Cecil: “Simba”

“Did you ever kill a lion?”

That question was always asked by children wherever and whenever our Kenyan Maasai friends spoke at presentations on behalf of the Maasai Cultural Exchange Project’s visits inside numerous Bucks and Montgomery  County schools. I was reminded of their curiosity when the outrage blew up after the killing of Cecil the lion by that big game hunter.

Those children’s innocent pursuit for knowledge led me to contrast the tortuous slaughter of Cecil the Lion  with the Maasai’s decision to disband their ancient tribal custom of killing lions. Years and even generations before big game hunting in Kenya was banned in 1977, this indigenous tribe killed lions to establish their bravery as Warriors. However, after diseases such as rabies or canine distemper and the rise of unlawful poaching, the Maasai began the practice of olamayio, the Maa word that means ‘Group Hunting’. Now the Maasai hunt to kill lions only when the animal suffers from those diseases which could threaten their cattle, goats or sheep.

This piece of Maasai jewelry is called 'issurri'. It is a special ornament worn only by mothers whose sons are going through the Rite of Passage, also known as Warrior-hood (moranship)

This piece of Maasai jewelry is called ‘issurri’. It is a special ornament worn only by mothers whose sons are going through the Rite of Passage, also known as Warrior-hood (moranship)

Olamayio, is also practiced in the Maasai ‘Rite of Paasage’, the cultural ceremony where young males become adults through their transition to Warriors. The ritual no longer ends with the killing of a lion. Instead whichever boy in the group runs the fastest to reach out and grab the lion’s tail receives the honor of Warrior, thereby representing all the other boys in the olamayio who  complete their ‘Rite of Passage’ with him. More importantly the Maasai don’t eat the meat of lions or any wildlife, limiting that aspect of their diet to goat and beef.

The NGO we partner with–Simba Maasai Outreach Organization–is committed to preserve wildlife in the land surrounding their Olosho oibor village. The Lioness–the identifying name for females–is never hunted because her role is to ensure the continuation of the species. The Maasai’s reverence for the lioness is reflected in a true story that occurred several years ago in Olosho oibor: A lioness protected a lost child until found by the villagers. In time I believe this incident that is already a legend throughout Olosho oibor will become a Maasai folktale the elder women will tell over and again to their grandchildren.

The outrage since Cecil’s death remains loud and worldwide.  Researchers at Oxford University in Great Britain had for over ten years observed Cecil through a tracking device on his neck as he roamed the terrain in Zimbabwe’s National Park. Now that’s lost. Positive reactions include more awareness about the threatened loss of wildlife in Africa and around the globe. Some airlines will no longer transport carcasses of killed wildlife in the belly of their planes. Zimbabwe is attempting to extradite dentist Walter Palmer to their country to face charges for his “illegal” kill. The dentist remains in hiding since his hunt/kill of Cecil.

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