William Oltetia of the Masai on dispatching Osama bin Laden:

“That guy surely we would have to kill him. We as the Masai have ways to kill, just using a spear and bows and arrows. He’s a strong man so we wouldn’t do it directly. We would surround him in the bush.”

Source: Marc Lacy, The New York Times, 3 June 2002, front page. Photos in banner above: Mariella Furrer/ Corbis Saba for The Times

“Where 9/11 News is Late, but Aid is Swift”

In a remote Kenyan village, William Oltetia presented 14 cows to aid victims of the attacks of Sept. 11

Within moments of the September 11th attacks, news was flashed around the world. Radio reports reached members of the Massai in Enoosaen, Kenya. But few, if any, who heard the reports could grasp what had happened.

That changed when Kimeli Naiyomah  returned to his tiny village after studying in the United States.

Some among his fellow Masai had never heard the news at all. William Oltetia, chief of the young warriors known as morans, told the Times reporter: “I never knew about September 9th,” he said, still confused about the date. “I just never heard about it.”

With the Masai tradition of storytelling, Mr. Naiyomah told the villagers about the attack. He told of huge fires in buildings that stretched high into the clouds, of men in special gear who ran into the buildings to save lives.

The Masai were stunned and saddened. The death of 3,000 people would wipe out their entire village. The villagers were relieved that Mr. Naiyomah was safe. And they wanted to do something to help.

On 2 June, in a solemn ceremony, 14 cows were blessed and given to the people of the United States.

Fourteen cows are a sizeable herd to the Masai.

The Times reported: “Elders chanted in Maa as they walked around the cows, animals held sacred by the Masai (often spelled Maasai). After the blessing, the cows were handed over to William Brancick, the deputy chief of the mission of the United States embassy in Nairobi.”


Brancick thanked the people who had given cows from their herds. But, he said, due to transportation difficulties, the cows would probably be sold and the money used to buy Masai jewelry as a gift to America.

Mr. Naiyomah, who arranged the gift is taking pre-med courses at Stanford. After graduation, he intends to return to his village where he is now a young elder. Mr. Naiyomah had been visiting Manhattan on September 11th. His stories about the tragedy were fantastic to many Masai. They found it hard to believe that people could jump from a building so high that they would die when they hit the ground.

“We’re out with our cattle every day so we’re not always up to date on the news,” Vincent Konchellah, 22, one of the cow donors told the Times. “We had heard about a disaster in America but we didn’t know much about it. Now we feel the same way we would feel if we lost one of our own.”

According to the Times, “There are three most cherished things that a Masai can offer as a gift  a child, a plot of land, and a cow, which is far more than a source of meat and milk.”

Mr. Naiyomah said, “The cow is almost the center of life for us. It’s sacred. It’s more than property. You give it a name. You talk to it. You perform rituals with it. I don’t know if you have sacred food in America, something that has a supernatural feel as you eat it. That’s the cow for us.”

The Masai also understand warfare.

“That guy surely we would have to kill him,” said William Oltetia of Osama bin Laden. “We as the Masai have ways to kill, just using a spear and bows and arrows.”

When asked for tactical details, Mr. Oltetia said, “He’s a strong man so we wouldn’t do it directly. We would surround him in the bush.”