Chyah’s Samburu Journal

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Chyah Weitzman in Nangida Village, Samburu, Kenya, November, 2013


The following journal excerpts by Pencils for Africa teacher and mentor, Chyah Weitzman, are from Chyah’s visit to Nangida Village in Samburu, Kenya in November, 2013.

Click here to read the full journal on Chyah’s Tumblr Blog.

sambcraft The meticulous detail with which the young Samburu women – such as the one pictured here above – craft their jewelry is really fascinating to observe. They have such an acute sense of aesthetics and artistry and the colors they select are always so vivid and vibrant.


This is the boma of the Elder Samburu tribesman Joseph, who shared with us a vast knowledge of conservation methods, his love of his community and how the community is cared for, and the his concern for endangered wildlife species.



Two of what are known as the Samburu Five (species of wildlife particular to this region) are pictured here above:

The elephant, and the articulated giraffe. The other three, which we also saw on this safari, are the oryx, the grey zebra and a species of brown ostrich that is native to this area.


These young Samburu ‘moraan’ undergo a deliberate rites of passage from boyhood to manhood which is part of the tribal tradition, as Joseph, one of the Elders, explained to us.


This Samburu lady Elder oversees many of the young women in the Nangida Village.

She is so regal and so warm and hospitable and made me feel completely at home in the manyata.

The ‘manyata’, or ‘homestead’ is the dwelling structure and community of the Samburu which we visited. Each individual home, or ‘boma’, is an oblong structure made of sticks and branches fortified by red clay plaster and often covered in simple cardboard roofs.


Sometimes, there are communal gathering areas where children can play and women can bead and sew in a shade when the sun gets to harsh or when there is a shower of rain.

I visited with several of the women and we also got to visit inside their boma, their dwellings.


On the left is Anthony and on the right is James – our two wonderful guides throughout our stay in Samburu.

Anthony and his wife have one son and James and his wife have two daughters. Both Anthony and James grew up in Samburu and are very proud to honor and continue their tribal traditions.

They both became our dear friends and are now part of our extended family. They are both guides as well as conservationists and environmentalists and have a very detailed knowledge of the local wildlife – they were like walking encyclopedias!


On the far left of the photo above is Stephen, the senior Elder of Nangida Village.

Next to him is Joseph, the junior Elder. On the far right of the same photo is James, one of our two guides throughout our stay in Samburu. The other guide, Anthony, is standing next to James.

Some of the children of the village are standing with James and Anthony.


As Elder of Nangida Village in Samburu, Stephen presides over the Council of Elders which has a large list of functions from settling any domestic or economic disputes to providing encouragement and nurturing of families to cultivating a communal spirit of cooperation and compassion.

Since many young Samburu now attend the local school, the Council of Elders also meets with the school teachers and the school principal of the school in order to seek a balance and an alignment between the modern and the traditional world:

There is an awareness amongst the Council of Elders that young children in Nangida Village need to learn the tools of education and the practical skill sets to serve and work in the modern world. At the same time, the modern world presents all sorts of challenges that can disconnect a young person from their sense of family and tradition and their deep roots.

How to find this balance between learning to adapt to a modern world while at the same time nurturing a respect for tradition and cultivating moral and ethical principles which will serve the young students well in the modern world?

This is the kind of question that the Council of Elders tries to grapple with and review and discuss with the local teachers and the principal of the schools the Samburu children attend.



The magnificent and majestic Africa Elephant !

We were so fortunate – thanks to our guides Anthony and James – to see many beautiful herds of elephants often within a few feet of the open land-rover in which we traveled.

We had many conversations with Anthony and James, as well as with the local village Elders, Stephen and Joseph, about the concern for the poaching of this noble beast.

In Karim’s conversation with Stephen, the senior village Elder, Stephen explained that there are cartels of organized crime that try to entice local villagers in Kenya to participate in the slaughter of elephants for their ivory. However, the reason this does not occur in Samburu land is because the strong tribal traditions make it a “taboo” to slaughter any form of wildlife.

In the pastoral tradition of the Samburu, it is considered “lazy” to kill wild animals for meat or hides or ivory. It is considered shameful.

So, one of the strong deterrents against the slaughter of the African Elephant, according to Elder Stephen, is a strong tribal tradition like that of the Samburu, that is fortified by strong moral and ethical principles.

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