1. an elder from the lkimankiki age group, the most senior of the elders, wearing his ceremonial earrings and beads during a coming of age ceremony
The Elders lead the Samburu with their great wisdom.
While the morani lead by protecting the cattle, the decisions are made by the elders in their ability to interpret the ever-changing environment in which they live.
To understand the elders we have to understand a little about Samburu age groups. A moran becomes a junior elder when his generation’s time protecting the tribe is over and they are allowed to find wives and settle down.
He will give the majority of his warrior beads to his younger brothers during coming of age ceremonies. He will still wear some but this age group cannot outshine the new warriors, who he will guide for their first few years as the protectors. When this new generation is old enough to become junior elders themselves his generation will move up the ladder and become full elders, usually around 15 years later.
This provides a chain of elders beginning around the age of 25-35. At present there are six age groups (including the current warriors) with the blessed eldest group around the age of 80. These elders are incredibly wise, with a connection to their land and livestock like no one else. They lead their manyattas, areas, clans, and the whole tribe itself through their leadership structure.
The Masula clan, considered to be the first clan and the one with the most elders able to foretell the future by reading the stars*. They have the deepest understanding of Samburu culture and past ways of life, and lead the tribe by deciding when it is time for the new generation of warriors and other vitally important matters. It is these blessed elders that will understand what the stars are telling them and what decisions to make.
2. council of elders
Elders are most often seen sitting together in the shade talking in council. Being in the age group of the current morani I was instructed very early on never to approach a council of elders but to sit aside a little while away and wait to be beckoned over.
What is most surprising for many people to learn is how active the elders are, they are unbelievably fit with immense inner strength. Talis’ father, the patriarch of our manyatta, is an incredibly fit and able man. He’s considered to be well off, with multiple wives and manyattas and a large number of livestock.
3. Talis’ father
I would regularly see him taking animals out to graze and he was constantly walking tens of km’s to his other manyattas and other parts of Samburuland. One day I accompanied him with Talis as he moved one of his manyattas and saw him carry a baby camel on his back throughout the heat for the better part of a day.
4. Talis’ father carrying a baby camel
He was a lovely old guy and would constantly bless the weird and wonderful exotic things I had with me by spitting on them, which is a great honor from an elder.
Elders have tremendous respect within the community and when something is blessed by an elder it signifies approval and a protection of sorts, it’s saying that the Samburu condone it.
5. Talis’ father taking chai
The only reason I was safely able to stay with Talis was because the elders in the area had given their approval, and word spread very quickly that the mzungu (white guy) was allowed to be there.
6. elders blessing a Trust nomad school before it opens
Whenever the Trust is asked to build a nomad school for a community in Samburuland it always begins with a request from the elders, and when it is built it is unable to open before the elders come together and bless it. If this doesn’t happen, the school will never open*.
This week we end with an elders blessing;
TEPERIE LCHONUTO LO SEURI O MUNYAK
Sleep on the skins of the holy cows.
NEXT WEEK: THE WASO – THE LIFEBLOOD
*we are planning chapters on the clans, religion and superstition in the coming weeks.
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1,2,7: J. Francombe.
3,4,5,6: S. Kenyon.