Rendille people


Rendille / Reendille / Rendili / Randali / Randille

The Rendille people are a nomadic pastoralist Cushitic-speaking ethnic group inhabiting the arid North Eastern Province of Kenya. The Rendille also known as Rendile, Reendile, Rendili, Randali, Randile and Randille are popularly  referred to as "The Holders of the Stick of God" occupies an area, precisely in the Kaisut Desert in the west Marsabit District. They are closely related to the Samburu. There are about 64,000 Rendille people living in Kenya.

The Rendille descended through the Cushitic family lines with the Somali people. When the Somali people were traveling from the Suez Canal through Ethiopia the Somali people chose to go toward Somalia for good pastures. The Rendille people refused to go with them and separated to their present homeland around Marsabit. They had rejected the land of the Somali's and were thereafter called Rertit. The Somalis consider them rejected people.


The ethnonym Rendille translates as "Holders of the Stick of God".

The name "Rendille" is a colonial misinterpretation of the word "rertit", which means "separated," "refused" or "rejected" in the Somali and Rendille languages.


The Rendille are believed to have originally migrated down into the Great Lakes area from Ethiopia in the more northerly Horn region, following southward population expansions by the Oromo and later the Somali.

Traditionally, they are nomadic pastoralists, tending camels, sheep, goats and cattle. The camels are generally kept in the northern part of their territory and the cattle in the southern section. Additionally, the Rendille traditionally practice infibulation. According to Grassivaro-Gallo and Viviani (1992), the custom was first brought to the Horn region from the Arabian peninsula during antiquity, and was originally intended to protect shepherd girls from attacks by wild animals during menstruation. The tradition subsequently dispersed from there.

The first ethnological study of the Rendille was published at the turn of the 20th century by William A. Chanler. It described the unmixed Rendille that his party encountered as tall, slender and reddish-brown in complexion, with soft, straight hair and narrow facial features. Chanler additionally remarked that many of the Rendille possessed "fierce" blue eyes, a physical peculiarity that was also later noted by Augustus Henry Keane (1900), John Scott Keltie (1904) and John Henry Patterson (1909).

Location and Distribution

According to Ethnologue, there were approximately 94,700 Rendille speakers in 2006. Most are concentrated in the Kaisut Desert and Mount Marsabit in the Marsabit District of Kenya's northern Eastern Province.

The Rendille occupy an area in Northeastern Province of Kenya from the Merille River and Serolivi in the South to Loyangalani in the North from Marsabit and Merti in the East to Lontolio in the West. The primary towns include Marsabet, Laisamis, Merille, Logologo, Loyangalani, Korr, Kamboi, Ngurunit, and Kargi. The climate of their homeland is semi arid.



The Rendille people speak the Rendille language as a mother tongue (also known as Rendile or Randile (as referred to mostly by their neighbours samburu)). They belong to the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic family. the rendille languange is more closer to the somali languange than the rest of the cushitic languages.

Additionally, some Rendille use English or Swahili as working languages for communication with other populations.

The Ariaal sub-group of the Rendille, who are of mixed Nilotic and Cushitic descent, speak the Nilo-Saharan Samburu language of the Samburu Nilotes with whom they cohabit.


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the Rendille people. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern Rendille.


According to Spencer (1973), the Rendille are organized into an age grade system of patrilineal lineage groups (keiya), which are subsumed under fifteen clans (group). Of those, only nine are considered authentic Rendille. These Northern Rendille or Rendille proper are consequently the only ones that are included in the traditional Rendille moiety (belesi). The remaining six clans that are excluded from the moiety consist of mixed individuals. Five of those clans are of Rendille (Cushitic) and Samburu (Nilotic) descent. Collectively, the latter hybrid groups are referred to as the Ariaal or Southern Rendille. The Somalis draw a distinction between the "original" or "good" ethnic Rendille (known as asil), and the "bad" or assimilated Rendille ("those who speak Samburu").



