The Samburu are semi-nomadic shepherds of a Nilotic origin, who live in an arid zone in North-Central Kenya, this forcing them to move frequently in search of new pastures for their cattle; in some respect they are very closely related to the Maasai, with whom they share many traditions and base their wealth on cattle that is the basis of their survival.
The Samburu dress in brightly coloured traditional shukas, especially women, who adorn themselves in beautiful, multi-beaded necklaces, anklets and bracelets.
The Samburu belong to the Nilotic ethnic group who settled in the North of the Mount Kenya and South of the Lake Turkana, following a migration that began in what is known today as Sudan.
Closely linked to the Maasai, with whom they share the origins and some traditions, the Samburu base their economy and way of life on sheep-farming: they are semi-nomadic shepherds and their villages are built in such a way as to be easily disassembled and transported to other places in continuous search for better pastures.
The Samburu name comes from the word Samburr, that is a kind of bag used by members of the tribe, although the Samburu refer to themselves as Loikop, or Lokop, that means "land owners".
They speak the Samburu language, a Nilo-Saharan language similar to Maa, that is the language spoken by the Maasai.
The Samburu, who have been traditionally described as great warriors, have a strong military and cultural alliance with the Rendille population, who have adopted the Samburu language.
With the Rendille tribe they also share the same passion for pieces of jewelry made of colourful beads; the Samburu make anklets, colorful bracelets and necklaces, that symbolize the wealth of the wearer but also identify the marital status, as each colour used has a specific meaning.
The Samburu love to sing and dance and do not use any musical instrument, only the sound of their voice; the men usually dance in a circle jumping feet together and upright, like the Masai dances, and the women also dance but separated from men.
Dances usually accompany rituals or ceremonies; the main ritual in the Samburu society is male circumcision that marks the transition to adulthood, while the most important ceremony is undoubtedly the wedding.
The structure of the Samburu villages resembles to that of the Masai villages: there is a thorn fence for the cattle inside the village and one outside to protect the village itself; the circular huts are made of braided tree branches, mud and cow dung; unlike the Masai villages, the Samburu villages can be easily dismantled to be rebuilt elsewhere, that makes them perfectly adapted to the semi-nomadic life of this people.
The Samburu move frequently in constant search of new pastures for the cattle on which their lives and survival depend; the cattle in particular play a central role in the life of this people.
The Samburu believe in one supreme god - Nkai or Ngai, who is thought to reside in the Ng'iro, Marsabit and Kula mountains, but he is also present in nature elements, such as trees or water sources.
The god is addressed prayers and rituals that are celebrated in his honor to propitiate his favour and benevolence.
In the Samburu society two figures play a key role: the soothsayer and the magician-healer or shaman; the former predicts the future while the latter practices propitiatory rituals.
Life, tradition and culture of Samburu people
- Samburu social organisation and villages
- Samburu religion
- Samburu rituals and ceremonies
- Livestock farming and diet in Samburu communities
- Samburu jewellery and clothing