The Samburu are a Nilotic people of north-central Kenya that are related to but distinct from the Maasai. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels. The name they use for themselves is Lokop or Loikop, a term which may have a variety of meanings which Samburu themselves do not agree on. Many assert that it refers to them as “owners of the land” (“lo” refers to ownership, “nkop” is land) though others present a very different interpretation of the term.
Samburu history is intertwined with that of Kenya’s other Nilotic tribes. Samburus are known to have originated from Sudan, settling north of Mount Kenya and south of Lake Turkana in Kenya’s Rift Valley area. Upon their arrival in Kenya in the 15th century, the Samburu parted ways with their Maasai cousins, who moved further south while the Samburu moved north. The Samburu were not very affected by British colonial rule since the British did not find their land particularly attractive
The Samburu tribe speaks the Maa language, as do the Maasai. However, although they share a vocabulary, the Samburu speak more rapidly than the Maasai. Together with the Maasai and Turkana tribes, the Samburu are among the few African tribes who have remained culturally authentic by clinging to their traditional way of life
RELIGIONS AND BELIEFS
Traditionally, the Samburu believed in one supreme god – Nkai or Ngai – who was thought to reside in the mountains. Diviners often acted as intermediaries between other mortals and Nkai. Today, while many Samburu people still adhere to their traditional religion, some have adopted the Christian or Islamic faith.
Traditionally the Samburu economy was purely agricultural, striving to survive off the products of their herds of cows, goats, and for some, camels. However, the combination of a significant growth in population over the past 60 years and a decline in their cattle holdings has forced them to seek other supplemental forms of livelihood. Some have attempted to grow crops, while many young men have migrated for at least short periods to cities to seek wage work. Many work in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, as watchmen, while it is also popular to go to Kenya’s coastal resorts where some work; others sell spears and beaded ornaments
MUSIC, SONGS AND DANCES
Samburu like the Maasai are well known for their dances. Music was done in different occasions like circumcision, marriage, to entertain guest and to worship their warriors. Today samburu people have formed group of dances in major national parks to entertain tourist for income
Samburu practice polygynous marriage and a man may have multiple wives. A Samburu settlement is known as a nkang (Maa) or manyatta (Kiswahili). It may consist of only one family, composed of a man and his wife/wives. Each woman has her own house, which she builds with the help of other women out of local materials, such as sticks, mud and cow dung. Large ritual settlements, known as lorora may consist of 20 or more families. However, settlements tend towards housing two or three families, with perhaps 5-6 houses built in a rough circle with an open space in the centre.
Traditionally Samburu relied almost solely on their herds, although trade with their neighbors and use of wild foods were also important. Before the colonial period, cow, goat, and sheep milk was the daily staple. Oral and documentary evidence suggests that small stock were significant to the diet and economy at least from the eighteenth century forward. In the twenty-first century, cattle and small stock continue to be essential to the Samburu economy and social system. Milk is still a valued part of Samburu contemporary diet when available, and may be drunk either fresh, or fermented; “ripened” milk is often considered superior. Meat from cattle is eaten mainly on ceremonial occasions, or when a cow happens to die. Meat from small stock is eaten more commonly, though still not on a regular basis. Today Samburu rely increasingly on purchased agricultural products—with money acquired mainly from livestock sales—and most commonly maize meal is made into porridge. Tea is also very common,
Men wear a cloth which is often pink or black and is wrapped around their waist in a manner similar to a Scottish Kilt. They adorn themselves with necklaces, bracelets and anklets, like the Maasai. Members of the moran age grade (i.e. “warriors”) typically wear their hair in long braids, which they shave off when they become elders. It may be colored using red ochre. Their bodies are sometimes decorated with ochre, as well. Women wear two pieces of blue or purple cloth, one piece wrapped around the waist, the second wrapped over the chest. Women keep their hair shaved and wear numerous necklaces and bracelets. Today they have embraced the western way of living