The seme, or lion’s sword, is the traditional sidearm of the Maasai man. It is a light short
sword with a double-edged, leaf-shaped spatulate blade, often made from spring steel.
The Maasai use this blade for everything from clearing brush, butchering cattle, to peeling
fruit. They also use it for self defense. Maasai men belong to age groups that determine
their status, each age group being set apart by a distinctive style of weapons. At the age of
about 15 to 21, Maasai boys (called layok) are initiated into the status of young manhood
(called moran), at which point they are first allowed to wear swords.
This example features stiff tapering 8″ double-edged leaf-shaped blade with central ridge;
showing grinding marks and age stains. Small wood grip with traditional red vellum
covering. Overall length 13″. Scabbard made from thin wood strips with ox hide covering
dyed the traditional red. The production of sword sheaths was a complex process. Strips
from parts of an ox hide would be taken along with the craftsman by his client, together
with the sword itself and two splints of wood to make the armature of the sheath. The hide
would be left to soak in water. Meanwhile, the two pieces of wood would be carefully
shaped to leave a slight lip at either side of the aperture at the top, and to taper slightly
towards the point. Thin string made out of sinew would be bound around the tip, brought
roughly two thirds of the way up to the center of the sheath, then passed several times
through both pieces of wood, thereby securing in its final position a small strip of leather
which would form the basis of the eye through which the sword belt would eventually pass.
The thread was then run almost to the top of the sheath where it was wrapped several
times around both pieces of wood, then knotted and cut.