Rendille are Cushitic peoples and have Ethiopia as their original homeland, though as ancestors of Cush they traveled through Suez Canal to Ethiopia as their first destination. They were compelled to migrate down south to the Great Lakes area in  northern Kenya due to increased rivalry and conflicts with the people of the Oromo tribes and later Somalis mainly over grazing land and water for their livestock.

They are said to be related to the Somalis of Somalia. They don't have history with the British colonialists, because their land was too dry to interest them. The language originally spoken by the Rendille is somewhat similar to the Somali languages, but currently many of them speak Samburu since they have intermarried.

The Rendille settled in the Laisamis Division in Marsabit District, mainly in the Kaisut Desert that is found east of Lake Turkana and west of Marsabit town. This desert is bordered by the Chalbi Desert, Mount Marsabit, and the Ndoto Mountains. In this region, they are neighbors to the Borana , Gabbra, Samburu and Turkana tribes.


Autosomal DNA

The Rendille's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to the researchers, the Rendille showed significant Afro-Asiatic affinities. They also shared some ties with neighboring Nilo-Saharan and Bantu speakers in the Great Lakes region due to considerable genetic exchanges with these communities over the past 5000 or so years.



The Rendille people are traditionally pastoralists keeping goats, sheep, cattle, donkeys, and camels. The Rendille get milk and meat from the camel.  As a semi-nomadic pastoralists who consider the camel most essential animal; their camel are the best suited for adaptability to the arid conditions of their territory. Another important aspect of the camel is that it's used as a mode of transport when they shift from site to site carrying family goods on their uniquely designed backload.

Their nomadic lifestyle has become less prominent with the development of boreholes and centers that allow a more permanent existence. Their staple food consists of meat, and a mixture of milk and blood, known as "Banjo".



According to Spencer (1973), the Rendille are organized into an age grade system of patrilineal lineage groups (keiya), which are subsumed under fifteen clans (goup). Of those, only nine are considered authentic Rendille. These Northern Rendille or Rendille proper are consequently the only ones that are included in the traditional Rendille moiety (belesi).

The remaining six clans that are excluded from the moiety consist of mixed individuals. Five of those clans are of Rendille (Cushitic) and Samburu (Nilotic) descent. Collectively, the latter hybrid groups are referred to as the Ariaal or Southern Rendille.


Socio-political structure

According to Spencer (1973), the Rendille are organized into an age grade system of patrilineal lineage groups (keiya), which are subsumed under fifteen clans (goup). Of those, only nine are considered authentic Rendille. The real or Northern Rendille or Rendille proper herds camel and are consequently the only ones that are included in the traditional Rendille moiety (belesi). There  nine sub clans of Real or Northern Rendille includes: the Urowen, Dispahai, Rongumo, Lukumai (Nahgan), Tupsha, Garteilan, Matarbah, Otola, and Saale.

The remaining six clans that are excluded from the moiety consist of mixed individuals and are referred to as Southern Rendille. It comprises the Ilturia and Ariaal, who also herd cattle, and are closely related to the Samburu. Due to their intermarriage with the Samburu tribe, there is now what can be termed as a hybrid culture. With the recent droughts, transition is underway and in the near future, there is a chance that their pure nomadic ways of life will slowly die.

Clans live in temporary settlement called gobs. Gobs are usually near wells dug and are given the name of the clan, subclan or the elder of the family. They never stay long at the same place to look for water sources and pasturing areas. They have to move 3 to 5 times a year. Villages are typically made of two dozen houses (manyattas) or homesteads with about 120 individuals. The manyattas are composed of a group of semi-spherical huts made of branches and covered with leather or canvas. Women are in charge of taking the houses apart and putting them back in the new location. Near them, an enclosure of crabbed branches protects camels for the night. Each kind of livestock (camels, sheep, goats, cattle) have a separate camp that is taken cared of by people of a different age-set.
Elders and chiefs are the leaders of the traditional community.



