THE SAMBURU PEOPLE

The SAMBURU are a Nilotic people of North Central Kenya. Samburu are semi – nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels. The name they use for themselves is LOKOP or LOIKOP, a term that may have a variety of meanings which Samburu themselves do not agree on. Many assert that it refers to them as “owners of the land” (“lo” refers to owners of the land) though others present a very different interpretation of the term.

Samburu speak the Samburu dialect of the Maa language, which is a Nilotic language. Other 22 sub tribes of the Maa community otherwise known as the Maasai also speak the Maa language. Many Western anthropologists tried to carve out and create the Samburu tribe as a community of its own, unaffiliated to its parent Massai community, a narrative that seems to have sunk into the minds of many Samburu people today.

The Samburu sub tribe is the third largest in the Maa community of Kenya and Tanzania after the Kisonko (Isikirari) of Tanzania and Purko of Kenya.

Traditionally, Samburu relied almost solely on their herds, although trade with their neighbors and use of wild foods were also important. Before the colonial period, cows, goats and sheep milk was the daily staple. In the twenty-first century, cattle and small stock continued to be essential to the Samburu economy and social system. Milk is still a valued part of Samburu contemporary diet when available and may be drunk either fresh, or fermented. “Ripened” milk is often considered superior.

Blood is often taken from both living animals and slaughtered ones. The blood is collected by making a tiny nick in the cow’s jugular, and draining the blood into a cup. The wound is then quickly sealed with hot ash. There are at least thirteen ways that blood can be prepared and may form a whole meal.

Samburu practice male (foreskin) and female (clitoris) genital mutilation. Boys are circumcised in their teenage years and girls before marriage. Girls who have not undergone this procedure are forced to have sex if they are part of a practice referred to as “beading”, but are not allowed to have children.

Men wear a cloth, which is often pink or black and is wrapped around their waist in a manner similar to a Scottish kilt. They adorn themselves with necklaces, bracelets and anklets like other sub tribes of the Maasai community. Members of the age grade (i.e “warriors“) typically wear their hair in long braids, which they shave off when they become elders. It may be colored using red ochre. Some men may wear the 1980s – 90s style of red tartan cloth or they may wear a dark green / blue plaid cloth around their waists called ‘kikoi’, often with shorts underneath.  Women wear two-piece wraps around the waist, the second wrapped over the chest. Women keep their hair shaved and wear numerous necklaces and bracelets. Some women still wear two pieces of blue or red cloth, but it has become Fashionable to wear clothes with animal or floral patterns in deep colors.

Samburu religion traditionally focuses on their multi – faceted divinity. Nkai (a feminine noun) plays an active role in the lives of contemporary Samburu. Some of these children prophesy for some period and a few gain a reputation for prophecy throughout their lives. Besides these spontaneous prophets, Samburu have ritual diviners, or shamans, called ‘Loibonok’ who divine the causes of individual illnesses, misfortune and guide warriors. Samburu believe that Nkai is the source of all protection from the hazards of their existence. Many Samburu are Christians and many of the Christian pastors in Samburu reside around the central town of Wamba.

The Samburu are a gerontocracy. The power of elders is linked to the belief in their curse, underpinning their Monopoly over arranging marriages and taking on further wives. The paradox of Samburu gerontocracy is that popular attention focuses on the glamour and deviant activities of footloose bachelors, which extend to form a gang feuding between clans, widespread suspicions of covert adultery with the wives of older men, and theft of their stock. The Samburu people are one of the people respected in Kenya and Africa at large.

FADESERE DAVID

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