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).


infographic. the anatomy of a manyatta

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


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
1,6: J. Francombe.
2-5: S. Kenyon.
infographic: M. Coyle.

  1. Hedy Davant

    22/02/2012 - 21:23

    Good blog, informative and interesting.

  2. Annie Tempest

    22/02/2012 - 21:26

    Really enjoying this blog. Having been there so many times, didn’t expect to learn new stuff, but never knew all the doors to the house faced either Mount Kenya or Mount Nyero. Look forward to the next one.

  3. Charlie Berridge

    25/02/2012 - 08:44

    An interesting insight to a completely different way of living. I think westerners could learn a lot from Samburu values and way of life.

    • Viviane

      26/04/2012 - 07:39

      Really enjoying this blog. Having been there so many times, didn’t except to learn new stuff, but never knew all the doors to the house faced either Mount Kenya or Mount Nyero. Look forward to the next one.

      • Achiles

        12/06/2012 - 07:41

        .its a really amziang story u got there love the way its all been put together .the characters, the backdrop, the story telling n attention to details bt still not completely revealing it its all to amziang .i’m just another ordinary reader bt still gotta admit its really really amziang . keep up ve good work is all i can say to conclude with . \(^_^)/XD -already a fan, Shantanu

  4. Jamie Kenyon

    01/03/2012 - 06:12

    Beautiful photos. And great to learn new info about the Samburu.

  5. Reid Hugee

    29/03/2012 - 00:05

    Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write on my blog something like that. Can I implement a fragment of your post to my blog?

  6. dinle

    26/04/2012 - 00:57

    strawberry Dearest Annie and Julsy,I am meant to be seeing paitents but was hooked couldn’t stop reading it -I miss your country so much Julsy Juls!! Annie great writing I hope all is getting back on track slowly for you I bet Daisey is flourishing at Shrewsbury. I am going home this weekend if you’d like me to take her anything, Mum lives 10 mins from the school! Lots of love to you all xxxPS Juls I hope the donatiosn form our wedding have reached you let me know if not and will chase John Lewis!! xxx

  7. Fausto Sweetland

    21/10/2012 - 15:31

    I really like your writing style, great information, appreciate it for posting : D.

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