There is no explicit ownership of land and water for the Samburu. In theory any stockowner has a right to live with whom he pleases where he pleases. Certain areas are associated with certain clans but anyone is free to migrate to these places. This is our land, they say, it belongs to us all.
The Waso River has been the main source of water into northern Kenya for hundreds of years. Changing weather patterns, development and irrigation up stream now means that this is no longer a river – more of a seasonal river, which dries during drought years and floods during the rainy season.
Our aim is to provide clusters of water – building a sustainable network of reservoirs throughout the region.
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.
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.
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.