The Samburu are a Nilotic people of north-central Kenya. They are a sub tribe of the Maasai. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels. The name they use for themselves is Lokop or Loikop, a term which may have a variety of meanings which Samburu themselves do not agree on. Many assert that it refers to them as "owners of the land" ("lo" refers to ownership, "nkop" is land) though others present a very different interpretation of the term. The Samburu speak the Samburu dialect of the Maa language, which is a Nilo-Saharan language. There are many game parks in the area, one of the most well known is Samburu National Reserve.The Samburu is the third largest in the Maa community of Kenya and Tanzania,after the Kisonko(Isikirari)of Tanzania and Purko of Kenya and Tanzania.
The Samburu are a gerontocracy. The power of elders is linked to the belief in their curse, underpinning their monopoly over arranging marriages and taking on further wives. This is at the expense of unmarried younger men, whose development up to the age of thirty is in a state of social suspension, prolonging their adolescent status. The paradox of Samburu gerontocracy is that popular attention focuses on the glamour and deviant activities of these footloose bachelors, which extend to a form of gang feuding between clans, widespread suspicions of covert adultery with the wives of older men, and theft of their stock.
Men wear a cloth which is often pink or black and is wrapped around their waist in a manner similar to a Scottish Kilt. They adorn themselves with necklaces, bracelets and anklets, like other sub tribes of the Maasai community. Members of the moran age grade (i.e. "warriors") typically wear their hair in long braids, which they shave off when they become elders. It may be colored using red ochre. Their bodies are sometimes decorated with ochre, as well. Women wear two pieces of blue or purple cloth, one piece wrapped around the waist, the second wrapped over the chest. Women keep their hair shaved and wear numerous necklaces and bracelets. In the past decade, traditional clothing styles have changed. Some men may wear the 1980s-90s style of red tartan cloth or they may wear a dark green/blue plaid cloth around their waists called 'kikoi', often with shorts underneath. Marani (Lmuran) (warriors) wear a cloth that may be floral or pastel. Some women still wear two pieces of blue or red cloth, but it has become fashionable to wear cloths with animal or floral patterns in deep colors. Women may also often wear small tank tops with their cloths, and plaid skirts have also become common.
Traditionally Samburu relied almost solely on their herds, although trade with their neighbors and use of wild foods were also important. Before the colonial period, cow, goat, and sheep milk was the daily staple. Oral and documentary evidence suggests that small stock were significant to the diet and economy at least from the eighteenth century forward. In the twenty-first century, cattle and small stock continue to be essential to the Samburu economy and social system. Milk is still a valued part of Samburu contemporary diet when available, and may be drunk either fresh, or fermented; "ripened" milk is often considered superior. Meat from cattle is eaten mainly on ceremonial occasions, or when a cow happens to die. Meat from small stock is eaten more commonly, though still not on a regular basis. Today Samburu rely increasingly on purchased agricultural products—with money acquired mainly from livestock sales—and most commonly maize meal is made into a porridge. Tea is also very common, taken with large quantities of sugar and (when possible) much milk, and is actually a staple of contemporary Samburu diet. Blood is both taken from living animals, and collected from slaughtered ones. There are at least 13 ways that blood can be prepared, and may form a whole meal. Some Samburu these days have turned to agriculture, with varying results.
The Samburu practice male (foreskin) and female (clitoris) genital mutilation. Boys get circumcised in their teenage year, girls before marriage. Unmutilated girls are forced to have sex if they are part of "Beading" but are not allowed to have children.
The Samburu believe that God (Nkai) is the source of all protection from the hazards of their existence. But God also inflicts punishment if an elder curses a junior for some show of disrespect. The elder’s anger is seen as an appeal to God, and it is God who decides if the curse is justified. Faced with misfortune and following some show of disrespect towards an older man, the victim should approach his senior and offer reparation in return for his blessing. This calms the elder's anger and restores God’s protection. It is however uncommon for an elder to curse a junior. Curses are reserved for cases of extreme disrespect.
Samburu religion traditionally focuses on their multi-faceted divinity (Nkai). Nkai (a feminine noun), plays an active role in the lives of contemporary Samburu. It is not uncommon for children and young people, especially women, to report visions of Nkai. Some of these children prophesy for some period of time and a few gain a reputation for prophecy throughout their lives. Besides these spontaneous prophets, Samburu have ritual diviners, or Shamans, called 'loibonok' who divine the causes of individual illnesses and misfortune, and guide warriors.
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