A day in Talis’ manyatta starts before dawn.
The fire inside the house has been stoked periodically all night and it’s built up again at dawn to make sweet sweet chai. This is delicious Kenyan tea boiled in goat, camel, or cow’s milk with numerous spoons of sugar in every cup.
It’s the great Samburu social pastime, in most houses this is the one time of day a family will get to spend together alone. Many cups of chai are consumed first thing to build up a good sugar high that will last you through the day until your one meal in the evening.
1. morning chai in Talis’ house
The goat kids begin calling for milk when the sun hits the horizon and the mamas free them from their enclosures. All animals are milked and inspected individually before the day’s grazing begins and the same happens again at night. Most people in the manyatta will know every animal individually by sight and character.
2. Lemaan preparing to leave with the goats in the morning
Different groups in the community graze different animals throughout the day. Generally children take care of the goats (they can be as young as 4), older children may take care of calves, sheep or camels.
Donkeys will be grazing if they’re not fetching water and no birds are kept because traditionally the Samburu don’t eat anything that walks on two feet. However this is slowly changing, because of increased droughts many are coming to appreciate how nutritious eggs are for children.
The moraani (warriors) look after the cattle, it’s their sole purpose. Cattle are sacred, much more important than people. They are the family’s wealth and energy source and moraani are obsessed, gladly giving their lives for them.
This is so important that the moraani live secret lives. When a boy is considered to be strong enough he is sent out with the warriors to take care of the cattle. This is a huge moment of pride for the family.
3. moraani with cattle
During the day the elders take care of business and mamas (married women) take care of the children and run the manyatta, it’s a standard patriarchal society.
Around noon most activity will grind to a halt as the heat builds up on the plains. While it is very hot by 10am, in drought (vast majority of the year) the dry heat intensifies through the afternoon as the ground bakes.
The temperature wont reach its peak until 4pm, then at 5pm it will drop tens of degrees in an hour. The ground will still be warm to the touch until early in the morning.
4. Talis’ first wife collecting firewood
In my first few days in the bush I experienced heat properly for the first time. It wasn’t the temperature as much as it was facing up to the incredible distances Samburu calmly travel in such a challenging environment.
So while carefully focusing on the hours of walking ahead and not my dwindling water, heat would form this impenetrable barrier in my mind. Then suddenly degrees would melt away and the landscape would transform into this immense sunset calm.
Arriving back into the manyatta at dusk everything would be coming alive as the social time of day begins. Mamas prepare for the evening and the animals begin to return. Everyone’s focus is on the animals, they are milked and then everything is checked to make sure it’s in safe for the night.
5. Talis’ dad bringing in a new gate for the manyatta
After this the manyatta comes together in small groups to discuss the day. Everyone takes chai and divides into groups to have a meal; generally elders, moraani, and mamas and children.
Eventually the thorny acacia branch gates are closed, everyone peels off to bed and the sounds of the evening bush take over.
6. checking goats under moonlight before being put away for the night
NEXT WEEK: MOUNTAIN MORAANI
All Images and text ©2012 Samburu Trust. All rights reserved.
1-6: S. Kenyon.