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Samburu

The people of East Africa Samburu are established in the desert region bordering Mount Kenya and in the Rift Valley province that stretches all the way around Kenya around Lake Turkana. Descendants of Nilotic herders from Sudan, they settled in Kenya more than 500 years ago. Close to their Maasai neighbours who speak the same dialect, the two peoples share common origins and language (Maa) but also have strong similarities in rituals and customs.

Indeed, by their language and history, Samburu warriors are increasingly assimilated to the Maasai tribe, especially in the context of ethnic tourism developing strongly in Kenya. Traditionally, Samburu, herders of cattle, sheep and camels have been giving great importance to livestock. Samburu are sometimes spotted on the edge of the Samburu National Reserve, when they bring their animals to drink.

While the men take care of the animals, the women are in charge of the construction of the huts which they consolidate by interlacing branches of trees covered with mud. They are also involved in milking cows, drawing water and maintaining the shelter. Semi-nomadic, the African Samburu people have kept a rather ancestral way of life, like many other ancient tribal peoples. The tribe eats mainly a traditional drink made of milk and a mixture of blood taken from living animals. The milk and blood of their cows is in fact the basis of their diet, which they supplement with vegetables and various kinds of roots found in the soil. Pastors, the men of the Samburu people are permanently armed with knives, bows and spears to protect the tribe and defend livestock from wild animals. Surrounded by thorny bushes, the village has only one small entrance that the Samburu warriors take care of fencing each night.

The Samburu tribe

Wearing colourful beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings crafted by the women, the Samburu wear a simple piece of bright red fabric that they wear like a skirt. To protect their hair from the sun, they colour them with red ochre; that is an important distinguishing feature of the African Samburu tribe. Perpetuating the traditions, the Samburu do not use musical instruments – not even percussion – but frequently perform ceremonies in the village where they sing and dance occasionally for example the birth of a child or a marriage. Boys are circumcised as teenagers and Samburu girls are circumcised and married very early, between 12 and 15 years old. The killing of a bull on the day of the wedding celebration marks the definitive character of the union: the girl then moves in with her husband. Finally in Kenya, the African tribe perpetuates beliefs from generation to generation: it is common to believe in ancestral spirits and witchcraft.

  

Map of Kenya

The tribal society of Samburu is based on a system of generational promotions and age prestige, which define the identity of an individual in relation to his or her membership of a certain age group: for men, for example, the Warrior rank is acquired at the age of about 14 years for a period of 15 years, at the end of which they become elders and gain access to political and religious powers. In the Samburu society, power is strictly held by elders who make all decisions for the village. This East African people forms an independent egalitarian society. With a long-standing lifestyle of cattle and war, the Samburu are still dependent on their livestock and struggle to evolve towards a more sedentary lifestyle.

The Samburu today

Like many traditional tribes, the Samburu are under pressure from their government to settle in permanent villages. They have been extremely reluctant to do so since, obviously, a permanent settlement would disrupt their whole way of life. The area in which they live is very arid and it is difficult to grow crops to maintain a permanent site. It basically means that the Samburu will become dependent on others for their survival. Since the status and wealth of Samburu culture are synonymous with the number of cattle that they own, a sedentary farming lifestyle is not attractive. Samburu families who have been forced to settle down often send their adult men to the cities to work as security guards.

Samburu – Choir of married women

 

 

Samburu – Lmurrani (warrior) dances in occasion of a ceremony

 

 

Visit Samburu

The Samburu live in a beautiful part of Kenya, not populated, with abundant wildlife. Much of the land is now protected and community development initiatives have been extended to ecological lodges jointly managed by Samburu people. As a visitor, the best way to experience Samburu lifestyle is to stay in a community-run lodge or enjoy a safari on foot or camel with Samburu guides. While many safaris offer the opportunity to visit a Samburu village, the experience is not authentic. The lodges below  will give you (and Samburu) an opportunity to have a more meaningful exchange.

Sarara Tented Camp: Sarara Camp is a luxury tented camp, built from local materials. It overlooks a waterhole that attracts a variety of wild animal and birds. Local Samburu help manage the camp and the community benefits directly from the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Koija Starbeds Lodge: Stay at this beautiful eco lodge run by the local community. Walking safaris can be organized as well as visits to the traditional Samburu and Maasai communities.

Il Ngwesi Lodge: An award-winning eco-lodge owned and managed by the local community. It is built with local materials and includes six individual chalets, all of which have adjacent bathrooms. You can explore the region on foot, by camel or in a traditional safari vehicle.

Maralal Camel Safari: Maralal is in the heart of Samburu land and this 7 day camel safari is led by Samburu warriors. This is not a luxury safari, but you will be well taken care of. A support vehicle carries luggage and supplies.

The people of East Africa Samburu are established in the desert region bordering Mount Kenya and in the Rift Valley province that stretches all the way around Kenya around Lake Turkana. Descendants of Nilotic herders from Sudan, they settled in Kenya more than 500 years ago. Close to their Maasai neighbours who speak the same dialect, the two peoples share common origins and language (Maa) but also have strong similarities in rituals and customs. Indeed, by their language and history, Samburu warriors are increasingly assimilated to the Maasai tribe, especially in the context of ethnic tourism developing strongly in Kenya. Traditionally, Samburu, herders of cattle, sheep and camels have been giving great importance to livestock. Samburu are sometimes spotted on the edge of the Samburu National Reserve, when they bring their animals to drink.

While the men take care of the animals, the women are in charge of the construction of the huts which they consolidate by interlacing branches of trees covered with mud. They are also involved in milking cows, drawing water and maintaining the shelter. Semi-nomadic, the African Samburu people have kept a rather ancestral way of life, like many other ancient tribal peoples. The tribe eats mainly a traditional drink made of milk and a mixture of blood taken from living animals. The milk and blood of their cows is in fact the basis of their diet, which they supplement with vegetables and various kinds of roots found in the soil. Pastors, the men of the Samburu people are permanently armed with knives, bows and spears to protect the tribe and defend livestock from wild animals. Surrounded by thorny bushes, the village has only one small entrance that the Samburu warriors take care of fencing each night.


The Samburu tribe
Wearing colourful beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings crafted by the women, the Samburu wear a simple piece of bright red fabric that they wear like a skirt. To protect their hair from the sun, they colour them with red ochre; that is an important distinguishing feature of the African Samburu tribe. Perpetuating the traditions, the Samburu do not use musical instruments – not even percussion – but frequently perform ceremonies in the village where they sing and dance occasionally for example the birth of a child or a marriage. Boys are circumcised as teenagers and Samburu girls are circumcised and married very early, between 12 and 15 years old. The killing of a bull on the day of the wedding celebration marks the definitive character of the union: the girl then moves in with her husband. Finally in Kenya, the African tribe perpetuates beliefs from generation to generation: it is common to believe in ancestral spirits and witchcraft.


The tribal society of Samburu is based on a system of generational promotions and age prestige, which define the identity of an individual in relation to his or her membership of a certain age group: for men, for example, the Warrior rank is acquired at the age of about 14 years for a period of 15 years, at the end of which they become elders and gain access to political and religious powers. In the Samburu society, power is strictly held by elders who make all decisions for the village. This East African people forms an independent egalitarian society. With a long-standing lifestyle of cattle and war, the Samburu are still dependent on their livestock and struggle to evolve towards a more sedentary lifestyle.

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