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MASAI

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Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 835 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MASAI, an Eastern Equatorial African people of Negro-Hamitic stock, speaking a Nilotic language. The Hamitic element, which is not great, has probably been derived from the Galla. The Masai were probably isolated in the high mountains or plateaus which lie between the Nile and the Karamojo country. There they originally had their home, and there to-day the Latuka, who show affinities with them, still live. Famine or inter-tribal wars drove the Masai in the direction of Mount Elgon and Lake Rudolf. After a long settlement there they split into two groups, the Masai proper and the Wa-Kuafi or agricultural Masai, and this at no very remote date, as the two tribes speak practically the same language. The more powerful Masai were purely nomadic and pastoral, their wealth consisting in enormous herds. The Wa-Kuafi, losing their cattle to their stronger kinsmen, split up again into the Burkeneji, the Gwas Ngishu, and the Nyarusi (Enjamusi) and settled as agriculturists. Meantime the Masai became masters of the greater part of inner East Africa from Ugogo and the Unyamwezi countries on the south and west to Mount Kenya and Galla-land on the north, and eastward to the hundred-mile strip of more or less settled Bantu country on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The Masai physical type is slender, but among the finest in Africa. A tall, well-made people, the men are often well over six feet, with slim wiry figures, chocolate-coloured, with eyes often slightly oblique like the Mongolians, but the nose especially being often almost Caucasian in type, with well formed bridge and finely cut nostrils. Almost all the men and women knock out the two lower incisor teeth. For this custom they give the curious explanation that lockjaw was once very common in Masai-land, and that it was found to be easy to feed the sufferer through the gap thus made. All the hair on the body of both sexes is pulled out with iron tweezers; a Masai with a moustache or beard is unknown. The hair of the head is shaved in women and married men; but the hair of a youth at puberty is allowed to grow till it is long enough to have thin strips of leather plaited into it. In this way the hair, after a coating of red clay and mutton fat, is made into pigtails, the largest of which hangs down the back, another over the forehead, and one on each side. The warriors smear their whole bodies with the clay and fat, mixed in equal proportion. No tattooing or scarring is performed on the men, but Sir Harry Johnston noticed women with parallel lines burnt into the skin round the eyes. In both sexes the lobes of the ears are distended into great loops, through holes in which large disks of wood are thrust. Bead necklaces, bead and wood armlets are worn by men, and before marriage the Masai girl has thick iron wire wound round her legs so tightly as to check the calf development. The women wear dressed hides or calico; the old men wear a skin or cloth cape. The warriors wind red calico round their waists, a circle of ostrich feathers round their face (or a cap of lion or colobus skin) and fringes of long white fur round the knee. Masai houses are of two kinds. The agricultural tribes build round huts with walls of reeds or sticks, and conical, grass-thatched roofs. The true Masai nomads, how-ever, have houses unlike those of any other neighbouring negro tribe. Long, low (not more than 6 ft. high), flat-roofed, they are built on a framework of sticks with strong partitions dividing the structure into separate compartments, each a dwelling, with low, oblong door. Mud and cow-dung are plastered on to the brushwood used in the roofing. Beds are made of brushwood neatly stacked and covered with hides. The fireplace is a circle of stones. The only furniture, besides cooking-pots, consists of long gourds used as milkcans, half-gourds as cups, and small three-legged stools cut out of a single block of discussion as to what particular things were done by Masaccio and what by Masolino, and long afterwards by Filippino Lippi, in the Brancacci Chapel, and also as to certain other paintings by Masaccio in the Carmine. He began with a trial piece, a majestic figure of St Paul, not in the chapel; this has perished. A mono-chrome of the Procession for the Consecration of the Chapel, regarded as a wonderful example, for that early period, of perspective and of grouping, has also disappeared; it contains portraits of Brunelleschi, Donatello and many others. In the cloister of the Carmine was discovered in recent years a portion of a fresco by Masaccio representing a procession; but this, being in colours and not in monochrome, does not appear to be the Brancacci procession. As regards the works in the Brancacci chapel itself, the prevalent opinion now is that Masolino, who used to be credited with a considerable portion of them, did either nothing, or at most the solitary compartment which represents St Peter restoring Tabitha to life, and the same saint healing a cripple. The share which Filippino Lippi bore in the work admits of little doubt; to him are due various items on which the fame of Masaccio used principally to be based—as for instance the figure of St Paul addressing Peter in prison, which Raphael partly appropriated; and hence it may be observed that an eloquent and often-quoted outpouring of Sir Joshua Reynolds in praise of Masaccio ought in great part to be transferred to Filippino. What Masaccio really painted in the chapel appears with tolerable certainty to be as follows, and is ample enough to sustain the high reputation he has always enjoyed:—(i) The " Temptation of Adam and Eve "; (2) " Peter and the Tribute-Money "; (3) The " Expulsion from Eden "; (4) " Peter Preaching "; (5) " Peter Baptizing "; (6) " Peter Almsgiving "; (7) " Peter and John curing the Sick "; (8) " Peter restoring to Life the Son of King Theophilus of Antioch " was begun by Masaccio, including