Being a kid in Samburuland is like no other childhood.
To be young is to follow strict rules in a loving family environment. There are many eyes watching you with making sure you are learning and behaving. There’s lots of time with grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins, endless singing and dancing. It’s a rich world of storytelling.
Families sleep together in a bed and it’s like musical chairs with girls and boys all moving around each night. Young girls will adore the youngest wife who’s like their big sister, and follow her endlessly. Young boys will obsess about the morani, their heroes, tracking to see where they rested the night before, pining to carry their bowl for them to wash.
2. a boy tending to camels
Samburu children grow up strong, independent, and highly resourceful. Capable of surviving in the bush from a young age they are respectful and proud of their family and the connection they have to their way of life.
Being born in the bush means you are immediately brought into the nomad way of life. The whole family takes care of the livestock.
Before you can walk you will be carried on the back of a mama as she milks the animals at dawn and dusk. As soon as you’re able you’ll begin to help out and develop your own bond with the family’s livelihood.
4. a young boy with his father amongst the goats
You can be as young as four when your father decides that you’re ready to begin herding goats. Sent alone your job will be to guard them from cheetah and other predators, and make sure they spend a full day getting as much feed as possible.
You will have the sole responsibility for a large chunk of your family’s wealth.
Boys will be looking and obsessing about becoming a moran and girls will be working hard to develop the myriad of skills required to cut it as a mama in the bush. Everyone, regardless of gender, will grow an incredible bond with their livestock.
Young people will have great responsibility from an early age, learning to carry knives and feed themselves, suckling the goats during the day if they are thirsty or hungry. Some will spend weeks alone with their animals during drought when they are sent up mountains to search for the untouched grasses there.
Growing up in a totally organic environment you have little to no possessions or clothes, but with enormous wealth and collection to the land and animals, it’s a very spiritual childhood.
It never occurred to me how much fun it would be. Kids grow up together in big families with lots of mamas and the whole world is your playground.
8. Children watch as their father shows them a poisonous puff adder he caught as it made its way into the manyatta.
You spend your whole life with a million animals and insects everywhere that you get to learn about and interact with all the time. Living in a desertified environment means that the world is your sandbox.
I quickly became jealous of the incredible life you have as a child in the bush. While the dangers are many and very real, like all things Samburu it comes down to an incredible balance where the payoff is well worth the risk.
9. a mother shaves her daughter’s head
The bond that these children develop with their environment is unparalleled, growing industrious, highly intelligent young people that can read the plants, animals and climate around them and act accordingly to maintain their incredible way of life.
It’s a childhood with an amazing sense of community all around you. From the sky and everything in it, the shooting stars and the sun as your compass, you absorb everything around you with knowledge being passed and absorbed, preparing you for your life ahead.
NEXT CHAPTER: MAMA FASHION
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1-10: S. Kenyon