The Short Story


Kenya-Tanzania

I came to Kenya on 18 October 2000. For the first time in my life I've reached the black continent. I heard a lot of bad things about Africa and very few good ones. During my stay of appx. 4 years I found myself to disapprove most of the bad things and to find out a lot of good ones. In this story I would like to concentrate on a specific issue of my journey to which I dedicated most of my time.

First I had travelled around Kenya coast line and then I went to Tanzania. By recommendation from a friend I visited mixed-tribe village with Masai people called Mijingo. I stayed there with a family, visited houses of Masai inside the village and outside as well. Also visited manyattas(traditional houses) of Manati tribe. Eating traditional african food and trying Masai food as blood with milk.
This was my first experience of living with local traditional people. I found no problems. People were friendly and helpful. Therefore after I came back to Kenya I had decided to visit Samburu tribe.


Samburu Tribe, Kenya

Area covered

Coming back to Kenya I went to Samburu District and had an exclusive journey of several months during which I visited all Samburu towns: Maralal, Kisima, Wamba, Archer's Post. Made 35km trek to Ngilai village. Slept in traditional Samburu houses made of cow's dung, mud and sticks. Visited Lerata A, Lerata B, Ledero, Lesosio villages. Made another 35km trek from Archer's Post to Ndonyo Wasin sub-location. Visited Kibartare and Learata villages. Learata village is the last one towards mountains and one can find in this two villages last families of Ndorobo tribe. Another trek and I got the glory of becoming the First White to visit Lesisai village. Yep, I didn't mistype anything. This village had been never visited by a white man and I'm talking about 21st century! I had briefly visited many other Samburu small towns and villages not to be mentioned here though.

Samburu Way of living

The big majority of Samburus living in the remote villages are walking in their traditional, similar to Masai type of clothes. Sixty percent carry with them weapons, mostly AK-47, sometimes G-3, less M-16. In remote villages government represented by chiefs, chiefs assistants and 1-2 Kenya Wildlife Service officers. No any mode of communication with outside world, besides Radio Call from KWS. No police, no prisons, in many villages no shops. Safety level is good and adequate. People know how to handle guns. Didn't feel any danger of violence, thief or malice intentions. People were either very friendly, friendly or neutral. In some villages one can pick up radio of Kenya Broadcast on AM waves. Health facilities are unavailable. If one get's sick he need to be carried, in some cases for 40+km to the nearest town. In Ngilai village there is a small health center with free drugs by initiative of a local NGO.

Family and marriage

Samburu are allowed to have several wives. The number of wives will depend on the amount of cows of the owner. For each wife one would pay around 10 cows depending on how much the family of the bride is going to ask. If the lady went to school, especially if she reached secondary level of education the husband will have to pay also an additional amount of money (as if to cover parent's expenses for her education).
The girls can be married as soon as they reach puberty. The decision of whether specific girl had reached puberty decided by her look and her breast structure. Mostly girls can be married starting from the age of 12. Practically I never seen such a young wife though. This happens due to the fact that Samburu tolerate boyfriend/girlfriend relationships prior to marriage. Thus Moran (circumcised boy-warrior) and circumcised lady can be together half-hiddenly. They are allowed to be known as boyfriend/girlfriend and the girl will carry 'BUSI' which will show that she has a boyfriend. They aren't allowed to be together openly during daytime.
They will meet at night and during traditional dances. They are allowed to have sex, but the girl must not become pregnant. If this happens, the Moran will have to pay a fine of two cows to the parents of the lady or alternatively marry her.
During marriage ceremony the parents of the girl will not be given all the dowry. A big part of the dowry will go to her uncles and other relatives.
A wife must perform all the duties given her by husband as well as all household activities, child caring, fetching water and so on. A husband must provide food for her and the children. In case wife doesn't want to perform according to her husband words she may be beaten. She will not be beaten cruelly though. In rare instances wife can be beaten by Wazee old men of the village. During my few months stay I had never seen a woman being beaten.

Importance of circumcise and age groups.

Boys will be circumcised by the age of 13. Their foreskin will be cut and they will have to wander in the bush for around a month eating mostly small prey, birds and wild plants.
Boy is called Lad. Once the boy is circumcised he will be called Moran. After taking a wife he will become young Mzee. By the age of 40+ he will become Mzee.
A girl will be circumcised by the age of 12. Only circumcised lady is allowed to be married.
Samburu has a custom that one must interact with his own age group. Another law is that Moran must not walk or be at any place alone. He should always be with his friends from his age group. No sexual relationship is allowed between Moran and uncircumcised lady.
Currently the government of Kenya outlawed FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), but this law is unapplicable to Samburu tribe (especially in the remote villages), both because of the lack of law enforcement agencies in place and long-time traditional believes and tabus, some of them outlined above.

