A manyatta is a Samburu home.
It’s a modular style of architecture that follows a few basic rules to keep families and their livestock safe.
Manyattas (ie enclosures, walls and shelters) have minimal impact on the environment and can be built in a day, while houses take between one and two weeks. The Samburu are semi-nomadic so they might stay in one manyatta for months at a time, and then get up in the morning and pack it all up and leave.
The manyatta that my host Talis was in when I was living with him was between a hill and the base of a mountain. We had a rolling view down the sloping hills on the plains. He loves that particular area and over the years has had different manyattas within a couple of km’s from there.
2. Naingura from the air
A manyatta is generally built around some core design principles. A number of small houses, central enclosures for small and young livestock, a large wall of thorns surrounding, and a branch is pulled over the entrances at night.
A Samburu home is entirely organic and only possible through their deep knowledge of local plants and trees. The sticks used for walls are the right type that when used green they harden without snapping, the roof is made from a mixture of cow dung, ash, and earth found at the base of termite hills where the consistency is similar to clay. The entire structure is made with a panga (a traditional knife).
This keeps the manyatta safe from most wildlife. Elephant and people have an agreement to leave each other alone, big cats and Hyena can and will try their luck in the middle of the night to feast on livestock.
3. children in Talis’ manyatta
When predators were around Talis and his brother would get up periodically in the middle of the night to stoke preventative fires, and if there were a heap around they would stay up all night making noise to fend them off.
A manyatta is built around the structure of Samburu society. All Samburu are family, so all manyattas are home. Everyone walks a long way through hot, dry bush and no one carries anything with them because there will always be a manyatta that will share what they have with you as you pass through.
4. a couple of Talis’ brothers and a nephew
Premium areas have a lot of manyattas in them, up to ten per square kilometre. When I was in Talis’ manyatta there were very few in the area due to drought (many had moved away in search of grazing). The area was on the border of Samburu and Somali tribal lands and there with a history of fighting in previous years, as a result a large area had become no man’s land.
5. Talis’ mum
All manyattas are different for the same reasons that all the houses on your street are not the same, the inside of a mama’s house is decorated to her personal taste. It’s by personalising the Samburu in this way that we hope to show you a regular society of people living in extraordinary circumstances.
6. manyatta at dawn
NEXT WEEK: A DAY IN THE MANYATTA
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1,6: J. Francombe.
2-5: S. Kenyon.
infographic: M. Coyle.