Marias ole Pello became a Maasai chief in 1986. This is his story of how it happened.
In 1986 people of the area had a big big meeting, where over 200 elders gathered. The reason for the meeting was to decide on a new traditional leader for the area of Engaruka. In that time there was about 1600 people who lived in that area with around 400 in my age group.
When we have special problems we call on meetings and solve problems. At this time our current leader was getting too old and a new one was to be elected. The elders think that now is the time to have a new traditional leader, and therefore call to this meeting.
Initially the people decide on 10 names out of the 400 young Maasais. In the next step the people decide on 10 names. When I first heard my name called I got very afraid. I could not feel that I was strong enough to deal with the community problems, and to finish them.
We don’t make votes. The selection happens in the conversation.. Elders stand up and present names. Others express views around those names and the number of names become smaller until only one is left. The selection process takes around three months, and the elders meet a number of times during this period.
When I was elected, the younger elders made a very big ceremony between the communities. They chose a leader stick and brought it to me. In the ceremony they slaughtered 10 cows and 60 goats and sheep. They made a traditional alcohol for the celebration. Many people came to this fiest where people were eating and drinking, dancing and singing to celebrate the new leader.
At this time I was 26 years old. I was very happy to realize that all people in the areas respected me. People where happy to have a new leader.
I think I am a good leader because I give people space to decide themselves. Also many times I have helped people. I have sold cows so that I could sponsor people in my village at times.
After I become a leader my life was changed in several ways. One way that is different is that as a leader you are no longer allowed to have an opinion. As a leader I help my community, my people to make decisions. If I get a new idea I must share my thoughts with the community. Being a Maasai leader is not like being a king. I don’t say “I like that cow from Leif. Bring it!” or similar. I am always obliged to share my thoughts with the community and to find solutions together.