Samburu: A Window Into Another Way of Life

Samburu warrior teaches archery to young boy at Samburu Intrepids Lodge.
Learning about other cultures is one of the most rewarding aspects of travel. Here, a Samburu warrior teaches a young traveler how to shoot a bow and arrow. Photo courtesy of Samburu Intrepids Lodge.

I’ve been back from Kenya for over a month and am still enjoying remembering the beautiful scenery, the very friendly people, and the incredible wildlife. My photos make it seem like yesterday.

One of my favorite memories is meeting Francis, a Samburu warrior (and college graduate) in Samburu National Reserve.  We were staying at Samburu Intrepids Tented Camp and since it was the rainy season, we were the only guests at the lodge.  The camp offers presentations on wildlife and culture every evening, and Francis was our presenter. His degree is in wildlife management, and he was presenting on the cats of Samburu.  While the presentation was fun and informative, what I most enjoyed was our conversation before and after it.

When Francis walked in, I knew immediately he was our presenter. He was dressed head-to-toe in traditional clothing, including a red-and-white kikoy (sarong) and countless arm bracelets, necklaces and headbands. He jingled when he walked. I introduced myself and and asked him what his name was. He paused and gave me his Samburu name, which was so long it almost made me dizzy to hear it. Then he said, “or you could call me Francis.” I let out a breath of relief.

The Samburu are considered cousins of the Maasai. The customs and dress are similar and apparently they can speak to each other in their separate dialects but understand each other. The Samburu are known for being very fast and dynamic talkers, which proved to be true of Francis.

It’s so interesting to learn how other people live. In our discussion after his presentation, Francis explained that when Samburu boys become warriors at 15, not only are they circumcised, but they are asked to leave their family home and live in the bush with their peers. “A little campout isn’t such a bad thing,” you may be thinking – but they leave for years. They may live in the city for a while if they go to college, but otherwise they live in the bush with their friends until they get married in their late 20s, at which point their status moves from “warrior” to “elder.”

Now, they’re not banned from the community. Francis told us that he often goes to visit his parents and younger siblings. He just doesn’t eat or sleep there. And even though one might expect a few pangs of hunger and some wistfulness for good home cooking when he watches his mom prepare a meal for her younger kids, he says he doesn’t feel that way at all. The act of not eating with them reminds him of his stage in life, and that he has the wherewithal to take care himself. That ability is something to celebrate.

Above the clothing and customs, the strongest sense I left with is the immense pride that Francis had in his way of life. He wouldn’t trade it for the world!

I think this is one of the best parts about an African safari – that it is such a different experience in so many ways from other destinations that it really does create a memory for a lifetime.