The Samburu live just north of the equator in the Rift Valley province of Northern Kenya. The Samburu are closely related to the Maasai of East Africa. They speak a similar language, derived from Maa, which is called Samburu.

Image credit: Samburu trust

The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists. Cattle, as well as sheep, goats and camels, are of utmost importance to the Samburu culture and way of life. The Samburu are extremely dependent on their animals for survival.

Their diet consists mostly of milk and sometimes blood from their cows. The blood is collected by making a tiny nick in the jugular of the cow, and draining the blood into a cup. The wound is then quickly sealed with hot ash. Meat is only consumed on special occasions. The Samburu diet is also supplemented with roots, vegetables and tubers dug up and made into a soup.

Image credit: Silverbird Travel

Traditional Samburu Culture

The Rift Valley province in Kenya is a dry, somewhat barren land, and the Samburu have to relocate to ensure their cattle can feed. Every 5-6 weeks the group will move to find fresh grazing grounds. Their huts are built from mud, hide and grass mats strung over poles. A thorny fence is built around the huts for protection from wild animals. These settlements are called manyattas . The huts are constructed so they are easily dismantled and portable when the Samburu move to a new location.

The Samburu usually live in groups of five to ten families. Traditionally men look after the cattle and they are also responsible for the safety of the tribe. As warriors they defend the tribe from attack by both man and animals.

They also go on raiding parties to try and take cattle from rival Samburu clans. Samburu boys learn to tend cattle from a young age and are also taught to hunt. An initiation ceremony to mark their entry into manhood is accompanied by circumcision.

Samburu women are in charge of gathering roots and vegetables, tending to children and collecting water.

They are also in charge of maintaining their homes. Samburu girls generally help their mothers with their domestic chores. Entry into womanhood is also marked with a circumcision ceremony.

Image credit: 123RF

Samburu traditional dress is a striking red cloth wrapped around like a skirt (called Shukkas) and a white sash. This is enhanced with many colorful beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Both men and women wear jewelry although only the women make it. The Samburu also paint their faces using striking patterns to accentuate their facial features. Neighboring tribes, admiring the beauty of the Samburu people, called them samburu which in fact means “butterfly”. The Samburu referred to themselves as the Loikop.

Dancing is very important in the Samburu culture. Dances are similar to that of the Maasai with men dancing in a circle and jumping very high from a standing position. The Samburu have traditionally not used any instruments to accompany their singing and dancing. Men and women do not dance in the same circles, but they do coordinate their dances. Likewise for village meetings, men will sit in an inner circle to discuss matters and make decisions. Women sit around the outside and interject with their opinions.

Image credit: DailymailUk

The Samburu in This Era

As with many traditional tribes, the Samburu are under pressure from their government to settle into permanent villages. They have been extremely reluctant to do so since obviously permanent settlement would disrupt their entire way of life. The area they live in is very arid and it’s difficult to grow crops to sustain a permanent site. This basically means the Samburu will become dependent on others for their survival. Since status and wealth in Samburu culture is synonymous with the amount of cattle one owns, a sedentary agricultural lifestyle is not in the least attractive. Samburu families who have been forced to settle will often send their adult men to the cities to work as guards. This is a form of employment that has evolved naturally because of their strong reputation as warriors.

Source: goafrica travels and tour.


PASTORAL – shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasture.

JUGULAR – the neck or throat.

DISMANTLE – to take (something, such as a machine or structure) apart so that it is in separate pieces

CIRCUMCISION1.the action or practice of circumcising a young boy or man.

2. The action or practice of circumcising a girl or young woman.

circumcise (cut off the foreskin of a young boy or man, especially a baby; as a religious rite, especially in Judaism and Islam, or as a medical treatment; as a practice traditional in some cultures partially or totally remove the external genitalia of a girl or young woman) for non-medical reasons.)

SEDENTARY – a type of lifestyle with little or no physical activity.





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