Traditionally the Samburu will have lived off milk and animal blood alone.
Their diet consists of elements that are totally volatile to other cultures, yet they perfectly balance within the extremes of their environment.
Their animals are their only dependable energy source, and would provide everything they need, because of this their welfare is the sole priority in everyday life.
Milk will be cattle, goat, or camel (highly nutritious and tasty), deliciously fresh and drunk immediately or stored in gourds, mixed with tea or turned into other dairy products. Milk is usually enjoyed warm from the animal and it is never refrigerated. Gourds are sterilised using smoke from various trees which gives it a fragrant, smokey taste.
The mamas will sing to their animals to literally ‘let the milk down’. They create a bond together and milk at dawn and dusk, always allowing calves to come first and only ever taking what can be spared.
2. fresh milk in a gourd
Blood will be taken at regular intervals from animals and used primarily to sustain the morani, who while other parts of society have adapted with their diet, out of necessity they will regularly live off milk and blood alone.
3. collecting blood from a camel
How amazing Blood is as an energy source is difficult to explain to other cultures. For the Samburu it is full of energy, replenishable and sustainable. It has masses of protein and is chock full of vitamins, mixed with milk it becomes a very healthy meal.
Drinking blood is entirely natural for Samburu, as I adjusted to their lifestyle I could feel my body craving blood and the multitude of precious nutrients it contains. Morani always talk about blood with pride and excitement in their eyes, and I quickly learned that the day after drinking blood you can walk twice the distance and more.
Blood is an ingenious and humane source of energy, while not entirely regular. Taken at discreet intervals, the tip of the arrow used to shoot the vein is measured so that it punctures one side only and never both so as not to harm or affect the long term health of the animal.
Once blood is taken the small wound is covered with ash, which has natural antiseptic properties. The whole experience is not dissimilar from a person giving blood.
5. butchering goat
Meat is an incredible, tortuous source of energy. These animals are loved dearly and individually every day of their lives, growing as hand-reared organic meat. They are your wealth and more than that, your love and obsession, so to eat them is a very important occasion. Not to mention the fact that because they are so tenderly cared for it is the most incredibly flavorsome meat.
Most meat is consumed for celebrations and ceremonies, and occasionally if an animal is injured in the bush and wont survive, it will be eaten quickly with nothing spared. The first time I ate meat with a group of morani they fell about laughing at me because I hadn’t stripped the sinew off the bone I was eating, or even sucked the marrow out of the middle.
We slaughtered a goat one time, capturing the blood, butchering immediately (Talis and his brother ate the liver and kidneys fresh) and barbecuing all in about half an hour. Even bowels were kept to create a stew that is brewed for the undigested plants and roots that the animal was feeding on.
6. goat innards being prepared for a stew
Everything consumed by the Samburu comes from the land around them. The bush is their kitchen garden, with sustenance coming from livestock, plants to aid digestion and for their medicinal properties. The innards kept for stews are referred to as vegetables, and each animal will give you different vegetables with different properties relating to the minerals and nutrients found in the areas where each naturally grazes.
Because Samburu grow up with such a high quality, balanced diet they are very fussy with their food. Many morani will not have dairy for a day or two after eating meat because of the havoc it wreaks on their digestive system. They will take tea without milk and other special brews that allow them to digest meat more easily.
Modern additions to Samburu diet include maize, beans, and rice, bought at soko and like most African communities consumed in large quantities in one daily meal. Also tea is a cultural obsession, whether boiled in milk as chai or black, and always with large amounts of sugar and a great, primary source of energy in the morning.
Samburu diet is constantly evolving now, with new introductions that like in any other element of their society could easily be corrosive to their way of life. Food sources such as yellow maize were originally introduced by aid agencies during times of extreme drought.
The Samburu are very much in touch with their bodies, with exceptional fitness they know what makes them feel good and bad. So unless they are desperate they won’t eat the low grade maize and it is then sold and brewed into a lethal moonshine. So while well meaning aid agencies have actually helped introduce alcohol and its many repercussions into the Samburu ecosystem!
While these influences often have little effect against the pressure cooker of their environment; sadly those few that do can often do irreparable damage to the balance of their way of life.
For a child to grow up so close to the animals that sustain their livelihood is an incredible gift. To know exactly what entails in the balance of their meal, from having such a close connection they learn the real cost of meat to them. Samburu children grow up with a natural understanding of nutrition and when an animal is unfit to eat, another fascinating aspect of the close connection between the Samburu and their ecosystem.
9. young girls with beans
NEXT WEEK: THE TRUST EYE SURGERY CAMPS
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1, 3-7: S. Kenyon.
2, 8, 9: J. Francombe.