Rendille practice a traditional religion centered on the worship of Waaq/Wakh. In the related Oromo culture, Waaq denotes the single god of the early pre-Abrahamic, montheistic faith believed to have been adhered to by Cushitic groups. As mentioned earlier, Rendille believe that they belong in the desert not by mistake but because it’s their "promised land". In their popular morning prayers they pray "your people Waaq or Ngai (God) cannot climb mountains, cross seas but remain in this Promised Land in which you have looked after our fore fathers, us and our children's children...."

The Rendille  traditional religion  includes prayer to the moon, animal sacrifices, and the existence of ancestral spirits. They also have traditional religious practices that resemble Jewish practices.  Prayer is offered looking up to the heavens.

The moon plays an important part in the religion. The moon is god or represents god. On the night of the new moon the firstborn son of each family blows a horn. Individuals put red paint made from clay on their skin and hair. They burn incense from local trees in the fire. Prayers are prayed to the god of the new moon at 8 PM. A prayer for long life includes putting your hand out toward the new moon and praying, "You take the short life and give me the long life." At the time of eclipse one prayers, "God, our father, don't die, be alive." And after the moon shines again, "Our god is alive and he is with us."

They also have fortune-tellers who predict the future, and perform sacrifices for rain. During draught some take little lambs to the raga or laga (dry river bed) and sacrifice them to god asking for rain. Others go to Mount Moile where the women sing and pour milk and men offer sacrifices of goats to the gods and ask for rain. Ancestral spirits of deceased men must be appeased. Among some of the Rendille, after a man dies, the manyatta will be burned, a sheep slaughtered, and the family must move to another place. When they pass by the place milk, water, or tobacco will be placed on the grave to appease the spirit of the deceased.

The traditional witch doctor, called lariboni, practices sorcery to assist people with healing, delivering of mad people, etc. A diviner or foreteller called oloiboni also plays a role in the society.

The Rendille oral history includes a tradition of coming from the Israelite line. Most striking in this history is their Passover ceremonies called Sorio (literally sacrifice to God), which includes slaughtering sheep by the firstborn son of the family, putting the blood on the doorposts of their homes. Blood is also put on the back of camels and other animals, on women's ear and cheek, and on men's chest and forehead. This is done so that bad omen will not come to the house and animals. Meat from the slaughtered sheep is eaten by all members of the family and shared with those who did not slaughter.

There is a place in every village called nahapo. This is a place of watching and prayer. A fire burns there that is never to go out. Wood is place on the fire each day. Every night the men of the village meet there at 8 PM. One man is designated to lead in prayer. He comes from the Saale sub clan. The Saale men are designated as the prayer men clan.

The Rendille people exist as a strategic tribe between the Muslims to the North and animistic and Christian tribes to the South. When Islam came to the region and efforts were made by the Muslims to convert the Rendille to Islam the Rendille refused to become Muslims. The Muslims insisted that prayer to Allah be made with their faces to the ground. The Rendille believed that prayer should be made with their faces toward the heavens. On one occasion the Rendille gathered all the Koran that had been distributed among them and took them to Mount Moile and burned them there. Some Rendille continued to be Muslim since early times, but the percentage was small.

The Rendille people have had little exposure to Christianity until the latter part of the Twentieth Century. The first churches to begin work among them included the Catholic, AIC, and more recently numerous Pentecostal churches (Kenya Assemblies of God, PEFA, Full Gospel Churches of Kenya, Christco, etc.). While the Rendille people are listed among the least reached people groups of Kenya, they seem to be very responsive to the gospel.


Rendille Culture and traditions (rites of passage,marriage,ceremonies etc)

The Rendille`s ceremonial rituals can be summarized as Naming, Circumcision, Marriage and Death. They are all accompanied by very significant events and practices as rites of passage.

