Please look at our glossary of Samburu words to the right for definitions of Samburu terms and click back through previous Chapters (below right) to understand more about the Samburu.
A letter from Chariman Lenayasa Liberuni (above) in gratitude to our donor for the Kipsing region of Samburuland;
I as the Kipsing Chairman first greet you. All you have done for Narrapu Kipsing up to this far since you started was a great help to the Kipsing Community.
We are thankful for the funding you have been giving us and it is of great help to the entire Kipsing community. We still need your help. We are seeing the fruits of your support because this work we are doing is growing since you started supporting us. This year we as a Narrapu community we will work harder than last year in conservation.
Today Julia Francombe shares with us her story of Kipsing, how she came to be working there, and how she fell in love with the people and the land of this true wilderness.
We had come to a point with the Trust eye camps where we needed to move further afield.
In order to eradicate trachoma there are four points of focus; surgery, antibiotic distribution, facial cleanliness & environmental improvement.
We had operated on all those in the Kirimon catchment area and the surgical eye camps needed another area to save eyes.
I had been to Kipsing a couple of times as a young girl and knew this wild, dramatic landscape with wild people, sand luggas, and extreme heat. It was a challenge I couldn’t resist, in fact I couldn’t wait.
I knew that this was a migratory area for the Samburu people I had been working with on Kirimon.
First I sent a small team to confirm that trachoma was actually a problem in this area – my suspicions were confirmed.
In 2005 i climbed Tali rock to get an idea of the area and other areas around that I wanted to move into. Now I had to find an introduction.
In 2006 the morani Coming of Age ceremonies had taken over. It was very exciting – an electric month. I was lucky enough to experience it from the heart of the lorora with the families, mamas, and their boys who had become so much a part of my life.
I was in the Lorora for the Longeli clan on Matasia Kiromon, when I saw Laaman. Pale skinned and slight with jet black eyes, I could immediately tell that he wasn’t from the area.
His mum was wearing nothing but ochre drenched skins with different patterns within the beads on her ankles and neck from what I would normally see in that area.
Over the next week i got to know the family. They had migrated from an area near to Tali rock called Milima Tata, which translates to the Three Hills.
They were so welcoming, and after lots of tea Laaman and his family were the introduction i needed to Kipsing.
The highland savannah plains of Laikipia are also known to the Samburu as Donyo – the Hills. From there you drop down into the dry sandy desertland – know as Purikel.
When the boys had become men, and the families from the purikel had left the donyo and returned home I went to visit.
Driving over Ol Donyiro you drop down to the base of Tali hill and the beginning of lpurikel.
Kipsing southern border is not far from here, marked by a lugga (seasonal river) known as Lagaman, and the northern boundary is marked by an incredible lugga, Nkare Ndare. When this lugga floods it is a force of nature carrying bridges and trees in its wave.
The Kipsing town itself is in the shadow of the mountains of Lossos and Lekuruki and the main areas are divided by two luggas of Kipsing and Sieku up in the valleys and hills to the south.
The junction in which the Kipsing lugga meets the Waso Nyiro river is called Mpus Kutuk, or ‘mouth of the sheep’.
Different clans occupy the different areas and valleys, and all come together every two weeks on soko (market) at the kipsing town centre.
This centre is also home to a GSU (militarised Kenyan police) outpost, due to past and severe tribal conflicts within the area. And a small displaced Turkana community (a tribe from far north Kenya around Lake Turkana) who live in what the Samburu call the Kijiji.
Walking down past Tali rock into the dry flat landscape, I had lots to learn. The hills and the rocks, with no roads or written markers, the landscape and hills are your sign posts. This is not somewhere you would want to be lost.
I started on foot with Laaman as my guide introducing me to families and elders within the area.
There had been a month of rain and the ground was covered in a blanket of white flowers. Everything smelled delicious and the cattle were fat. Although the green grass made the mornings cooler, there was no mistaking the heat beating down on our heads throughout the day.
Different plants and trees – lethal thorns. As i found out later my usual footwear would not prevent the thorns of Kipsing, and i was soon to copy the people and wear recycled car tyre shoes.
Lots of camels and their milk flowed in to the homes, and a different breed of goats from what I was used to – white with long legs – seemed to flourish in this landscape.
I saw and experienced flies like never before. Women and children literally covered, the flies desperate for a drink or to eat the fat smeared on their skins.
The girls herding would cut branches from trees to feed their animals which followed them in lines as they sang and called. I would learn later that these trees sprout back and the ‘pruning’ never seems to do lasting damage.
The Waso Nyiro river – the main source of water into northern kenya – was flowing again. It dried for the first time in living memory in Kipsing during the 2006 drought. Was it now to become a seasonal river?
Although surface water is scarce in Kipsing, the large sand luggas (seasonal rivers) have an abundant source under the sand. It is the cleanest freshest water i have ever tasted.
Digging wells in the dry sand luggas is a way of life in Kipsing – it is part of everyday life.
The vast expanses of sand in the luggas are a rainbow of colours. This sand filters this underground source of rain water which is crystal clear. The pale pink soil within the steep banks are in places full of salts and minerals.
Wildlife, livestock and people know exactly where to find this. The banks are scarred with tusk marks from the elephant and smaller animals such as warthog.
After a month or so in kipsing the wazee (elders) would often comment how well I looked and they put it down to these important minerals in the soil here.
Digging for your water is a way of life. The lugga is a place where people wash, catch up and spend time either lounging on the rocks, or in the shade of the incredible trees which hug the banks.
You will generally always bathe, using the sand and river rocks scrub you feet, wash your clothes, and sit in the sun whilst they dry. Completing the routine with a miswaki toothbrush, the best place to find one is to carve one is from the root of a tree in the Kipsing lugga.
Each Kisima (sand well) has its owner who maintains it daily. During the 2009 drought, when water levels had dropped to the height of 2 men – we not only experienced outbreaks of cholera in the area – but also poaching of elephant.
Orphan baby elephant, and warthog desperate for a drink, would often fall in to the wells. Now trapped they would most certainly die. This was not only a problem for the wildlife but also the people.
Starting in 2005, the people of Kipsing provided me with a wealth of knowledge – a window into their culture and people i met over the years. Their honestly steered us in the right direction.
Six years on and we have a strong structure. Built and managed by the elders it includes every corner and clan living within Kipsing.
We have experienced good and bad years, drought and torrential rain, constant fighting with the Somalis on the northern Nkare Ndare border, an outbreak of cholera, poached elephant. These crises led to us employing Laritak, our team of wildlife monitors who watch and report over the people, land & wildlife.
Each experience has led to a project, hand made by the Samburu for the Samburu. It is in this area in which we learned of their ancient system of setting land aside for grazing, the elephant migration routes, and plants that cure anything from simple colds to malaria.
It is the people of Kipsing - my right hand man Musmar with his brutal honestly and insight, our Chairman who taught me the true meaning of the word Nganyet (respect), the warriors with their inspiring code of conduct, and the mamas who attack their daily chores with energy and pride.
Every member of the family, clan and tribe adding value and making this way of life not only possible but magical. It works.
This article is a Samburu Trust collaboration. Please click here for more information.
This Chapter by Julia Francombe, Sacha Kenyon, and Moses Lerusion.
All Images and text ©2013 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
Chairman, 1-5, : Julia Francombe
6-14 : Sacha Kenyon