The Samburu

Northern Kenya

The Samburu are a Nilotic people related to the Maasai who, centuries ago, migrated from Sudan and settled in Northern Kenya between Mount Kenya and Lake Turkana. Their name comes from their traditional leather bag they carry called a ‘samburr’. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists, keeping cattle, sheep, and goats. They especially love their cattle. Like the Maasai, they believe all cattle belong to them, and cattle raiding is a major preoccupation. Young unmarried men are warriors, charged with protecting the village from lions and hyenas, as well as raiding other tribes’ cattle. Both men and women adorn themselves with colorful beaded necklaces and the young men braid their long hair and coat it with ochre. Elders rule the clan and their curse or blessing is taken seriously.

The Samburu believe in a creator god ‘Nkai’. They pray and seek his blessing. Their beliefs are expressed in their traditions and rituals, which they are very careful to follow. It is not uncommon for children and young people, especially women, to report visions of Nkai. A few children gain a reputation for prophecy throughout their lives. Samburu also have ritual diviners, called ‘loibonok’, who divine the causes of individual illnesses and misfortune. Sin has a very restricted meaning and therefore, many would say they have no sin.

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