Samburu fashion is world renowned and totally distinctive, this week we’re going to look at the fashion of the morani.
The one thing that surprises most people to learn about morani fashion is how fluid and organic it is, constantly evolving like the fashion of any other culture.
Samburu beadwork originates from about four centuries ago when trade brought colourful beads from Eastern Europe. This has spawned an obsession with bright colour that flows through clothing and jewelry and into storytelling; the greatest channels of Samburu self expression.
For the warriors it’s the pinnacle of beauty and strength, nothing impresses more than big healthy bulls, a big herd of cattle, striking and colourful beadwork, and stories of great courage to back it all up with.
Initially morani gain a lot of their beads when they come of age, given to them by their closest friend, the warrior who kills their sacred cow during the final ceremony. Their father’s younger wives, their sisters and their girlfriends will continually maintain their beadwork for them, and they will make new pieces for the morani who will also be given new pieces and give others away.
When I arrived in Samburuland, Talis brought in some of his closest morani to greet me and guarantee my security, and one of them gave me a number of beaded rings and bracelets. When a warrior gives away beads they are never returned, it’s a symbol of friendship.
Each generation of warriors has distinctive style. When I see old pictures of Samburu it’s very easy to see how much has changed. For example purple is really popular at the moment in clothing (a couple of years ago it was white). Beaded snuff pots, worn around their neck, and now beaded mobile phone holders are standard.
Beaded bracelets used to be based on wire or leather but now you mostly find them made with recycled tire rubber. When the current generation of warriors came of age they all made a dramatic fashion statement by appearing with up to 6 or 7 of these on each arm. This was considered excessive by the elders but six years on it is widespread, with the girls now wearing this style as well.
Distinctions in fashion style occur geographically as well, with morani from different areas of Samburuland able to be identified by the different colour combinations of the fabrics they wear. When morani wear headpieces they put one long, beautiful feather in it and sometimes colourful plastic flowers as well. This is something that I didn’t like initially until I understood that outside of our plastic saturated society these were objects of beauty and colour, and they became really desirable.
3. a moran with a purple kikoy, beadwork and mobile phone holder, and scarification on his chest
To generalise a moran’s fashion you have a kikoy, a Kenyan sarong that is the main clothing, a beaded belt that will hold a long knife, and strings of beads that will crisscross his chest (an important sign of being a moran). He will wear numerous beaded bracelets on his wrists, on his elbow a beaded leather strap (another important mark of a moran). Notched body markings will be made with thorns and a knife. These are a show of strength and a moran will never flinch as a girl makes these on his skin.
Morani will wear bare basic beads and sometimes even western clothing if they are alone in the bush with the cattle. In the low country they usually take the majority of their beads off, keeping the basics they need like their knife, mobile, mirror, rungu and some form of automatic weapon. In the high country it’s much cooler at night and because of more frequent tribal fighting up there they’re more likely to wear camouflage and khaki. It’s entirely different if they are dressing for markets or ceremonies where looking good is prime importance. They may wear a beaded collar (a choker), a larger beaded necklace tied around their neck and sitting flatly on their chest, and a headpiece.
4. morani wearing their shukas. Samburu all drape their shuka over the left shoulder, throwing it from left to right around their bodies and never the other way.
Stretched ears are common with earrings, worn only by circumcised morani, along with a small chain that rides around the back of the ears and down along the chin. If it is cold a moran may have a shuka, which is a very thick, warm tartan blanket, and in addition to his knife he will usually have a rungu (a stick with a bulbous deadly blunt end to it) and a spear.
Morani will often put ochre in their hair. They will grow their hair as long as possible and when a member of their clan family is killed in battle or dies it is shaven. Long red ochre hair is a sign of peaceful times, beauty and strength. They will often carry a special pillow to put under their neck when they sleep to stop their hair from getting messed up.
5. a moran putting ochre in his hair
All morani differ but the intense devotion to colour and style is pretty widespread. Many carry a small mirror and spend hours grooming themselves; vanity is their culture because it symbolises beauty and strength, you triumph over your enemies and the harsh and beautiful world you live in.
When the land is at its best the morani are home in the manyatta (as opposed to other places such as the mountains) and younger brothers are safely trusted to look after the cattle. The morani will spend their time dancing, singing, and preening themselves endlessly.
You can see the link between beauty and strength when the morani dance. Their spears are as much a part of dancing as fighting, often decorated with a fluff of black ostrich feather or a hand painted flag. The noise their clothing makes alone is so distinctive, with a heavy weight of beads all moving together, punctuated by the thump of feet on earth.
It’s hard to find a culture where such a large portion of any demographic focuses so heavily on, and (more importantly) succeeds, with their desire to self-express through fashion.
NEXT WEEK: SOKO – MARKETS
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1,2,5,6: J. Francombe.
3,4: S. Kenyon.