A Comparison of the Role of Prophets in Samburu
and Maasai Warfare
(lompin State College, Baltimore
The Samburu and Maasai are closely related pastoral societies which have ageset organisations and share a common language and religious beliefs. Both,
furthermore, have prophets (iloibonok), who can divine the future, inflict sorcery,
and cure misfortunes. In Maasai, this role has historically included wider
political influence, particularly in the 19th century when the prophet Mbatian
is said to have united the Purko and Kisongo tribes against the Laikipiak
Maasai. In Samburu, however, no prophet ever emerged in such a leadership
position. This difference is traced to the difiierent ways these societies are
organised, particularly where their moran age-sets are concerned. The Maasai
stage large age-set ceremonies fbr all the young men of an area, who are blessed
by a leading prophet. The Samburu, however, since they have no such territorial units, recruit their age-sets on the basis of descent in small ceremonies
held within each clan settlement and without the participation of a prophet.
These differences in political and age-set organisation are traced, in turn, to
different ecological conditions, and particularly to the different tasks of the
moran age-set in economic production. Whereas Samburu moran spend a
great deal of time in mobile livestock camps in a relatively dry environment,
Maasai moran, living in a richer environment, congregate in defined and per-
manent localities, living in their own "warrior villages", the manyata. In
such a situation, a prophet of Mbatian's stature, having wider access to the
moran as a whole, could wield considerable influence.
Research on Samburu prophets was undertaken from 1974-6 while I was a Visiting
Research Associate at the Institute of African Studies, University of Nairobi, and forms
the basis of my Ph. D. dissertation (University of London) on concepts of health and disease
among the Samburu and Rendille ofnorthern Kenya. I would like to thank Dr. Paul Baxter,
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester; John Berntsen, Department
of History, University of Wisconsin; and Neal Sobania, Department of African History,
School of Oriental and African Studies (London) fbr their attention and kindness in reading
and discussing this manuscript. Responsibility for views expressed here are, of course, my
own. I would also like to thank Dr. Katsuyoshi Fukui, National Museum of Ethnology,
Osaka; Dr. Jiro Tanaka, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University; and Mr. Shun Sato,
Tokyo University, for their kind invitation to the First International Symposium, Division
of Ethnology, the Taniguchi Foundation, and fbr many stimulating discussions while in
Both the Maasai and the Samburu are descended from a proto-Maa speaking
group that migrated south from the southern Sudan into Kenya's Rift Valley sometime before 1700 AD. Where the Maasai (by whom I mean the Southern or Pastoral
Maasai groups, including the Purko and Kisongo clusters) occupied the savannah
grasslands of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, several groups splintered off
from this main migration, including the Uasin Gishu and Laikipiak, to the western
and eastern highlands, respectively, of the Rift Valley. The Samburu occupied
the semi-desert regions of north central Kenya to the south and east of Lake Turkana,
allying with the Cushitic speaking Rendille [JAcoBs 1965b: 144-54; SpENcER 1973:
152; LAMpHEAR 1976: 194].
Both the Maasai and Samburu depend for subsistence on a pastoral economy in
which human labour is organised around the fundamental tasks of livestock production. Both societies are characterised by an age-set organisation in which male
youths, called moran (after murata, or circumcision), who have been circumcised in
adolescence during a specific recruitment period, pass together through successive
rituals until their promotion to elderhood, at which time they may marry, usually
fourteen years after initiation.
Although similar in economy, social structure, language and cultural expression,
Maasai and Samburu vary widely in their political organisation, a situation reflected
most clearly in the recruitment of their age-sets, and their role in the political and
economic spheres of these two societies. Of particular interest in this paper is the
role of the moran age-sets in warfare, and the influence of Maasai prophets on their
Photo, 1. Samburu moran
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare
The history of East Africa is rich in accounts of warfare between various pastoralist groups competing for access to, and control of livestock, grazing, and water re-
sources. In the 19th century, competition between Maasai groups led to the
annihilation of the Laikipiak and Uasin Gishu Maasai, and the temporary consolidation of the Purko and Kisongo Maasai tribal clusters in southern Kenya.
Alan Jacobs argues at length that the 19th century wars between various Maasai
groups revolved around the competition of leading prophets (oloiboni, iloibonok)
or "ritual experts". The Purko-Kisongo, Uasin Gishu, and Laikipiak groups are
each described as following their own prophet, and the final defieat of the Laikipiak
by the Purko-Kisopgo alliance is considered a victory for thejr prophet Mbatjan,
whose "fttme lay not only in the fact that he was instrumental in breaking the power
of the northern iloikop [i.e. Laikipiak], but that he also defeated a rival oloiboni of
comparable fame." [JAcoBs 1965a: 77]
Although the Samburu also fought the Laikpiak in the 19th century, there is
no indication that their prophets played any decisive role in this warfare, perhaps
because of their more recent arrival in Samburu society from Laikipiak origins in
the mid-19th century.i Modern Samburu prophets play only a marginal role in the
political affairs of the society, for they are concerned primarily with rituals of healing,
prophesy, and sorcery, a situation also found among the modern Maasai prophets
[JAcoBs 1965a: 84].
Jacobs suggests that special conditions 'prevailing in the 19th century enabled
a prophet of Mbatian's stature to rally the widely scattered Southern Maasai groups
against the Laikipiak. I would like to examine why such an influential leader has
never emerged among the Samburu. The key to this question,Isuggest, lies in the
different ways the two societies recruit, organise, and control their moran age-sets.
