to alert the men of the gender of the baby by a distinct shout.
Boys are valued more than girls and so should the communication suggest that a son has been born into the home, bigger celebrations are planned. Girls are generally welcomed into the Maasai community without elaborate festivities. However, for both an animal has to be slaughtered and its blood poured to the ground as a sign of thanking the ancestors for ensuring the continuation of the community.
The naming ceremony comes much later, sometimes even a month after the birth of the child. On this specific day, members of the clan assemble at the home and after day-long feasting, the oldest member of the household, mostly a matriarch gets into a frenzied chant shouting the names of relatives who have passed away.
A name is chosen for the child when he or she responds by crying at the mention of a certain ancestor. This is received as a sign from the particular ancestor that he or she does not wish to be forgotten. Once a name has been arrived at, celebrations are carried out in honor of the person that the child has been named after and this may go on for upto a week depending on how important the person was in the community.
Circumcision as a rite of passage is one of the most notable celebrations that brings people together amongst the Maasai community. Once a young man is of a certain age, he is assigned a certain age-set mainly comprising of individuals born around the same time as him. In a ceremony that occurs once every three years, the members of the various age sets undergo circumcision accompanied by festivities that could go on for as long as a month.
On the day of the event, community members gather together in a given locale and build make-shift camps to celebrate the occasion. This, like most other Maasai cultural activities is exclusively a man-led affair. The young men who are to face the knife are expected to show a lot of machismo and bravado especially on the day of the cut itself.
Any signs of fear in the eyes of the young man could essentially pass out a message of cowardice and this could lead to a lifetime of ridicule. Older men perform rituals before the actual ceremony begins including offering sacrifices and libations to appease the ancestors.
Younger men who have already been through the procedure offer moral support by chanting warrior songs as the procedures are going on. the men undergoing the procedure also work hard on their psychological strength because even as much as a flinch is interpreted as unpreparedness to join manhood.
This is worsened because the cut is done without the use of anesthesia and the basic tool used is a sharpened knife/machete. Once all the persons in a given age-set have had the procedure done, the escorting tour alerts the entire village by chanting and singing war-like songs as they walk the with the circumcised men around the in the outskirts of the village.
Women from the villages are expected to respond by ululations though they are not allowed to come anywhere near the men. Animals are slaughtered roasted on open fires while blood is boiled in pots and the men have their fill. The women are given some parts of the animals to prepare their meals elsewhere outside the view of the men. These celebrations go on for the entire healing period of the circumcised men.
During this period, the young men are taught by their older counterparts on how to conduct themselves in the days to come as they are now considered adults. Bravery is expected to be manifested in this time as well and the young men get out of their little camps hidden in the jungle every night to hunt. The one who can single handedly take down a dangerous animal, say a lion, is regarded a hero and the most manly; a title that will come in handy when choosing a wife or campaigning for community leadership.
On the day that the initiates are released back into the community, the way they conduct themselves is regarded as the center of attention in order to establish whether or not the exercise was worthwhile. The way they carry themselves and handle converstions clearly communicates to the public that they are now grown ups and should be treated as such.
Marriage is generally hailed amongst the Maasai as one of the key rites of passage. Young men after undergoing circumcision are allowed to pick a suitable mate and get married in the shortest time possible. These mate-selection ceremonies bring together young men and women from the community and elaborate festivities (sometimes going into weeks) are carried out on a nightly basis to give the young people a chance to seek potential husbands and wives.
The rules of the community do not allow women to send direct messages to men they are interested in but ultimately it is the ladies who decide who to get married to. The young ladies seeking husbands adorn themselves in beautiful colored necklaces and bangles. The eligible men as well plait their hair in thin braids and also spot several layers of jewellery. They also walk around with spears-to symbolize that they are ready to defend the ladies at all times.
This ceremony is usually very competitive with men participating in a dance that would give the girls a chance to select from the group the individual they find most desirable. The dance is usually characterized by the men leaping into the air amidst warrior-like chants and hums. Normally, the man who jumps highest into the air gets the most attention from the ladies and they (the ladies) are expected to show their interest by smiling and gazing in the direction of the man they find admirable.
The man is then expected to reciprocate by walking over to the lady in a move seen as a “marking of the territory”. Unlike the western cultures, the Maasai are not allowed to marry unless their parents approve. So, even after this elaborate mate-picking ceremony, a young man is required by custom and tradition to inform their parents about their intention.
If the young man’s parents approve of the choice, they are expected to send an emissary to the lady’s parents informing them of their son’s wish to marry from the family. Once the girl’s parents approve, another ceremony is organized to negotiate the bride price. In such a gathering various symbolic forms of communication are presented for instance the slaughtering of animals and offering the blood as libations to the ancestor.
The dowry-fixing ceremony is only attended by older men from both parties with the women lurking in the shadows and are only called in to attend to the dining needs of the men.
On the day of settling the bride price, the groom and his party drive the cattle into the homestead of the bride flanked by older men who are meant to offer guidance as well as ensure that good manners are maintained by the young men at all times. in the bride’s homestead, a person (mostly a young boy) is appointed crier, to alert the neighborhood when he sees the guests approaching the village. This is communicative message that is passed by shouts and jubilation and once again the girl’s family assembles to welcome the visitors.
Later into the night, the groom’s party is involved in a mock fight with men from the bride’s side in a move aimed to suggest that the girl is going into safe hands. The ceremony ends up with the groom and his party staging a kidnap of the bride and whisking her away into their village. During the ‘kidnap’, the bride is expected to scream and wail, though in pretence as a way to show that she has been forced to abandon her people.
Sickness, Death and funerals
The Maasai, particularly those living in the rural parts of East-Africa, have not welcomed the idea of hospitals and hospitalization. As such, individuals who get sick are treated by herbs prescribed by the community medicine man.
During this period of sickness, relatives from all over the land are expected to visit bringing messages of goodwill and prayers to the homestead. In severe illnesses, the people retire to the will of the ancestors and as the person awaits his death, several relatives stay around to offer support in terms of campaigning for the fallen ancestors to welcome him or her into the afterlife with dignity.
Once the person has breathed his or her last, a female member of the household alerts the rest of the community of the occurrence by a high pitched wail.
This is supported by screams and more wails from all the women that receive the message and normally, individuals particularly women troop into the homestead wailing and prostrating themselves before the dead person irrespective of whether they knew the deceased or not.
During this time, libations and other practices aimed at communicating with the ancestors are carried out in order to see the spirit of the deceased off in decency.
The Maasai do not bury their dead and instead wrap the body in cow hide and take it as far away from the village and dispose it like any piece of garbage. This is a symbolization of the community’s customs and beliefs that the body is just vessel and once the person dies it is of no use and should therefore not be given much attention.
After the corpse has been done away with, the bereaved family is given company by distant relatives and friends for as long as necessary. All this while the community members ensure that the needs of the visitors are adequately taken care of especially in terms of food and individuals are expected by cultures to contribute depending on their ability. This is a part of the community regulations that seeks to show that community members are not equally endowed and that to whom much is given much is expected.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that communication takes prime significance in sustenance of traditions and culture. This by extension goes a long way into supporting the concept of community by ensuring that relationship ties are not severed by the introduction of concepts of modernization.
Communal gatherings provide the best opportunity especially for traditional societies to practice symbolic communication and combine it with direct forms of communication in providing individuals with the chance to interact and learn from one another.
This has been illustrated in this essay by drawing from the various events in the life of a Maasai individual that attract the getting together of community members. The various forms of communication as accepted by the culture have been well elaborated and the significance of symbolic actions clearly explained.