1. a storm in Samburuland.

The Samburu thrive in drought conditions.

It’s one of the defining characteristics of their culture. Their home sees desertification for the better part of every year, and recently for years at a time.

The most common water source in Samburuland is the Waso Nyiro River, which has been dry in the last few years for the first time in living memory, and below ground, found in places where water naturally collects during the rains and flows downstream into the Waso system.

2. the Kipsing luga (dry riverbed), an offshoot that feeds into the Waso river

Samburu collect water from wells (kisimas) that are dug to reach the water table. These wells can be ankle deep or drop to the depth of 6 people, with ledges the whole way down and people handing buckets between them all the way to the top.

When the Trust does its annual surveys in Samburuland the depth of the Kisimas are a really good indicator of community health, as well as reflecting on the quality of the water.

3. mamas collecting water from a shallow kisima

The kisima that Talis uses is well known for having beautiful clear water, filtered underground through kilometres of sand. When morani water the cattle in the late afternoons you can see the water reflecting off the sand content of the crystal water, and sparkling in the evening light.

A kisima will normally be filled with branches of thorns when not used to keep animals out. It’s emptied every time it’s used to avoid sickness by letting fresh water seep through. If a kisima is too deep to fill with these branches a wall of them will be built around it to keep animals out.

This won’t always work however, a warthog or baby elephant may still slip in and drown, contaminating the water source. An Elephant may kick it in out of frustration from not getting enough water due to the small size of the wells, causing tension between themselves and people because of the time kisimas take to dig and the distances traveled to get to them*.

4. morani drinking from a kisima

The kisima can be misinterpreted as a sign of extreme hardship in times of extended drought, however the truth is that it’s a perfect example of how the Samburu thrive within their ecosystem. When a drought is over the community will be using that same well because there’s been a well in that spot or thereabouts for centuries.

5. a boy in a deep kisima in Kipsing luga

Another thing that is difficult to understand is that if water is so rare, why not just live closer to water sources and not walk up to two hours? This is because they select where they live for the livestock.

The manyatta I lived in was pretty much halfway between our water source and the grass for the livestock on the hills. For Samburu the health of the livestock takes priority over people because that’s the only way to ensure the well being of both.

Having the manyatta away from the water source protects them from the wildlife and reduces their conflict. It’s a way of life that allows them to live in balance with their ecosystem, they thrive in their way and have for thousands of years.

6. cattle waiting to be milked at dusk

*this is an issue that the Trust is working on at the moment, they are planning a post on their ‘Elephant Wells’ soon.


This article is a Samburu Trust collaboration. Please click here for more information.

This Chapter by Sacha Kenyon, Julia Francombe and Moses Lerusion.

All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.

Image Credits

1,2,3,4,5: S. Kenyon.

6: J. Francombe.

  1. Hedy Davant

    29/03/2012 - 21:00

    This is a lesson to many. No many people know anything else that open a tap to get water.
    I myself can say that I am lucky because as a child we have to go to the well to get our water, did not have electricity either, and that is an advantage rather than a disadvantage .

  2. bulova 44l100

    29/03/2012 - 21:37

    Kudos for this blog post. This is a really engrossing blog post. I look forward to see more soon.

  3. Jamie Kenyon

    10/04/2012 - 07:16

    Great post, interesting to learn how what I thought to be pure survival instinct is actually part of a balanced system. Especially learning about keeping the manyatta halfway between water and the feeding ground.

    JK x

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