Photo Essay

Distant Sands of Africa - The Samburu Way

Samburu Woman

We just returned from a three week trek in South Africa. I knew I was embarking on a trip of a life time, but never fully anticipated the warm experiences that I would encounter while traveling through Kenya & Tanzania.

8 days were spent with our local guide exploring the culture of the Samburu people. The Samburu are related to the well known Maasai Mara tribe although they live just above the equator where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert and slightly south of Lake Turkana in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya.

They are semi-nomadic pastoralists whose lives revolve around their cows, sheep, goats, and camels. Friendly families from a Samburu tribe sang, danced and invited us into their small but humble homes. We ate traditional foods, drank local brew and engaged in fun story telling.

Most dress in very traditional clothing of bright red material used like a skirt and multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings, especially when living away from the big cities.

Generally between five and ten families set up encampments for five weeks and then move on to new pastures. Adult men care for the grazing cattle which are the major source of livelihood. Women are in charge of maintaining the portable huts, milking cows, obtaining water and gathering firewood. Their houses are of plastered mud or hides and grass mats stretched over a frame of poles. A fence of thorns surrounds each family's cattle yard and huts.

Their society has for long been so organized around cattle and warfare (for defense and for raiding others) that they find it hard to change to a more limited lifestyle. The purported benefits of modern life are often undesirable to the Samburu. They remain much more traditional in life and attitude than their Maasai cousins.

Duties of boys and girls are clearly delineated. Boys herd cattle and goats and learn to hunt, defending the flocks. Girls fetch water and wood and cook. Both boys and girls go through an initiation into adulthood, which involves training in adult responsibilities and circumcision for boys and clitoridectomy for girls.

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2 responses

  • Tim Narraway

    Tim Narraway said (11 Mar 2009):

    THank you. I so appreciated your story, but most of all the photographs. Africa and her people are inseperable, and I think you have gone a long way to capture her mood, resilience, and smiling face.

  • Alexandru Iedu

    Alexandru Iedu gave props (17 Mar 2009):

    My congratulation for your excellent documentary story, and for your first class photo-work !!! Amazing work ... this story need to be publish, so you have my vote. Greetings from Romania, Alexandru

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