The 'Elongo': The Power of the Maasai Shield

By National Museums of Kenya

ShieldNational Museums of Kenya

5 things you need to know about the Maasai shield

The Maasai were known for their bravery and being superior warriors. Maasai shields, the 'elongo', represent one of the many genres of African artifacts with both utilitarian craft and fine art characteristics. This shield holds many stories, including that of one of Kenya's most courageous communities. Here are five things you need to know about the Maasai shield.

1: The Maasai warrior's most important tool

On the utilitarian front, shields were a Maasai warrior's most important tool in hunting and warfare. They not only offered physical protection but protection of a symbolic nature.

2: Blessed with 'entasim' charms

The Oloibon (spiritual leader) would bless the warriors' shields with charms known as 'entasim'. It was said to increase their protective power, and ensure that the warriors were safe and successful in cattle raids.

3: A symbols of identification

Outside of the warring context, shields were prestige objects and symbols of identification. Different designs were used to differentiate the various Maasai sub-communities, age sets, and sometimes a complex lineage identification system.

4: Extraordinary design made by the warrior himself

Every warrior made his own shield using only male buffalo skin, which they acquired by hunting. The Maasai shield was designed as a convex, and made of buffalo hide sewn onto a wooden frame. The handle was attached at the centre back of the shield and wrapped with leather strips. The surface of the shield was decorated with large, nearly symmetrical crescents in red, white and black.

5: Famous warriors and their shields

Two of the most famous Maasai warriors were the brothers Senteu and Lenana. We turn to these legendary warriors to inspire our own stories; to inspire confidence and bravery.

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curators: Immelda Kithuka, and Mercy Gakii,Cultural Expert, Cultural Heritage Department.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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