The warriors are one of the most fascinating aspects of the Samburu.
Their fashion, their battles, their status is so interesting for many people that when looking at the Samburu the morani are all they can see. People are drawn to them.
In society the morani are revered and secretive. Their sole purpose is to protect the sacred cattle, so by association they are revered as demi-gods. Their influence in society is massive; they drive the boundaries of the land, increasing the grazing and protect them for the tribe.
The fathers pick their strongest sons from a young age and pay the most attention to whoever he thinks will best listen and learn, and take his knowledge for the cattle.
The cattle are his most valued possession so the most capable boys become his most valued possession from a very young age.
2. moran during ‘month of birds’ warrior initiations
Boys will signify they are ready to become men with scarification. Notching is a really common practice where a thorn is dug into the flesh and pulled out in a curve and cut, and repeated to make a bank of 20 or more.
The elders of one clan (the Masula) will decide when it is time for the next generation of warriors. A generation will last between 10-20 years and the coming of age ceremonies will all happen at the same time. This means that you can be as young as 8 when you become a man or as old as your early twenties. The status is the same, once you are a warrior you are a man and treated like one.
3. a moran with his cattle.
Because warriors have the superhuman strength required to defend Samburu cattle it means they don’t have the trappings of regular mortals. To the community morani don’t eat, drink, sleep, move their bowels or have sex. When a warrior is circumcised he ceases to be part of the community, so his family severs all emotional ties with him until the next generation is circumcised, some 15 years later. If he dies in battle all his belongings are thrown in the bush, his name is never used and he is forgotten immediately.
4. from Chapter 4: Mountain Morani, notched scarification is visible on this moran’s back
Because of the battles and high chance of death Morani are not allowed wives (but they are allowed to ‘bead’ girlfriends*), so when the elders decide to circumcise a new generation of warriors the present warriors are not allowed to marry until there is a new generation.
This is for a reason; once a warrior has retired from the ‘army’ his priority is his family and children, looking after his mother and not going into battle where he may be killed.
These experienced warriors will then be on call to advise and teach the softer new generation for the first years of their time serving the Samburu.
The intricacies of the morani structure is complex, they drive every aspect of society. So in coming weeks we will be focusing on certain aspects, such as how the different age groups work and the structure and characteristics of the different age groups.
In 2007 Julia witnessed the most recent warrior initiation process. She is one of a few people outside of the Samburu to ever see this take place and will be discussing this incredible experience with us over a few chapters.
*the process of morans beading their girlfriends (giving them beads as a sign of their abstinent relationship) is a beautiful process that we want to cover in full in another chapter.
NEXT WEEK: MAMAS – THE MATRIARCH
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1,3,4,5,6: S. Kenyon.
2: J. Francombe.