Intrepid tour leader Julius Leteele (left) during an overland trip through East Africa. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson
Intrepid tour leader Julius Leteele (left) during an overland trip through East Africa. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson

A hero amongst Maasai men offers glimpse into Rwanda life

JULIUS Leteele can still remember the moment he became a hero in his tribe.

He became revered, someone whispered about among other young boys for generations to come, for his bravery and his manhood.

It was his spear that pierced the lion, near the ribs, and marked his fate as a tribal leader.

Julius, then about 15, was among 20-30 teenage boys hunting the great beast in northern Kenya.

To kill a male lion, with its impressive mane denoting his superiority in a pride, was a rite of passage in the Maasai tribe then.

What followed was Julius' circumcision in front of the tribe's men, without a whimper allowed to utter from his mouth.
They also used a knife and fire to etch life-long tribal markings across his body.

Then his transition to manhood, and his fate as a hero and a leader, was sealed.

The other boys did not miss out on the experience.

Pride of lions in Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya, East Africa. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson
Pride of lions in Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya, East Africa. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson

Once the spear stopped the majestic cat in its tracks, everyone leapt forward to finish the job and thereby become a Maasai man.

They also joined the circumcision ceremony but they could not achieve the same status as Julius.

The 39 year old, who I was lucky enough to have as my tour leader on an Intrepid tour through East Africa, was one of 11 children.

His dad had two wives, polygamy being acceptable among the Maasai, so he grew up with two mums.

It was a culture where arranged marriages were normal and the bride's family got a dowry.

Julius disappointed his mum when he turned down an arranged marriage in his village near Buffalo Springs - Samburu county - about 250km north of Nairobi.

He had met his love while at university.

Marrying an educated girl meant his parents had to pay more - nine cows, two camels and 200L of local beer made from sausage tree - for the union.

But he had never fitted into the nomadic farming life of the Maasai people.

Intrepid tour leader Julius Leteele (right) during an overland trip through East Africa. Pictured with the cook and driver. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson
Intrepid tour leader Julius Leteele (right) during an overland trip through East Africa. Pictured with the cook and driver. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson

His father forgave him the time he lost a goat but he could not when Julius broke one's leg.

The youngster was trying to practice his aim, throwing stones, because it was important training for his later lion-killing endeavours.

His dad was known for his ability to fix broken animals but when a stone snapped a hind leg, it was beyond repair.

Julius' parents considered him naughty and as punishment sent him to school.

He was the only one in his family to attend school.

"I was the unlucky one but later on I was the lucky one," he said.

School involved sitting amid about 20 other children under an acacia tree - synonymous with the African landscape.
He was about nine when he started so he had a bit to catch up on.

They didn't have paper or pens so they would write their words or maths equations in the dirt.

This meant the wind would often blow away the dirt and erase the work that had been done.

Julius described it as a different take on the dog ate my homework excuse.

If the equation was too hard, he could blow the dirt and pretend his hard work had been ruined.

Sunrise on a hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti in Tanzania, East Africa. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson
Sunrise on a hot air balloon ride in the Serengeti in Tanzania, East Africa. Contributed photo: By Rae Wilson

But, he said, if he had been cheating a little by copying someone else's work on a difficult task, the wind would work against him.

Secondary school was more formalised, sent away to a boarding school 200km away.

Though it was hard to be so far from his family, it equipped him for university and then life in the tourism industry.

Julius - who now prefers baggy jeans and t-shirts rather than his traditional attire still seen on nomadic Maasai - can speak seven languages.

He spends a lot of time away from his family but in a country suffering from 40% unemployment, he still thinks himself lucky.

He was able to complete that education because an Italian family sponsored him through World Vision.

Julius can now provide for his siblings, his wife and his three children.

When asked whether he's spinning a tall tale about his tribal status, he says a trip to his house with the lion's head on the wall would be proof enough.

But Julius says - with a mixture of pride and humility - the belief would come before you even got to his house because his community still showers him with praise and offer a hero's welcome return.

FACTBOX

WHAT: Intrepid's Gorillas, Chimps and Game Parks tour (tour guides rotate)

WHERE: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda

LENGTH: 16 days

COST: From $A2187



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