1. a mama and child on the track
Being semi-nomadic means that the Samburu have a strong connection with a vast area of land.
This allows them to successfully navigate the extreme conditions of Samburuland and not just survive, but flourish.
Samburu will move their manyatta for one reason only; their livestock. They need to follow the rains and the pasture required to maintain their bank account, the cattle.
Often it is because the grass in the area is finished and there is known to be better somewhere else. Different animals need different types of grazing areas to get the right minerals and salts that their body needs. In this way they will move within the rhythm of their environment.
2. the bare structure of a home after the manyatta has left
When I was living with Talis we went up a mountain to see the morani living alone up there because we had a few days to spare while Talis’ father prepared to move his manyatta. When we came back down he had walked the 10km to Talis’ manyatta and back to check the length of the grass there and, deciding it was long enough, was preparing his cattle for the journey the next day.
That evening his wife and Talis’ wife and niece sat down to make ropes and prepare for the journey. They had worked through the night and by the time I woke up at dawn they were giggling as they packed up the house i was sleeping in by pulling out the plastic sheeting and tin cans from between the supports of the roof above my head.
3. a caravan making its way down the siaku valley
It’s incredible to watch an entire home pack up in a few short hours and then leave behind only a bare dirt batch. If a baby had been born in this manyatta they would have ceremonially burnt their house, a belief tradition to ensure no one will curse the place the child’s birthplace.
Everything was bundled and tied together on the backs of many complaining donkeys, the only thing left behind was the thorn fence and the stick walls of the houses and the bare trodden earth from a thousand footsteps. There is no impact on the environment; when the next rains come the site will flourish with grass, mushrooms and flowers, a natural fertilisation of their ecosystem through the seeds spread through the dung of their livestock.
The men set out early with the general livestock. The manyatta had been up the Siaku valley, one of the most stunningly beautiful areas of Samburuland I saw, and it was popular too, crammed full of manyattas. Moving down the valley and out on to the open plains of Kipsing we kept a tight group, always keeping an eye on the obstinate donkeys and keeping a pace to get to our new site before dark.
4. passing Lekurugi
Passing through the middle of the day we turned round the side of Mt. Lekurugi and climbed up into an overpass, a well used short cut to the other side of the Kipsing plains. My feet were still healing from a painful decent down Lekurugi and I had barely stopped limping, and the mamas I was with were charging ahead, most carrying a heavy load or a placid child on their back.
When we got into the mountain pass we spotted Talis’ father and his young son with the camels, I was totally shocked to see the old man was carrying a baby camel that had been born with a deformed leg. I honestly had been wondering for days what would happen to this baby when they moved because I knew it had been born there and would never be able to walk, I had been dreading that it would be put down.
The Samburu live with their livestock as a priority, and different animals have different necessities and pastures. When the grass around the manyatta I had been living in depleted Talis and his dad split their manyatta in two, he staying with the goats, and his father going to the Siaku valley with his wife, Talis’s second wife, and some of the children. This way he could take the camels and donkeys there until the rains came and their was pasture for them in a reunited manyatta.
5. Talis’ father carrying the baby camel
Coming out of the pass we made the final move towards Talis’ manyatta, our destination. His father was coming back because there had been a little rain and he felt more was coming. Talis’ was especially happy for them to come back, as he had only seen his second wife in small doses for months.
Our journey wasn’t a light one, through the heat of the day we stopped once for water and were all working hard to keep the livestock safe and under control. But these journeys can last for days and can be dangerous, your entire community is exposed in the open, and if it’s an extreme drought a number of you may be malnourished with scarce water and food. The story of Nosokoni, a little girl tossed by an Elephant on a journey such as this one, is a perfect example of this.
These journeys are ritualistic, covering paths that the Samburu have walked for centuries in periodical search for grass for the livestock, or the return to greener pastures when the rains have come.
6. climbing into the mountain pass
Talis has a number of usual reasons for moving; grass for the livestock or safety from war (his manyatta is very close to the current boundary of Samburu tribelands) and each area he moves to is a regular for him, and in each area the family will have a favourite spot were they have lived many times.
This time because they were reuniting in an existing manyatta so there wasn’t much work. If there had been no one there they would have begun to make houses straight away, the full process of which can take a couple of days, cutting sticks to use as walls and binding them together, before mudding the roof (or in Talis’ manyatta plastic sheeting and tied together flattened food aid cans).*
On arrival everyone welcomed family they hadn’t seen for months and had tea, and I hung out with Talis’ second wife and his 4 year old daughter (from his first wife). They were totally inseparable and had missed each other so much. It was another experience that would have totally confused me a few months earlier but at that point, like the rest of that day, made sense.
7. Talis’ second wife and daughter from his first wife
NEXT WEEK: MORANI FASHION
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
*we’re going to look at another Chapter in the future on when Samburu come together, building houses, storytelling and celebrating.
1-7: S. Kenyon.