A Glimpse at Two Kenyan Tribes.

I am just back from one month in Eastern Europe, a part of the world obviously quite different from East Africa where I had been earlier this year. So getting back to the images of Africa was a little difficult, but there were many things I had experienced there that I wanted to share. So Eastern Europe will have to wait. Back to Africa for a while.

My last blog post (Soaring Maasai) focused on one of the better-known tribes of Eastern Africa, the prosperous Maasai. This time, I would like to share my (too) brief experience with two less-known Kenyan tribes, the Samburu and the El Molo.

The Samburu can be thought of as the Maasai’s little cousins. They were originally part of the Maasai tribe. Still, upon their arrival in Kenya from Sudan in the 15th century, they parted ways with the Maasai, who moved further south while the Samburu moved north. Many of their traditions and ways of life are similar, though life is more challenging for the Samburu as they live in a harsher climate.

As we did while visiting the Maasai, we had a first-night dinner with the Samburu men and visited with the women in the village the next day. The first night was spent on top of a beautiful hill in Kenya’s Rift Valley area.   Under a stunning sky, the Samburu men feasted on a couple of sheep that were killed, dismembered, and roasted in front of us. (Don’t worry. I decided to spare you the images of the first two steps). As with the Maasai, this is a rare treat for them, so there was very little wasted as every part of the animal was consumed either right away or brought back home (including the head as a gift for the elders and the skin which will be given to the women). For the occasion (and as far as I could tell, this is their regular attire), the Samburu men wore brightly colored pieces of cloth called shukas that they wrapped around their bodies and adorned themselves with beaded jewelry (though not as heavily as the women). They traditionally dye their hair with red ochre, which they did before our dinner and the next morning.

The village we visited the next morning is near the Samburu National Park, a beautiful game reserve where elephants are very reddish, and nests of weaver birds seem to grow on trees. It was a treat to see the women in the village wearing magnificent multi-beaded necklaces that covered the upper part of their bodies but still allowed them to move gracefully. The necklaces also give clues to their social status; married and single women wear beads of different colors.

I was quite surprised though but the village’s dwellings.  Samburu are known to be semi-nomadic people moving with their animals from one grazing pasture to the next. However, the huts in this village seemed more permanent than the grass-thatched huts typical of nomadic people. The roofs looked to me like colorful quilts. Since this village is located near a national park, which offers employment opportunities, this particular group of Samburu may have settled more permanently.

On to the El Molo. Don’t be embarrassed if you have never heard of them, as they are the smallest tribe in Africa. Furthermore, there are very few “original” El Molo left as they have mostly mixed with adjacent tribes. Their village is located on the southeast shore of Lake Turkana, and though we only spent a little time there, I had one interaction with a young girl that was quite amusing. As I am trying to photograph her, she is trying to sell me jewelry (fair enough). Suddenly I see her mother’s arm in my frame and hear a burst of roaring laughter. Not sure what it was about initially, but I finally understood that her mother had pointed out that she was wearing different shoes on her two feet, which made her laugh wholeheartedly.

The El Molo tribe is known for its unique style of fishing. Though not used any longer as the fish population has significantly decreased, the fishermen traditionally used baskets to try to capture the fish in shallow water. Quite a challenge!

In the next post, we are on to the Turkana festival.




19 Responses

  1. As always, I’m so impressed with your photos and your blog. These are beautiful and I especially like the light in the last few with the fishermen. Well done!

    1. Thank you Sally. The light was indeed pretty special that evening. I am glad you like the images.

  2. Some lovely pictures here France. I like the ones with the great skies particularly. I note that you still were not IN the water with the fishermen. I tried to get you in training in Cuba as I recall :)

    1. Thanks Jeremy. Well I guess some people just never learn despite the best efforts of others ;-) (and I did not want to scare the fish away.)

  3. As always, I am in awe and deeply grateful for your respectful observations, insights and stunning photos. Thank you, France

  4. Beautiful photographs France. I met some Samburu when travelling overland through Africa in 1980. We camped on the journey and one night in northern Kenya a Samburu man wandered into our camp and had dinner with us. Next morning he came back with many of his tribe and we bartered for various things. I remember a young woman wearing a beautiful beaded hide skirt that I wanted but didn’t think it appropriate to barter for her clothing! Anyway I look back on that time as if I missed a lot. I long to go back to Africa to see it through more mature eyes. Travelling when older is a whole different experience, for me anyway. I seem able to absorb much more now. Then it was exciting but I didn’t get much below the surface. You seem to do that even with brief visits. Did you have a guide?

    1. Thanks Alison. Those are lovely memories. I agree with you that we experience things differently at different times in our life. But maybe you are also able to take more time now and that makes a difference. It is hard to go below the surface when you have to rush. What I try to do if I feel short on time is to focus on one small thing and try to grasp it fully. It does not always work but that is my aim. All the best, France

  5. Love reading about your travels.Am very curious there was a trbe called the pygmies or were they just known as that ,have not heard anything about them for a long time would love to know Serena

    1. Dear Serena, Thanks for visiting the blog. Yes the Pygmies are an ethnic group from Central Africa (mostly CAR, DRC, Uganda and Rwanda). Sadly they are not doing very well. Pygmies are basically hunter-gathers and inhabited the forest for centuries but lately they have been displaced because of logging and because of extended preservation areas for the gorillas. Being kicked out of the forest means that they basically have no place to live and not to many options to earn a living as their skills as hunter-gatherers are not of much use. I met with a group of Pygmies (Batwa) in Uganda who live on borrowed land, three small huts for 20 people and have barely enough resource to survive. It is a very sad situation. See what Survival International has to say about them. http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/pygmies Kind regards, France

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