Today we visited a village of the Samburu people. It reminded me a lot visits I have had to Buddhist temples in Korea, where the visit is very commercialized. The point of the presence of Westerners is to make money, and it is not hidden. Our visit started by the entrance fee, which was around $20, and then greetings from a man around the age of 26 who was educated in local Kenyan schools. His English was very good, and he was very engaging with us.
He explained some of the tribal history and traditions of his people. The presence of the Samburu people is unmistakable, even though they are small in number, because of the way they have negotiated their land with the safari lodges that use their land. I think it is comparable to the way tribal Native Americans have used their land to host casinos in the States. The Samburu people allow their lodges to set up shop on their land, and in exchange, the lodges agree to hire a certain percentage of their staff from the surrounding local people, whether they be from nearby towns or the Samburu people themselves. The lodges make a killing, and then these Samburu people send money back to their tribe to support them. It is a win-win situation in many people’s eyes.
The Samburu people are a nomadic people. They make the tops of their houses out of tin and cowhide and cardboard to protect from the sun and rain. The walls are made of sticks and wood and cow dung. The floor is dirt, and the beds are cowhide. When they move, they take the tin with them, and leave the rest. They move to follow the food, such as vegetation and animals. When they kill animals, they use everything. They even use different dung for different things: cow dung for housing, donkey dung for fire, etc.
The main food is meat, milk and blood. When they are getting the blood, they don’t get all of it from the animal. They take a spear and blood let from the neck a little bit at a time so that it doesn’t kill the animal.
Our guide explained that the Samburu males do not reach maturity until they are circumcised, which happens around age 15. For example, his brother, who had been circumcised two weeks ago (!), was introduced to us. When males reach maturity, they are not allowed to eat in the village. They must find food on their own in the wild. And then, when males reach the age of 30, they are allowed to marry. Until then, they are allowed to date. Their first wife is determined by their family, and then they may choose other wives of their own accord. Women are allowed to marry by the age of 15. It is prosperous to have multiple wives, because families of the woman usually give gifts of animals or food to the husband-to-be. The more women you have, the more kids you can have, which is also a sign of prosperity. Each woman has about 8 kids, and the average man has about 20 kids. Men are considered children until they are 15, a hunter until they are 30. Life expectancy is about 70 for males, 60 for females.
It was fascinating and discouraging at the same time. They have preserved their centuries-old tradition in this modern world, which is amazing. It was discouraging, though, because I felt as though we were intruding with our Western presence in their preserved culture. I talked with our guide about this at some length, and it was truly interesting to hear what he had to say. He basically said that although it is true that the Western presence might dilute the manner in which they can preserve their culture, it is a modern reality that they must tap the Western money in order to preserve the traditions. The members of the village that were involved in this conversation made it seem as though they were not sad about this, but that it was merely a matter of fact. It made me feel better about intruding on their village and taking pictures of practically everything that moved.