A Study of Place Names in Maasai – New Book by Fr Frans Mol MHM
The linguistic wealth and variety of names of places
Topography of Maasailand.
Names of places, mountains, hills, rivers, springs, sacred places and other topographical features in Maasailand.
From the introduction:
The main subject of this study concerns the proper meaning of place names in Maasai. These often have the name of a tree or a bush common to that area. One place name which occurs in several parts of Maasailand is Enkorika. Some say that in a topographical sense Nkorika means plateau or basin. Others maintain that it is the diminutive of the noun ol-orika, pi. il-orikan: stool and therefore means a small stool. The seat of a small wooden chair among the Maasai has the form of a basin. The plural of enk-orika is ink-orikan: chairs; stools. But the plural of enkorika: plateau is given as ink-orika-ishi, and -ishi is not an uncommon suffix in Maa indicating the plural of nouns. (3).
In his book Africa’s Wild Glory, Phillip Keller has devoted a chapter to Camp in the Ingorigaishi Hills (pp. 189-192). In it he explains the name of the hills. He says that the name is derived from inkorikaishi, the small stools. The ilmurran of the Maasai used to hold games there and competitions to test each other’s skills”. So prominent and so intense did the competition in the games become, he writes, that their fame had spread abroad, drawing spectators from far and wide, particularly among the older men, each of whom brought his stool along so as to ensure his personal comfort during the long tournaments. Thus, in time these places came to be known as ‘those of the little stools. (4)
Quite another explanation of the term Enkorika: Small Stool was given to me by a local teacher at the primary school. He informed me that the tree called Nkorika, about twenty kilometres by road from Kajiado Township» is called thus because it looks like a stool. Four hills rise up from the area like the four legs of a stool» ol-orlka, put upside down. These hills are situated between Ënkorika Trading Centre and the next centre Enkeshui» about 5 kilometres beyond Ënkorika Primary School. The names of the four hills are 1. Nasha: Hill of rain, 2. Esoit oo Loogofaia, the rock of the Loogolala Maasai, one of the lloshon, sections, of the Maasai, about whom more later. These Maasai are said to have long ago sought refuge in that rock-shelter after a fierce battle. 3. Olpusimoru: The hill of the blueish, grey, rocks or stones. The name Olpusimoru occurs a number of times in other parts of Maasailand, as on the Kenya-Tanzania border south of Naaikarra and on the Mau beyond Olokurto. The name is also connected with Naromoru, the area or land of the black stones. 4: Olooleleshuani: The hill of the tarchonanthus tree with its sweet smell.
This, of course, does not explain why other places that do not have four hills like the legs of a stool, or which do not have a tradition of Maasai games, are still called Nkorika. It seems that in their context the name does refer to a flat stretch of land like an elevated plateau. This script hopes to bring clarity on all these points.
About the author
Frans Mol was born at Nijmegen, Holland, on the 4th of July, 1935. He joined the Mill Hill Missionaries on the 1st May, 1958 and was ordained a Priest on 9th July, 1961 by Cardinal Godfrey. In November of that same year Fr. Frans Mol arrived in Kenya to take up his missionary assignment among the Maasai. He worked in the Catholic Diocese of Ngong ever since. He lives in the Netherlands since 2005.
His various assignments in the Diocese have taken him to all corners of Kenya. Over the years he built a great collection of written material on the Maasai and as a personal interest gathered a wealth of linguistic material part of which is contained in this book of place Names and their meaning. Other works include: LESSONS IN MAA a Grammar book, ‘Maasai Language and Culture Dictionary’, a veritable and impressive depository on the Maasai way of life, published in 1996. He is also the author of MAA, an English -Maasai Dictionary, which was published in 1979.
Publisher: Oltepesi Cultural Institute, Kenya