The Samburu live life over long distances.
From the outset it appears to be a life without calendars and deadlines, however the Samburu live in a cycle dictated by their environment and followed with regimental precision. An example of this can be seen in the precisely organised structure of the Soko market system.
In Samburuland word travels fast over the vast bush telegraph, however day to day life is fairly remote, with families living in manyattas and most social contact coming from individuals passing through.
There are some exceptions, during times of rain with long grass the strain is lifted from the community and people come together regularly to celebrate different ceremonies, but this is at best half of every year and often much less.
The only regular gathering of Samburu can be regularly seen at the incredible and colourful Soko; the market.
After living with Talis for a couple of months he decided it was time I came to Soko. I was pretty nervous as it was my first time in front of the community in this way, and dressed as a moran I felt like it was a big statement and I didn’t know what reaction I would get.
The night before a soko is full of an intense energy, even in the middle of a drought, with everyone making preparations and welcoming friends who have walked long distances to spend the night with you, to then make the journey in in the morning. Everyone formulates their plan and wears their Sunday best. Talis’ manyatta was right near the only road into the area so we would hear the trucks coming in all night in preparation for the soko at dawn.
Walking into town you might have a goat or another animal that you want to sell, you might have walked overnight or travelled for a couple of days to make it to soko. A couple of km’s out of town you will regularly see people moving quickly through the bush all making their way into town.
When you first see a Samburu market all you can see is a multitude of colour in a large moving mass on the horizon. Everyone is dressed incredibly, morani will have spent the day washing and preparing themselves and their appearance for soko and mamas will have all of their beads on, the more the better.
A Soko is a social activity for the Samburu, it is a hive of talking and gossip, trading and buying provisions for the family. It is extremely hot and dusty, beginning at dawn and gone with only a litter of plastic left behind at 3pm, a sign of the pollutions being introduced to previously organic lives. Soko lasts only a few hours every few weeks, so everyone makes the most of it.
In Soko you can buy everything from grains, to basic foods, to tools and metalworks, animal medicines, Miraa (commonly known as khat) and tobacco, beads, fabrics, and the vast animal markets themselves.
Big trucks pour in through the bush bringing their wares or taking away hordes of prime organic, hand-reared and dearly loved Samburu goat, lamb, and beef. Donkeys are always traded along with Camels, and you can buy solar panels for your mobile phone, or pay to charge them with theirs.
I found Soko to be an adrenaline rush at first, and later a place where I felt comfortable and welcome. The mamas in my manyatta would always get me to buy beads for them to bead my jewelry with.
It’s not always safe with traders from other tribes bringing their wares in, a spout of recent fighting in Samburuland means that many are patrolled by GSU, Kenya’s heavily armed police units.
Different markets in different areas cater to different things, there are markets for metalwork such as spears and knives, or to get the best cattle. All have their own character and are an incredible way to see how Samburu travel as many often go long distances to get what they need.
Soko is a looking gallery for the young and a social pastime for the old, and by midday everyone packs up and walks into the bush to get back to their manyattas before dark.
NEXT WEEK: THE TRUST EYESIGHT CAMPS
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1-9: S. Kenyon.