The Samburu Community of Kenya

Experience their colorful dress, hairstyles, and strong warriorhood

By National Museums of Kenya

Front ApronsNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating our shared past, present, and future

Internationally known for their beautiful and colorful attire, the Samburu community were traditionally nomadic pastoralists. They speak the Maa language, and belong to the Nilotic ethnic group.

ModelNational Museums of Kenya

A look into the history and culture of the Samburu

Closely related to the Maasai community, the Samburu have distinct cultures, traditions and rituals, which have been immortalised in several Hollywood movies including 'Mogambo' (1953). The Samburu also appeared in one of the most iconic Nike adverts of the 1980s. Here a Samburu man says in Maa language: “I don’t want these. Give me big shoes.” which was translated to 'Just Do It'. 

NecklaceNational Museums of Kenya

The power of Nkai and Laibon

Traditionally the Samburu believed in one God (Nkai), thought to reside in nature, making offerings and prayers important for rainfall and livestock. Diviners (Laibon) were believed to communicate with spirits through dreams and trances.

Lake Turkana: home to the Samburu

The Samburu are believed to have migrated from Sudan, and are today mainly located in the Samburu county, Northern Rift Valley region.

Front ApronsNational Museums of Kenya

Pastoralists: cattle, sheep, and goats

The Samburu were mainly pastoralists, but in the past also hunted animals to supplement their food. Traditionally the men moved with their cattle herds in search of pasture and water, while the women did the milking.

Turkana festivalNational Museums of Kenya

Meet the Samburu and experience their culture

Experience the fascinating culture of the Samburu community at the Desert Museum, Nairobi National Museum and the annual Lake Turkana Festival.

Red OchreNational Museums of Kenya

The Butterfly People

The Samburu are sometimes referred to as 'The Butterfly People' due to their colourful ornaments, attire and hairstyles. Traditionally they made clothes and ornaments from animal skin, beads, shells and brass. Men dyed their hair with red ochre. Warriors (Morans) kept their long hair in braids, and dressed in more colourful attire than other members of the community. The women adorned themselves in beautiful multi-colored beaded necklaces, and other traditional jewelry.

Samburu Warrior, Kenya by Angela Fisher & Carol BeckwithAfrican Ceremonies

Ochre-dyed plaited hair with bead ornaments

Young warriors (morans) would wear ornaments and dye their braided hair in red ochre.

NecklaceNational Museums of Kenya

Elephant tail necklace

Women's necklace made of elephant tail hair, each threaded with an old-style bead.

EarringsNational Museums of Kenya

Colorful earrings

The beaded earrings were worn by attaching them over the head.

EarringsNational Museums of Kenya

Ldungot patterned earrings

Beaded leather earrings with beads in triangles. This is an unusual pattern of decoration, called Ldungot. These earrings were worn only by wives of the Merisho (the oldest living age-set).

Ceremonial EarringsNational Museums of Kenya

Coiled ceremonial earrings

Made with brass wire and coiled to the required shape, these beautiful earrings hang from the earlobes.

Samburu Warrior Adorned by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Lmuget ceremony: becoming a moran

The Lmuget ceremony takes place every seventh year and marks the passage from boy to warrior, or moran. More than 400 warriors and over 100 families gather for this special occasion, which sees hundreds of cattle being slaughtered. The ceremony is similar to the Maasai Eunoto which is held every 15th year. 

Ceremonial cloakNational Museums of Kenya

Ceremonial cloak worn by boys

A ceremonial goatskin cloak painted with red ochre and decorated with white cowries. It would have been worn over the shoulder by boys prior to being circumcised.

BeltNational Museums of Kenya

Belt worn by young morans

This colorful beaded belt was worn by young morans, and sometimes even given to their girlfriends as a token of their love.

LyreNational Museums of Kenya

Six stringed lyre

This lyre was made and played by boys (laiok) before they become warriors. The resonator was made from an old box, diaphragm of cowhide and strings of twisted cow sinew obtained from the cow's back.

Moran ClothNational Museums of Kenya

Cloth worn by morans

The red ochre cotton cloth was worn by morans as a skirt while dancing during ceremonies.

WristletNational Museums of Kenya

Experience Samburu culture

Traditionally, the Samburu are known for their striking dress, hairstyles and strong warriorhood. Music, singing and dancing are important elements of their culture, and can be experienced at the annual Lake Turkana Festival in Loiyangalani, Turkana County. This three-day event features traditional dances, performances, a trade fair, and a market. The experience is a unique blend of culture, entertainment and party nights. 

Lake TurkanaNational Museums of Kenya

In 2008, the National Museums of Kenya established the Desert Museum in Loiyangalani, to preserve and promote the unique cultures of the eight communities living around Lake Turkana region, namely: El Molo, Turkana, Pokot, Rendile, Samburu, Gabbra, Watta and Dassanach.

Samburu Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating Kenya's communities today

Many of the cultural practices of the Samburu are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. The heritage and culture of the Samburu community, along with the more than 44 communities in Kenya, continues to fascinate and inspire. The National Museums of Kenya invites everyone to celebrate the intangible cultural heritage of all communities which makes up this great nation. 

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curator: Philemon Nyamanga, Cultural Heritage Department. philenyamanga@gmail.com

Photography and Creative Direction:Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini. Gibs Photography

Exhibit Layout: Agnes Mbaika Kisyanga and Barnabas Ngei

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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