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 a stiff heavy 16 ½” double-edged leaf-shaped blade with central
ridge; showing grinding marks and age stains. Small wood grip with traditional red vellum
covering. Overall length 21 ½”. Scabbard made from thin wood strips with ox hide
covering dyed the traditional red. The production of sword sheaths was a complex
process. Strips form 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.