Food

Samburu drink a lot of milk tea. They eat ugali with beans, sometimes meat. They drink a lot of milk. Sometimes they drink cow's blood mixed with milk (they call it jokingly Samburu Coca-Cola. On rare occasions they will cook blood of cows.
Usually they eat 3 meals per day. Sometimes they survive on 2 meals a day and during bad times on one meal. I found a little bit common following diet: Tea with milk around 7am, ugali with beans around 1pm and 1 liter of milk around 6.30pm.

Samburu and Jews

Samburu have a following legend of their tribe creation.
[Canaan - the land of Israel.
Jacob had 12 sons. 1 son named Joseph was a dreamer. The brothers didn't like him and sold him to be slave.
Musa (Moshe) was told by God to take jews to Israel. Some people were going to Israel and some jews decided to follow river because they didn't believe that they and their cattle are going to survive in the desert.
Egyptians followed them and killed many of them. The blood was flowing like a river.
All their cattle was taken by Egyptians.
The survivors became known as Masai and Samburu as they entered Sudan-Ethiopia and later on Kenya-Tanzania.]
One can see that the way Samburus look they aren't similar to native african tribes. Many people presume that jews were dark in the past and looked exactly as today's Samburu.


After completing my visit of Samburu I went out of Kenya and visited Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.
Coming back to Kenya I visited other, less known Kenyan tribes:
1. Gabbra - allocated around North Horr. They are known for very strict community rules and the use of camels instead of cows. One can see a photo of Gabbra girl in 'The Photos' section thus realizing that the girl has got semitic features. I would bet she looks the same way Jews used to look like in the past.
2. Borano - allocated in and around Sololo and Moyale towns and vast area in-between. The big part of their tribe is living in Ethiopia.
3. El-molo - allocated near Loiyangalai which is a small town near lake Turkana. They are considered as the smallest tribe of Kenya. They aren't actually a tribe, but rather a community.
4. Dassanech (Galeb) - This tribe is living in *very* remote allocation called Illeret. This tribe is divided, 20% living in Kenya while 80% in Ethiopia. They are famous for their hm.. how could I better say it, - erotic dances.

After Kenya I visited Tanzania. Went up to lake Eyasi in order to live with Hadzabei tribe. This tribe and Sandawe tribe are the only tribes in Eastern Africa speaking 'click-language'. Sandawe became mostly civilized whereby Hadzabei are still hunting and gathering the way their fathers did many centuries ago.

This was my second time in Tanzania and I had also visited mostly unknown Manati tribe. This tribe is scattered around Tanzania. I had stayed with them in Mbeya province and again I found them near to lake Eyasi, across Tanzania. The members of this tribe are mostly very poor and uneducated, just trying to survive on day-by-day basis.

After Tanzania I visited Uganda. They call it Pearl of Afrika. I had visited 90% of all Ugandan towns during my 3 month stay there. I had stayed together with Jie tribe in Nakapelimoru village near Kotido. I had visited many locations in Karamoja area. There is one big tribe called Karimojong in Uganda, Turkana in Kenya and Bume in Ethiopia. This tribe considered to be less civilized and more aggressive then Samburu, Masai for example.

Afterwards I went to Ethiopia. Very unusual country, very different from all her neighbors.
I had visited Addis-Abeba region, Dire Dawa and Harar up to Jijiga (capital of Somalia region in Ethiopia), Asayta region where one can find Afar tribe, South Omo Zone where one can visit around 10 oldest traditional tribes on Earth in relatively compact location.
Here I'm talking about bigger part of Dassanech (Galeb) tribe. They stay near Omo river at/around Omorate town.
Hamer tribe - with the most original ladies outfits I had ever seen in Africa. They are mostly nice people to be with and helpful. Allocated in/around Turmi and Dimeka town-villages.
Surma, Mursi - have the reputation of cruel, dangerous and aggressive people. Didn't go to their places, but could see them coming to Jinka town during market days.
Erbore - a small tribe allocated in/around Erbore village.
In order to visit these tribes one need to go Addis-Abeba->Wolayta->Arba Minch->Jinka. Reachable by 1-2 days by private car or 2-3 days by buses. Jinka is the only town with adequate accommodations and facilities in that area.

This project of education travelling was performed both for my own experience and as a private pre-research overview tour of traditional tribes and general life of people in Eastern Africa.
I had completed this project on a very small budget, mainly because I have maintained no-interruption policy. Once I come to a village I socialize with the people. I would ask them to accept me as a member of their tribe and not to see in me a tourist. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes not. According to my no-interruption policy I didn't give them presents nor money, neither I was carrying my own food. I didn't want to change or affect their livehood in any way, other then the way they would be affected would their relative visit them.
My ultimate goal was to become a member of their tribe. I was eating the same food, drinking the same water, wearing the same clothes and behaving the same way.
I managed to overcome all the hardships of such travel and miraculously I never got sick as a reason of drinking local unboiled water.
I'm not a student for Social, Anthropology or Ethnography studies, but I would like to enroll. I guess I gathered some experience 'the right way' and I would happy to work with established researchers in these fields. If anyone would like to sponsor me for a research or to hire me as a guide for any sort of expedition I would be happy to consider such an option.