Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Samburu Tribe

I woke at 5am to the sound of beautiful singing. It was clearly tribal and I could tell that something
was going down in Archers Post! Perhaps a wedding? Maybe a religious event? I lay in bed listening for half an hour before dragging myself into the shower (or the trickle of cold water, but a luxury nontheless) and washing off the weariness after a half-sleep night thanks to another mosquito torture session (I really must get more coils!). The singing continued as I headed out to meet Eric for breakfast. Eric grew up here, living off the land in one of these peaceful Samburu tribal villages in Northern Kenya. Yesterday we met so he could show me around. He helps to run the Samburu Project, a community run charity set up to help the local tribes with basic human needs like sanitation, education and especially fundraising for more wells. I was introduced to this project through Rally4Life - a charity some of you have donated to during my trip - so I was keen to see the work they do and the difference they make to the communities of this magical place.

As I took my place at the table and poured the coffee, I asked Eric what the singing was all about. ‘Someone is being circumcised’, he said as he tucked into his eggs, ‘They are singing a motivational song. When they stop singing, then you know it is being carried out’. I winced at the thought. He laughed and speaking from personal experience he added, ‘Yes, it is very painful indeed. They use no painkillers’.

Eric has taught me so much about this community in the short time we have spent together. Yesterday we visited the wells and met many of the villagers who rely on them. I had planned to leave today, but full of pride for his country and being the friendly guy that he so clearly is, he invited me to stay longer so he could show me some of the wildlife. How could I refuse. Besides, he had whet my appetite with his knowledge of the area, and I wanted to know more! My transit ride to the Ethiopian border was turning out to be SO much more than that.

The singing stopped. I poured the coffee!

Within an hour we were in the bush and sat amongst a fifty-strong herd of elephants. I looked to Eric for reassurance. Having had many elephant encounters through Africa, I was still unaccustomed to being amongst such a large herd with babies and bulls in Musth. I expected some agro having seen how agitated they can quickly become. Eric laughed at my worried face as one came inches from my open window and said, ‘Don’t worry. They are very friendly here as we have no trouble with poachers’. I was not convinced, ‘But what if he puts his trunk in the car?’ I said. Eric’s confident reply was simple, ‘He won’t’. And he didn’t!

Suddenly there was a chase on. One of the large bulls had picked his female and, in turn, she was
running away as fast as she could. She looked tiny compared to him and very young. We gave chase, weaving our way through the other elephants and through the bushes, until the female stopped and the bull took his prize. It lasted all of two minutes and by the time he had finished, some of the other females had caught up. Unbeknown to me, they too had been chasing the chase and ran straight over to the young female to comfort her as the male swaggered off. It was a sight that confirmed to me all I have read about elephants. They are intelligent and caring animals who look out for each other – especially their own family.

Later we found another herd sleeping in the shade. I didn’t know that elephants sometimes lie down to sleep. Others tuck their trunk into their tusks and sleep standing up.

Eric had a way with words. We drove along the ‘massage roads’ (corrugated roads), stopping for more animal encounters along the way. Sometimes we would sit staring at something in the distance trying to decipher whether it was an animal like a big cat, or an ‘A.L.T’ (Animal Like Thing.). Sometimes it would turn out to be a log (A.L.T). It had been a great day and a wonderful opportunity to quiz Eric more following our visit to the Samburu villages the day before.

Archers Post is a ramshackle one-horse town (but several donkeys) with a bank, a butchery, and a small hotel called The Camel Inn. The locals were all dressed beautifully in their beads and tribal robes. Some carried guns, some spears and some dragged unwilling goats behind them. People smiled at me as I arrived and gave me directions down the sandy track to my abode for the night. Here I parked Rhonda and waited for Eric and Paul from The Samburu Project, who came to collect me and take me out to some more rural areas where I could check out the wells and meet the people whose life depended on them.

The villages were made up of stick buildings that look like they were built for extremely small people. I was invited into one of the huts to look around and had to bend down so far I was almost crawling. It was very small and made up of two bedrooms and a corridor in between. These days they tend to have a separate hut for cooking as the smoke was proved to be causing  cataracts in many of the tribe. Education on issues like this is another part of the Samburu Project's goals. 

The boys of the Samburu tribe go through three stages in life. First is childhood where they are taught to shepherd the goats and cows. At the age of 15 they are circumcised. During the circumcision the boy is not allowed to move at all. He must not even blink while it is being performed. Any movement is a sign of weakness and is considered bad form. The procedure is watched by the other men and boys in the village (but not by the women). This is when they become warriors. The warrior stage lasts until they are thirty and during this fifteen-year period they are not allowed to eat in their village or in front of anyone other than other warriors. They can only take milk from the village. To eat they must go out and fend for themselves. At the age of thirty they marry and can have as many wives as they want (or can afford!).

The girls can be married as young as eleven. They are circumcised on their wedding day and sent to their new home (although this tradition is slowly being eradicated through education and time, again, in part thanks to The Samburu Project)  Each wife has a house of her own and will raise her children there. It is common for each woman to have nine or ten children.

Nowadays many of the children go to school. I spoke to one woman at the well with the help of Eric as translator. She had nine children and seven of them went to school. Three had been kept back to tend to the livestock. When Eric himself was raised with his eight siblings, only three of them went to school and the rest worked on the land. The ones who go to school help with finances once they are educated.

The wells have helped more kids get educated as there is now a lot less work to do and of course less of them are sick. Before the well's were dug, most women and many children would have to walk three hours to the river and three hours back to get dirty water for their families (in many areas they still do). Now the whole process takes half an hour and the water is clean.

The Samburu Project started digging wells here in 2006 and each one services around 1000 people.
So many diseases have been eradicated thanks to these well's and to education. The tribe were extremely welcoming and very happy to allow me to take their photos, play with the kids, and generally hang out for a while. This was, of course, all thanks to Eric, my wonderful host. 

A well costs around £15,000 to dig and then employs the community to maintain it. I would love to set up an event when I get home to raise money for a new well. The names of all those who donated are then placed on it. Until then, if you would like to donate to The Samburu Project and help preserve and enhance the lives of the Samburu Tribe, then please donate via this LINK

Thank you.


  1. Hi Steph, Thanks for sharing your experiences in Northern Kenya and these awesome pics.
    I was glad to hear from David (met him again at Lake Baringo) that you got the visa for Ethiopia, finally :-)
    A happy HELLO from Tsavo NP - Stay tuned for the last leg. Irene

  2. I am really glad you got to be part of such an amzing culture, however I do disagree with some of the practices, but I am happy to know they are being eradicated through education.

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  5. 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.

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