Title: Facing the Lion
Author: Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton
Major Themes: Kenya, Maasai
Synopsis: A Maasai man tells the story of growing up on the African savanna in Kenya.
I really enjoyed most of Facing the Lion. I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the Maasai culture in Kenya, so it was very interesting to read about a young boy’s life as he grew up in the Maasai, while also going to boarding school.
At the age of six (though he claimed to be eight), Joseph left home to go to school. The law required one child from every family to go to school, and his older brother who had been going couldn’t stand it anymore, so the young boy volunteered. He still came home every chance he got, and when he was 14 he met his first lion. He was spending the night with his brother at the cattle camp, when a lion came and the boys had to fight it off. Could Joseph ever live down the disgrace of running from the beast?
This book tells about the Maasai way of life in detail, as Joseph tells stories from his childhood. As you read the book you’ll learn about family structure (he was the son of his father’s second wife). You’ll learn how important the cattle are to the Maasai; I was intrigued by the way the herders knew every cow intimately. They could name not only her but her ancestors and her offspring, and knew exactly which cows belonged to which cow family. I was quite interested in the system of discipline used by the Maasai for their children; each village had a pinching man who was justly feared by all the young children.
Joseph’s struggles to know where and how to fit in to his two worlds, that of his traditional family of herders and that of the school, was also quite interesting. His introduction to America when he went there for more schooling was amusing and heartbreaking at the same time.
The chapter about initiation was a little tougher. Groups of boys would be initiated as warriors only every 10 or 15 years. The initiation included circumcision, which I was a little leery of reading about, but I was glad to find that it was handled delicately, with not too much detail.
If you are looking for books about traditional African society, Facing the Lion would be a good choice. It is not a Christian book (it is printed by the National Geographic Society), but it is clean and interesting.
WARNING: The chapter on initiation mentions briefly what circumcision is.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15