the separate incident of " Peter Enthroned," but a large proportion is by Filippino; (9) the double subject already allotted to Masolino may perhaps be by Masaccio, and in that case it must have been one of the first in order of execution. A few words may be given to these pictures individually. (1) The " Temptation " shows a degree of appreciation of nude form, corresponding to the feeling of the antique, such as was at that date unexampled in painting. (2) The " Tribute-Money," a full, harmonious and expressive composition, contains a head reputed to be the portrait of Masaccio himself—one of the apostles, with full locks, a solid resolute countenance and a pointed beard. (3) The " Expulsion " was so much admired by Raphael that, with comparatively slight modifications, he adopted it as his own in one of the subjects of the Logge of the Vatican. (5) " Peter Baptizing contains some nude figures of strong naturalistic design; that of the young man, prepared for the baptismal ceremony, who stands half-shivering in the raw air, has always been a popular favourite and an object of artistic study. (8) The restoration of the young man to life has been open to much discussion as to what precise subject was in view, but the most probable opinion is that the legend of King Theophilus was intended. In 1427 Masaccio was living in Florence with his mother, then for the second time a widow, and with his younger brother Giovanni, a painter of no distinction; he possessed nothing but debts. In 1428 he was working, as we have seen, in the Brancacci chapel. Before the end of that year he disappeared from Florence, going, as it would appear, to Rome, to evade the importunities of creditors. Immediately afterwards, in 1429, when his age was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he was reported dead. Poisoning by jealous rivals in art was rumoured, but of this nothing is known. The statement that several years after-wards, in 1443, he was buried in the Florentine Church of the Carmine, without any monument, seems to be improbable, and to depend upon a confused account of the dates, which have now, after long causing much bewilderment, been satisfactorily cleared up from extant documents. It has been said that Masaccio introduced into painting the plastic boldness of Donatello, and carried out the linear perspective of Paolo Uccello and Brunelleschi (who had given him practical instruction), and he was also the first painter who made some considerable advance in atmospheric perspective. He was the first to make the architectural framework of his pictures correspond in a reasonable way to the proportions of the figures. In the Brancacci chapel he painted with extraordinary swiftness. The contours of the feet and articulations in his pictures are imperfect; and his most prominent device for giving roundness to the figures (a point in which he made a great advance upon his predecessors) was a somewhat mannered way of putting the high lights upon the edges. His draperies were broad and easy, and his landscape details natural, and superior to his age. In fact, he led the way in representing the objects of nature of wood and used by the elder men to sit on. The Masai are not hunters of big game except lions, but they eat the eland and kudu. The domestic animals are cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys and dogs. Only women and the married men smoke. The dead are ordinarily not buried, but the bodies are carried a short distance from the village and left on the ground to be devoured by hyenas, jackals and vultures. Important chiefs are buried, however, and a year later the eldest son or successor recovers the skull, which is treasured as a charm. The medicine men of Masai are often the chiefs, and the supreme chief is almost always a medicine man. The Masai believe in a nature-god as a supreme being—Ngai (" sky ")—and his aid is invoked in cases of drought by a ceremonial chant of the children, standing in a circle after sunset, each with a bunch of grass in its hand. They have creation-myths involving four gods, the black, white, grey and red deities. They believe there is no future for women or common people, but that such distinction is reserved for chiefs. Pythons and a species of snake are revered as the reincarnated forms of their more celebrated ancestors. A kind of worship is paid to the hyena in some districts: the whole tribe going into mourning if the beast crosses their path. The Masai also have a vague tree-worship, and grass is a sacred symbol. When making peace a tuft is held in the right hand, and when the warriors start out on a raid their sweethearts throw grass after them or lay it in the forks of trees. But the oddest of their superstitious customs is the importance attached to spitting. To spit upon a person or thing is regarded as a sign of reverence and goodwill, as among other Nilotic tribes. Newly born children are spat on by every one who sees them. Johnston states that every Masai before extending his hand to him spat on it first. They spit when they meet and when they part, and bargains are sealed in this way. Joseph Thomson writes, " being regarded as a wizard of the first water, the Masai flocked to me . and the more copiously I spat on them the greater was their delight." The Masai has no love for work, and practises no industries. The women attend to his personal needs; and trades such as smelting and forging are left to enslaved tribes such as the Dorobo (Wandorobo). These manufacture spears with long blades and butts and the peculiar swords or sines like long slender leaves, very narrow towards the hilt and broad at the point. Most of the Masai live in the British East Africa Protectorate. See A. C. Hollis, The Masai, their Language and Folklore (1905) ; M.. Merker, Die Nasai (1904); Sir H. H. Johnston, Kilimanjaro Expedition (1886) and Uganda Protectorate (1902) ; Joseph Thomson, Through Masai-land (1885) ; O. Baumann, Durch Massai-land zur Nilquelle (1894); F. Kallenberg, Auf den Kriegspfad gegen die Massai (1892).
End of Article: MASAI
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