The Samburu Tribe: The Butterfly People

One of our favorite things at Expedition Subsahara is learning about the many amazing and diverse tribes and people that make up Africa. Today, the spotlight is on the Samburu tribe. 

Primarily situated north of the equator in Samburu County of Northern Kenya, the Samburu tribe are closely related to the Maasai tribe, who also live in East Africa. The Samburu are believed to have reached Kenya between four and five centuries ago (source) and are a gerontocracy in which elders rule over the tribe. 

They’re semi-nomadic and are known for maintaining cultural traditions. The Samburu tribe relies on cows for sustenance with diets that consist primarily of milk and cow blood, supplemented with vegetables, roots and tubers (source).

Samburu translates to “butterfly,” and the Samburu people are called the Butterfly People because of the intricate beadwork designs on their clothing, which resemble the patterns on butterfly wings. The Samburu are known for their brightly colored, beaded garments, which are made by the women of the tribe and are worn by both men and women. The beads are made from glass and are sewn onto the clothing. The patterns and colors used in the beadwork are significant and have cultural and spiritual meanings.

Music, dancing, and singing are important parts of the Samburu culture. Every seventh year, a ceremony called Lmuget marks the passage from boy to warrior, or “moran.” Hundreds of warriors and families gather for the highly anticipated special occasion ripe with customs and tradition. Moran, usually between the ages of 14 and 25, are responsible for protecting the tribe's livestock and defending the community. They’re highly respected within the Samburu community and play a central role in many of the tribe's cultural ceremonies and rituals.

Over the past several years, the Samburu have faced numerous challenges, including drought, external pressure to settle in permanent villages, conflict, and the impact of tourism on their land. However, the Samburu have remained committed to preserving their cultural traditions and way of life.

May the Samburu People continue to thrive.

Photo © Eric Lafforgue