I am a moran, a warrior in the language of my people, the Samburu. We are nomadic pastoralists, always moving in search of pasture and water for our livestock. We live in manyattas, temporary mud-walled huts with thatched roofs located in compounds fenced with thorny acacia branches to contain the animals. These we depend on for milk, meat, and blood, Samburu delicacies. We also use animal hides for bedding, shoes, and in the past times, clothing. Even marriage depends on livestock; animals are given as the bride price. Livestock is our wealth, and the first duty of a moran is to guard the herds.
My village, Lesidai-Ngusoro, lies between two seasonal rivers, the Ngare Narok and the Tinga. The Tinga is close to our border with the warlike Pokot, who has clashed with the Samburu for generations, fighting for water and each other’s livestock. So the duties of the morans are more than ceremonial.
As children, we used to admire the warriors, but we boys had our own duties. Together with my age-mates, I was tasked with herding livestock through the vast, windy plains of Samburu territory in search of water and pasture. We travelled in large groups moving thousands of animals over hundreds of kilometres while looking out for predators such as lions and leopards, as well as armed rustlers from the Pokot and other tribes ready to kill us and steal our cattle. All we had to defend ourselves were bows, arrows, and spears.
All of us looked forward to our initiation, which would make us morans. Samburu initiation is an elaborate ceremony, the main part of which is ritual circumcision. In 2012, I joined about 100 boys from my clan in a remote forest for a month’s training before the circumcision. Our group was managed by morans who challenged us with swims in icy rivers and cold runs in forests fighting through thorn bushes, all to toughen us physically. There was also storytelling, lessons in Samburu history, and reciting Samburu riddles and proverbs – all to impress upon us the responsibilities of a moran.
After one month in the forest, the big day came. I woke at 3 AM to the sound of circumcision songs and the smell of cooking fires preparing for celebrations. I spotted the old man who was to make the cut; he was quietly sharpening his knife with fire and stone. The rules for circumcision were strict: no blinking, no shaking, no wincing in pain, and no sound. Because my father was the oldest, I was the first to go. Before I knew it, cold water was poured over my head and what followed was a glimpse of hell. There were no painkillers, but at least the old man got the job done quickly. I was rewarded with livestock and required to rest and recover. For the next month, we stayed in the forest and were supplied with ample milk, meat, and cow’s blood. After that came a ceremony in the village introducing us as morans. Each of us killed a bull and took an oath to preserve Samburu heritage, protect the Samburu community, and serve our people with justice and integrity.
Back in the village, within a few months after the ceremony, about 90% of my fellow initiates had dropped out of school. Soon they married younger girls and before long had children. Many became polygamous. This was normal. Nearly all the older villagers are illiterate, including my parents. But I continued in school. It was my brother’s idea. He was a moran himself, protecting the community from tribal conflicts. But those conflicts were coming closer and closer to our village. He saw potential in me, and to protect my future he moved me to a boarding primary school away from Lesidai-Ngusoro. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he saved me from an unwanted life. Now, I am a student at Tufts University. Thank you, Paul Letua.