All about the Samburu tribe

All about the Samburu tribe

What makes Africa culturally rich are the tribes still existing today. The continent comprises 3000 diverse tribes, each with its language and traditions. 

In Kenya, we have the iconic Maasai tribe which is frequently encountered in East Africa as well. However, the north-central region of the country is home to the friendliest tribe – the Samburu tribe. 

Young boys of the Samburu tribe

Young boys of the Samburu tribe

The Samburu are a sub-tribe of the Maasai and follow a different lifestyle which is traditional. Their belief, rituals, religion, and clothing all remain untouched by Western influences. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Samburu tribe. 

The Samburu people 

The Samburu tribe resides in Samburu County in the north of Equator also in and around the famous Samburu national park. They are a group of indigenous people of north-central Kenya. 

As Samburu is related to the Maasai tribe, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists. However, Samburu is still very traditionalist and hasn’t parted ways with old customs. Their way of life revolves around cattle as well as sheep, goats, and camels.  

A Samburu woman looks after the cattle

A Samburu woman looks after the cattle

The tribe depends entirely on livestock for their survival and culture. Their diet mainly consists of milk and occasionally blood from the cows. They relish on meat only on special occasions.  

The blood is attained by making a tiny cut on the cow’s jugular and draining the blood in the cup. The wound is then quickly sealed away with hot ash. The Samburu people’s diet also consists of roots, vegetables, and tubers which are made into soup. 

The Samburu live in the north-central region where the land is dry and barren. Villages have to relocate regularly so that their cattle can feed. Every five to six weeks the Samburu tribes move to find fresh grazing land.  

A typical Samburu hut is built from mud, hide and grass mats secured over poles. They also build a thorny fence around the huts to protect themselves from wild animals. Their settlements are known as ‘manyattas’. Their huts are constructed in such a way that can be easily dismantled and portable when they move to a new location. 

Family traditions 

The Samburu usually live-in groups ranging from five to ten members. Men look after the safety of the cattle and are also responsible for protecting the tribes. They are regarded as warriors and defend the tribe from both animals and people. 

They also participate in raiding parties to try and possess cattle of rival Samburu clans. Samburu boys are taught to take care and tend to cattle at a young age as well as hunt. An initiation ceremony of circumcision takes place which marks a Samburu boy’s entry into manhood.  

A Moran takes part in a Samburu ceremony

A Moran takes part in a Samburu ceremony

Men and women are only able to marry when they have been circumcised as before that they are considered to be children. 

Once a boy has been circumcised, he is considered a Moran or a warrior. The men are placed into different age sets and move from one social position to another. They proceed from a child to Moran, junior elder, and finally elder.  

A woman’s role in the Samburu tribe consists of gathering vegetables, collecting water, and looking after children. They are responsible for managing their homes. Before marriage, a young Samburu girl is subjected to female circumcision and marks her entry into womanhood. 

The Samburu follow gerontocracy and elders largely rule the tribe. According to the elders, decisions are taken on ceremonies such as weddings and circumcisions. 

The dance and traditional dress of Samburu 

Samburu dresses themselves up with a bright red cloth wrapped around like a skirt which is called ‘shukka’. They also wear a white sash and adorn their look with colorful beaded earrings, necklaces, and bracelets which are made by women. 

Each piece of jewelry worn is meant to represent the status of the wearer. Both men and women wear the beaded jewelry. 

Samburu women wearing colorful beaded jewelries

Samburu women wearing colorful beaded pieces of jewelry

The Samburu also paint their faces using unique patterns to accentuate their facial features. Their beauty is admired by the neighboring tribes as well. 

The dancing ritual Is an essential part of Samburu’s culture. Their dancing is similar to the Maasai tribe where men dance in a circle and jump very high from their standing position. The tribe usually does not use any instruments to accompany their singing and dancing.  

The Samburu tribe performing their traditional dance

The Samburu tribe performing their traditional dance

Men and women do not dance in the same circle but they do coordinate their dances.  

The Samburu tribe today 

Similar to many traditional tribes, the Samburu tribe is under pressure to settle in permanent villages. They have resisted this proposal as a permanent settlement would disrupt their life.  

Presently, the tribe lives in a beautiful part of Kenya where wildlife is abundant. The land they reside on is protected and community development initiatives have built eco-friendly African lodges jointly run by Samburu. 

As a visitor, you can help the tribe by living in such lodges and going on a tour of Samburu national park. 

The beautiful Il Ngwesi Lodge

The beautiful Il Ngwesi Lodge

For more meaningful exchanges, visitors can stay at campus and lodges listed below: 

  1. Il Ngwesi Lodge – This is an award-winning eco-lodge and is run by the local community. The lodge is constructed using local materials and comprises six individual cottages. You can enjoy exploring the area on foot, on a camel, or by riding a safari vehicle. 
  2. Sarara tented camp – Sarara camp is a luxury tented camp that overlooks a waterhole and attracts a wide variety of animals. The local Samburu tribe helps run the camp and benefits directly through it. 
  3. Maralal Camp – Maralal camp lies in the middle of Samburu land and is a seven-day camel safari led by Samburu warriors. Here, you can get an authentic experience of the lifestyle of the tribe. 
  4. Koija Starbeds Lodge – Koija Starbeds Safari is also run by the local Samburu tribe. Walking safaris can be enjoyed as well as visits to traditional Maasai and Samburu communities. 

The Samburu tribe is a fascinating community and contributes to Africa’s vibrant culture. On your next Kenyan trip, don’t forget to stay at these lodges run by the tribe for an excellent safari experience.  


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