Thursday, September 4, 2014

THE SAMBURU & MASAI TRIBAL CULTURES


Cyrene, our personal server


How exotic: lunch at a table outside by the Samburu River (but not too close due to the crocodiles). We have our own server assigned to take care of only us - a young waitress intern named Cyrene Mwikali with perfectly braided corn rows, and a shy smile. And a Samburu warrior in traditional dress named Kelvin Lerantilei whose job is to keep the vervet monkeys at bay with a sling shot.







Warthogs graze on the lawn, and at our 3rd camp on the Masai Mara National Reserve the vista from our restaurant included herds of zebra and occasional giraffes - just beyond the camp’s pool (which we didn’t use). Also at this camp the Masai warriors sang and danced every other night, blowing a horn made from an antler.

View from Kichwa deck and pool. Balloon rides available: $450.
John  Shira


I became friends with John Shira, a Masai warrior whose job was to impart the Masai culture to the guests. I went with him to visit the village, and also his home.

John’s father has eight wives - so John has two dozen siblings. It is actually the first wife who urges her husband to take another wife - so the work is shared and doesn’t fall all on one wife.

When John was a boy his father sent him out to tend the cattle, but John fell asleep under a tree and when he woke up all the cattle were gone. As "punishment" his father sent him to school, and he was no longer entrusted with the cattle. As a result John is fluent in Swahili and English, and with his outgoing personality he has done well with tourist tips and selling the beaded crafts his wife and sisters make. Most Masai homes are sticks and adobe, but John’s house was cement walls and a tin roof. He also had solar powered electricity and even a TV.

Like all Masai & Samburu men, he was missing his bottom two front teeth - a practice to allow for inserting a straw when someone was sick or unconscious to pump in water or herbal medicines.

The teeth pulling was also one test of pain tolerance. At fourteen years old boys are circumcised and are expected to not react to the pain - even by blinking. Also, to prepare them they are scarred by burning a circle on their arms or legs with a red hot spoon, and by cuts on their cheeks.

If a boy failed these tests he was banished from the community because he was seen as too weak and lacking in courage to be a warrior. In past generations a Masai warrior had to also kill a male lion with a spear, and raid other tribes to steal cattle to increase the size of their own herds, the Masai symbol of wealth (and buying power for dowries to acquire wives). They believed all cattle belonged to the Masai, so the raids were only retrieving what they were entitled to rather than stealing.

The Masai eat a steady diet of cow’s blood (extracted from the neck with a special bow and arrow), and cow’s milk. The meat is reserved for special occasions like weddings. More typically the meat consumed is from sheep or goats. The Masai don’t eat chicken, or eggs, although the And Beyond Lodge had gotten them into the business of raising chickens to supply the camp. It also provided women with money of their own.

The Samburu tribe is an offshoot of the Masai. They speak the same language and sometimes intermarry. Both tribes demonstrated to me how they start fires by creating a hot coal by rubbing a hard stick into a soft wood hole; then putting the coal into dry grass or elephant dung, and blowing on it. The process was surprisingly quick.

It seemed there was a standard protocol used by both tribes in dealing with tourists: Q&A, followed by a fire starting demonstration, followed by a welcoming dance by the women, followed by the men, followed by an impromptu market set up on blankets with their crafts. This was the sequence followed by both the Samburu and Masai tribes.



 
 
 
 A barrier of branches surrounds their homes and is guarded by warriors at night to prevent intruders - both human and wild animals. They also keep dogs for an early warning system. An inner circle within the camp is also constructed to hold the cattle and protect them from predators.

The Masai houses are constructed by strong branches tied together and covered with mud. The houses have a front sitting room and a sleeping room. It takes three months to build a house. In contrast, it takes the Samburu a week to build their houses - which are smaller and round, often using cardboard on the roof. I observed that a plastic tarp would be more efficient, but was told plastic held the water inside as well as out - so wasn’t practical.

All the houses had dirt floors and some small fire pits. The Masai houses had windows built in the walls for light and ventilation.

John’s house was larger and more Westernized with linoleum on the floor and posters on the walls - favoring soccer teams.

Both tribes danced for me, and the men of both tribes compete to see who can jump the highest, accompanied by chanting.



Of the two tribes I liked the Samburu women’s dancing the best. They wear large beaded necklaces which they flop up and down with the dance rhythm. They even got Frank and I to dance with them - Frank awkwardly shuffling along and me not much more graceful. Unfortunately, I had with me only the camera’s mic - which was inadequate to pick up their singing.




But wait, you say, "Wasn’t this an animal safari?"