We are now in week 14 of the Chapters and have covered most of what you could call ‘the basics’ of the traditional Samburu way of life. We are now looking to introduce you to lesser known, highly sophisticated aspects of their culture. This week we begin with the singing wells.
The link that the morani have with their cattle is a focal point of Samburu culture. Singing itself is one of their most vibrant forms of self expression and deserves a Chapter of its own later, but generally can be described as a singing free form of storytelling.
When morani take their cattle to water it is a powerful experience, they are literally feeding their obsession and maintaining their greatest asset, it’s a sacred moment with their greatest passion.
Three weeks ago we told the story of a poached elephant and a little about the devastating rise in ivory trade. This week we tell you the fate of the mother’s missing orphan.
A couple of weeks had passed since we lost the trace of the orphan. There had been one small shower, not enough to nourish the land, but enough to completely wipe any baby elephant tracks in the area it was last seen.
Rising early Talis and I walked to the luga to redig a well. Around midday we walked to the point where it meets the Waso river and came across some morani. These Morani had come from further north and were walking to soko (markets) which were taking place the next day about half a day’s walk away. They told us a young baby had been spotted with a herd way north on the Waso. We knuckled down to walk through the intense heat of the afternoon.
A large river ecosystem that begins its journey with two tributaries from the base of Mt. Kenya and the Nyandarua ranges, it flows through the heart of Samburuland and out into the arid Somali desert to the northeast.
It is only Kenya’s third largest river but provides water to a massive area of land and is known as the lifeblood of the north. In that way it’s very similar to the Samburu, who are small in numbers but cover an incredible amount of land compared to other Kenyan cultures.
In Samburuland water is something invisible that you focus on at all times. For me it was something I had to learn to live without, the Samburu I met thrive with the bare minimum.
1. two bullets on a poached Elephant’s skin, one unspent round used as an example provided by a KWS ranger for the photo and one recovered from the Elephant in autopsy
This is a personal account of an Elephant that was poached while
I was living with Talis in Waso, and the search for her orphaned calf.
We heard from one of our wildlife monitors that an Elephant had been poached near the Sieku valley. Our monitors are trained to check for breast milk that would indicate that her calf may be too young to survive alone with the herd.
We arrived and were shown the body of the mother. She was lying under a tree next to a gulley and her body had already had signs of hyena trying to feed on her the night before.
The warriors are one of the most fascinating aspects of the Samburu.
Their fashion, their battles, their status is so interesting for many people that when looking at the Samburu the morani are all they can see. People are drawn to them.
In society the morani are revered and secretive. Their sole purpose is to protect the sacred cattle, so by association they are revered as demi-gods. Their influence in society is massive; they drive the boundaries of the land, increasing the grazing and protect them for the tribe.
It’s one of the defining characteristics of their culture. Their home sees desertification for the better part of every year, and recently for years at a time.
The most common water source in Samburuland is the Waso Nyiro River, which has been dry in the last few years for the first time in living memory, and below ground, found in places where water naturally collects during the rains and flows downstream into the Waso system.
There is nothing in Samburu society more important than Cattle.
They are the most blessed; simultaneously the family’s life savings, their bank, and even the money itself. The cattle are their greatest asset, and wealth can be greatly admired.
On top of their financial importance they are in themselves a free, self-replenishing, self-expanding supermarket chain. You can cover a majority of the Samburu diet by drinking their milk and blood alone and for extremely important ceremonies you can slaughter them then eat and wear them. Absolutely nothing is wasted.
‘The herdsman’s relationship to his domestic animals is . . characterized by neither preying nor becoming a parasite on them . . in bad times, the successful pastoralist loses weight with his herds rather than maintaining it at their expense’ – Mike Rainy
On my first day living with the Samburu, Julia told me that during drought some morani (warriors) would take all the family’s cattle and climb a mountain where there is better pasture for grazing.
1. moran on Lekurugi
They’ll go alone and if the drought becomes extreme the cows will get thinner and thinner and start dying off, and the moran will get thinner with them because he will be living off only their milk.