Rendille culture is built on strict separation of the sexes during important cultural and spiritual practices. Women are not allowed to talk or fraternize with men, and traditionally are shunned from major religious events outside of courtship rituals.

Rites of passage include the young men (moran) living in the bush, learning traditional skills, and undergoing traditional circumcision. Men marry after circumcision and the time of becoming a moran is as young as about eighteen to twenty years. Marriage is not allowed within one's own clan, and is arranged by parents as for most tribes. Each wife live in her own home with her children, and mothers have a high status. Society is strongly bound by family ties.

Circumcision is supposed to be a public event, and an issue of great delight and pride. Boys and young men who are circumcised but have not yet undergone Ennui, (rite into adulthood done at age 30) whereby men become elders and are given ownership of land. In this ritual, wear a purple cloth and a white feather as their headgear.
This cloth is changed to a checked pattern at the final acceptance as an Elder. Being very conscious of their headgear, warriors will even get upset if it is touched by an outsider or member of another tribe, especially a woman. Nevertheless, some of the Rendille have adopted western clothing. Their building styles for houses comprise of higher ones than those built by other pastoralist tribes and have a round shape. After every seven (or fourteen) years, there is a general shifting up in status of the different male age-groups, moving from childhood to boyhood then to warrior hood and finally to elder hood.

Young girls are often "booked" at a very early age by older men. They marry as young as ten or twelve years. The Rendille women`s, shift from maidenhood to matrimony is manifested by the agonizing rite of clitoridectomy, which happens in private on the very morning of her wedding.

Nonetheless the event symbolizes the most important status-shift in the life of a woman. The wedding ceremony takes time as women are made to learn skills of women that will benefit her and the husband in their future marriage. The prospective groom must give the bride-wealth (gunu) to the bride's family: 4 female and 4 male camels (half for the father, the remaining camels for the rest of the family). One of them is eaten at the ceremony.

Beaded girls - the Rendille receive empooro engorio beaded collars for marriage, made of palm fibers, girafe or elephant hairs and warriors get ready for the wedding by applying a make-up of red ochre and sheep fat. The warriors put on long hair woven and braided, then dyed red using ochre and fat, making their bodies shinny and colorful.

The bride wears jewellery made of glass and metal, necklaces of beads and wire, headbands, and a large circular earings. She will join her husband's family after marriage. The elders discuss problems in a ritual circle called Nabo, in which women are allowed to enter. They also meet there to pray, receive guests and perform ceremonies.

Polygamy is part of the tradition. A wealthy man may have five wives. Special ceremonies take place at a child's birth. A ewe goat is sacrificed if it is a girl, a ram if a boy. The girl is blessed 3 times while 4 for the boy. In the same way, mother drinks blood for 3 days for a babygirl, 4 days for a babyboy.

Death rituals include a celebration day when the clothes and belongings of the deceased are given as gifts to those attending.


Traditional dress

Traditional dress includes beautiful beads worn by the women around the neck, wrists, and ankles. Children can often be seen without clothing.

The moran wears colorful shukas (clothe wrapped around their bodies) and colors their hair with a mud/mineral mixture. Men often wear a wrapped cloth rather than trousers. Western clothing is becoming more popular, but more among the men than the women.


The Rendille Calendar

The Rendille calendar functions according to a procession of seven-or fourteen-year cycles, which is based on both lunar and solar aspects. The calendar, which is passed down in oral tradition, is essential for determining not only the various life-stages through which men must pass before being able to marry as elders, but also regulates with clockwork-like precision the various movements of the Rendille clans through their traditional territory, thus avoiding conflicts over forage and water rights, and preventing overgrazing which would otherwise quickly turn their already marginal lands into a completely sterile desert.

The calendar also has implications for women in the form of the sepaade institution, by which women of a specific cyclical age-set delay their age at marriage, which significantly reduces overall Rendille fertility.

Every seven (or fourteen) years, there is a general shifting up in status of the various male age-sets, from childhood to boyhood to warriorhood and to elderhood.