East African films by Jean Brown (1970s)

In 2003 the Pitt Rivers Museum received four 16mm films by anthropologist Jean Brown, probably dating to the 1970s. The films recorded Luhya (both Wanga and Isuka) smiths working metal, Kamba men making a drum, and the Maasai ceremony of Catching the Bull by the Horns.

Isukha Smith [2003.16.1]
16mm film by anthropologist Jean Brown from the 1970s in Kenya, showing an Isukha (Luhya) smith decorating the handle of a machete/slasher and making a twisted iron bracelet.
Wanga smith [2003.16.2]
Wanga (Luhya) smith using double bellows and large stone hammer and split green wood tongs to make a slasher.
  Kamba drum making [2003.16.4]
16mm film by anthropologist Jean Brown made in the 1970s showing the making of a skin-covered drum by Kamba men in Kenya. [2003.16.4]

Jean Brown Sassoon


Catching the Bull by the Horns [2003.16.3]

Film by anthropologist Jean Brown in the 1970s, relating to the Maasai 'catching the bull by the horns' ceremony.


  The first part of the film is of dancing in an Ilkeekonyokie Maasai homestead following male circumcisions. The newly circumcised boys called sepolio still “in seclusion” have no red on their heads and carry sticks instead of spears. They also wear on their heads the coiled brass wire earrings isikirria which are normally only worn by women who have circumcised children who wear them attached to the end of their skin flap earrings inkonito oonkiyiaa. They also wear cowrie shell on sheepskin belts made by their mothers from the sheep killed and blessed on the circumcision day and given to them on the day after circumcision in order to protect them from all ills. In the film one young man can be seen wearing a girls circumcision forehead fringe sikiria (of chains and beads) That is because he is an only child or because other children of his parents have died, so the Maasai are cheating fate by pretending that he is a girl. One laibarrtak is also wearing the characteristic great circular head-dress (see footnote) of small birds (motonyi) worn by laibarrtak of the Lukumai clan This is removed with the cowrie shell belt when the boy goes to manyatta. ( the cowrie shells are then sewn by the mother onto her milk gourd). Blue (black to Maasai) beads around the head are being worn by members of the Irmakisen and Ilmolilien clans.

The most newly circumcised youths are seen doing the characteristic jumping dancing. Then a new group of young men who have newly become warriors wind into the camp with their spears. As warriors they can paint their head s with red ochre although they have not yet had time to grow their hair. They can also stripe their legs and wear other warrior ornaments forbidden to those whose wounds are not yet fully healed.. The leaves carried under the arm (I think leleshwa) are their handkerchiefs for wiping away sweat. At first the black headed young men dance in front of the red headed newcomers, one has thrown a fit (which is very common when the warriors are excited). Then the two groups dance together. A group of women file into the homestad, then some of the young girls (nditos) join in the dance.

The Ceremony of Emouo (horn) Olkiteng (ox) or catching the bull by the horns.
There are two especially built huge manyattas with extra large huts. The main manyatta belongs to the il Keekonyokie group of Maasai, the second usually belongs to their neighbours the Il Kaputie who join them for some ceremonies. One houses the ceremonial warhorns and the other the beer for the libations. The action takes place in the Il Keekonyokie manyatta. This is a ceremony in which the young men must participate after doing a special ceremony of Enkipataa, which opens the right hand of the newly opened circumcision when the set receives its first name, and before they are circumcised.

All the young men (Laioni) who are waiting to be circumcised rush yelling through the manyatta and out the other side into the bush. The women in the manyatta pour libations of beer or from their gourds onto the ground sometimes using the gourd cup and sometimes the whisk used to clean out the gourd.

The young men go out of the imanyatta weaving in a snake like line to join many more laioni waiting outside who then form a circle. They collect the war horns ( a kudu horn) and return into the manyatta in shouting rushing masses , blowing the horns with many of the laioni throwing fits and throthing at the mouth( They have to be taken aside to be revived by a mate). The lined up women whisk beer libations in blessing over them using the tail whisk used to clean the gourds. They go out and circle the manyatta and are followed by another wave of laioni who rush through with the bulls and then out, others enter and stand in a circle in the middle. Even more laioni rush in with more bulls. The bulls in the middle. The elders are in the centre with their sticks to keep the bulls under control. Then the bulls are chased out again. The laioni and bulls repeat the performance in the second manyatta, circle around between the two manyattas and re-enter the first. The idea is to overcome the bulls or at least the chosen one, they wrestle it to the ground.. It is all a mad scrum and difficult to see what is happening. Three young men outside the manyatta are dressed in womens cloaks. The laioni start walking around the manyatta going in and out by one gate. They then file off into the bush to the left of the gate, form a large half circle all close together and then sit down.