OL-DOINYO LENGAI, THE SACRED MOUNTAIN OF THE MAASAI PEOPLE
Ol-Doinyo Lengai, a fascinating name in Maa language, the Maasai language, which means the mountain (Ol-Doinyo) of God (Lengai) and in fact this singular volcano is the
their sacred mountain.
The land of the Maasai is located within the Eastern branch
of the Rift Valley, straddling the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Lake Natron. The center of this culture has its own virtual core in the village of Engare Sero.
The first question that arises is why the Maasai have chosen this mountain to be their sacred one and the answer,
I think, it is due to the physical features of Ol-Doinyo: it is the only active volcano throughout the world to erupt the so-called ‘white lava’, rich in soda, that, once cooled, gives the slopes a characteristic white color, similar to snow.
This peculiarity has certainly had a great impact on the traditions of this people of Nilotic origins that so much breaches our Western imaginary.
We wanted to go and admire it with a Maasai guide, a warrior to be exact, Isaiah, a boy of about thirty years that told us the secrets and beliefs of his tribe.
The second question is about what kind of relationship is there between the Maasai people and the mountain. Being a kind of deity or representing it in some way, it is logical and consequent that it is used for requests of all types. Let’s give some examples. If the rain doesn’t come, and this area is particularly dry and dusty, or a couple has difficulty in procreating, here it is: the volcano comes to the rescue. But it wants something in return.
We are talking about sacrifices, black sheep sacrifices to be precise. The Maasai group intending to do a request goes to the foot of the mountain, sacrifices one black sheep, feasts on its meats and stop there for a few days in the hope of seeing its prayer fulfilled.
I don’t know if this ploy works, but I know the importance of these rituals and the confidence that the Maasai place in them.
The eruptions, the last of which occurred a few years ago, communicate to the Maasai that they have done something to annoy the supreme God, that Lengai I was talking about at the beginning. Again the black sheep comes in relief to appease Lengai’s anger and stop the eruption.
But Ol-Doinyo is not only this, it is also a mountain that can be climbed, for the delight of all mountaineers. It’s a hard climb, especially in the final part, but exciting. It can take four or more hours, depending on your training level, and sleeping at the crater is truly a sensational experience.
We also liked it a lot because, not uncommon in Tanzania, this mountain stands alone almost in the middle of nowhere and it is incredibly fascinating. Around the Rift Valley and nothing else. The human presence is really very scarce. How can you give up a trip in a similar place, where it seems that evolution has not passed and where everything seems magical?