Stella’s Kenyan Adventure – Part III

November 3, 2014  By: Gretchen

394African village visits give visitors the chance to get a taste of what daily life is like for the local people. One of the highlights of my stay in the Samburu area was my visit to Mopukori village, home to 25 Samburu families

We arrived around noon, the hottest part of the day, and were welcomed by one of the elders and the young, unmarried men of the tribe who performed the “Bachelors Dance.” During this dance, the bachelors of the tribe will sing (chant) and jump. The higher a Samburu bachelor jumps, the stronger and more attractive he is to females.

We were then welcomed by the women of the tribe and after the “Welcome Song” we were shown into a manyatta, the settlement where they live in family groups. Each manyatta is a circular enclosure, with their homes (huts) located on the outside of the circle, while the corral for the cattle is located in the center. The structures are made to be torn down and packed up as the tribe moves. When we were welcomed into one of the huts, my first 392thought was whether or not we would fit through the door. Once inside, it smelled of burned wood and it was very hot. Quickly (and almost painfully), I found out that the morning fire was still burning in the home. The hut, which slept seven people, was about the size of a large SUV. You cannot stand, as it is not very tall. Their beds are made out of cow hides that have been dried in the sun. Grandma and her grandson sleep on one side and the remaining five family members sleep together on the other side. Many of the families also bring their goats into the hut at night to keep them protected.

Each morning, one of the males will start a fire. There are no matches here, so the fires are started the old fashioned way – with two sticks, elephant dung, and a lot of stamina. After it gets going, the women of each house will come and collect some of the fire to light the fires in their own huts. Fire is also made in the evening.

402After leaving the hut, we were entertained by the village children. They recited their ABC’s & 123’s before singing their alphabet song for us. We then had the option to purchase some of the beaded jewelry and carvings made by the women of the tribe. We chose the items we wanted and then negotiated with the elder of the tribe on the price. Some of us were better at this than others. After shopping, I wandered back into the village and was followed by a little girl. She did not speak English (and I do not speak Samburu), but she knew what a high-5 and a fist bump was. We had our picture taken together and then proceeded to look through my camera at the pictures I had taken the day before. She laughed and pointed at the animals as we scrolled through. This may have been the best part of the visit for me.

Samburu Tribe: The Samburu people are closely related to the Massai people. The Samburu are a gerontocracy, with the elders ruling over the tribe. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists and migrate with their herds to new grasslands.380

Children: From birth until the age of 15 (approx.), you are a child in this tribe. Children are there to help watch over their other brothers and sisters. While the children are little, a teacher will come to the village to teach them. Later, some of the kids will go to missionary school.

Warriors: Around the age of 15, the boys will be circumcised by one of the elders and sent into the bush for 3 months to heal. The circumcision is done without any anesthetic and the boy is to show no fear or pain to prove how brave he is. After he has healed, he will then be tattooed with a hot iron (usually in the stomach region) to prove he is strong and a warrior, again showing no fear or pain.

Some of the boys will leave their home and go to boarding school, while the rest will stay in the village and tend to the herds. Boys who go to boarding school will stay for four months and then return to the village for a month. Our guide told us of how he got to stay home and tend to the herds, but when he lost a member of the herd, as punishment, he was sent to school and his brother got to come home and tend to the herd. I asked him what he thought of being in school, and he responded that he preferred to be with the herds. A warrior wears a head dress and colored beads to identify themselves. Warriors are not allow to marry, but can have girlfriends. However, they cannot impregnate their girlfriends and if they do, they are fined 3 cows, to be paid to the elders.

Elder: Around the age of 28, a warrior will remove his head dress and colored beads and become an elder. It is at this time that he is able to marry.

407Women: The women of the tribe tend to the home and the children. They also make the jewelry that is sold to the visitors and traded in the local community.

Marriage: Samburu are polygamists, and a man will have many wives. The first wife is arranged by her father. The soon-to-be husband will pay eight cows or so to his bride’s father for her hand in marriage. The bride will wear a long chain from her ear to show that she is married. The second wife is chosen by her husband. Again, the soon-to-be husband will pay a number of cows to his bride’s father for each additional bride. In Samburu culture, a man’s wealth and status are measured by the number of wives and cows he has.

Diet: The traditional Samburu diet consists of blood, milk, and meat, but no chicken. Warriors do not eat in the village. They will take a goat into the bush and eat away from the village while they are tending to the herds.

Dung: Dung is a very useful resource here. Cow dung is used to help build structures for the village. Goat dung is used as a mosquito repellent. Elephant dung is used to build fires.