The Maasai moran are organised into large territorial groupings, live in large
warrior-villages (maayata), and undergo collective age-set rites, closely supervised
by a leading prophet. The Samburu have no such territorial organisation but live
in segmented clan settlements, their age-sets, which are organised around local
patrilineal descent groups, being linked neither by a territorial framework nor by
large ceremonies supervised by ritual leaders. A detailed examination of the role
of prophets in the affairs of the moran in both Maasai and Samburu society provides
a usefu1 vantage point from which to compare the two societies.
The role of prophet (sing. oloiboni, pl. iloibonok, from the Maasai verb a-ibon,
to predict) is characteristic of Maasai societies. Claiming descent from a founding
ancestor adopted by the Kisongo Maasai before 1750, iloibonok families spread the
institution to the Uasin Gishu, the Laikipiak, and the Samburu by the 19th century
i At present, there are fbur iloib' onok families in Samburu. Three, the Leaduma family
(Lorokusho section), the Lengila family (Pisikishu section), and Lemeteki (Masala section),
trace their descent to Laikipiak origins. The earliest known prophet in Samburu, Charrar
Leaduma (of the Lkitekui age-set, initiated about 1851) is said to have arrived in Samburu
during his moranhood (circa 1851-65). A fburth prophet, Lekominka, traces his descent to the Saaja family of prophets in Meru,
Photo. 2. A Samburu prophet holding entasim medicines, with divination gourd (centre)
[JAcoBs 1965a: 72-4, 321]. All male members born into an iloibonok family are
said to possess the inherited and mystical ability to "see" past, present, or future
occurrences, either by the use of divination objects or by spontaneous visions. The
iloibonok are more than prophets, however, for they also possess the ability to
manufacture mystically powerfu1 medicines that can both protect from or inflict
acts of sorcery resulting in blindness, infertility, disease or death. In Samburu,
these two powers are known as enkidong, or prediction (from the enkidong container
of divination obiects), and entasim, the substances employed in sorcery and healing
In Samburu today, the prophets are primarily concerned with selling their services
of enkidong divination and entasim medicines to communities concerned about the
infertility of their wives and livestock, the safety of the moran age-sets threatened by
enemies and predatory animals, and the risk of disease and mortality in their children.
Although welcomed for their protection against such misfortunes which are often
thought to be the result of acts of unknown assailants, the prophets are also feared
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare
and mistrusted since it is thought that they may have originally sold the substances of
this sorcery to malicious individuals.
The prophets occupy an ambiguous position in Samburu society. As "mystical
intermediaries" between the forces of the supernatural world and events on earth,
they are both feared and avoided, yet sought out for their services. In addition, as
owners of large herds, they are respected in a society that measures wealth in cattle,
yet they are resented for the effbrtless way they acquire their herds: payments for
curative services. In sum, however, prophets are valued members of the community,
respected for both their wisdom and powers of protection.
In a politically acephalous society such as Samburu, the prophets form a particular sub-section, set off from the wider society, but do not take on any major role
in the political affairs of the society. Attending the elders' councils as any stock-
owner would, the prophet may be an important role in political decisions, such
as offering his divinatory skills to determine the location of grazing, predators, or
enemies, and perhaps providing protective medicines to those travelling in dangerous
areas. Such a role, however, is marginal, and the majority of Samburu communities
make similar decisions without a resident prophet.
In Maasai, the prophets perform similar duties. Certain prophets, however,
can take on a wider political role, owing to their participation in the large territorially
incorporated age-set ceremonies. Maasai age-sets are recruited and organised on
the basis of their residence in large territorial units which Jacobs terms localities.
t tttt
Photo. 3. A Samburu prophet (centre) with his son (right) divines the
presence of Boran raiders to the east.
The age-sets are ritually unified by their collective participation in the Eunoto cere-
mony, at which junior moran become senior moran; and the Oignesher ceremony,
when senior moran pass into junior elderhood, an event which marks the end of that
moran set, and precedes the initiation of a new one.
The Maasai elders responsible fbr these rites request the leading prophet (oloiboni
kitok), who has a wide reputation based on his skills and family standing, to provide
entasim for the moran participants. According to Berntsen [1973: 31-72], the
leading prophet in previous times was able to take on a more direct role in the affairs
of the moran due to his clQse association with the ritual age-set leader (ol aunoni)
and the age-set spokesman (ol aiguenani), and could advise, predict, and protect moran
engaging in large-scale warfare (njori).
In Samburu, the prophets take no active part either in the ceremonies of the
moran age-set or in the supervision of their political activities, these tasks being
assumed directly by local elders. The Samburu do not have the large and inclusive
Eunoto and Oignesher ceremonies, but rather have small localised age-set ceremonies
called iimugit, the primary criterion for participation in which is membership of one
of the various local descent groups spread throughout the Samburu area.
Samburu society is. composed of eight patrilineal descent sections(lmarei,
lmareita or "ribs"), which are divided into two moieties of the Black Cattle and the
White Cattle.. Each descent section is composed of several clans, which are the basis
of settlement organisation. Although many clan settlements may be interspersed
in one area, White Cattle clans are found more in the eastern lowlands, near the
camel-keeping Rendille, and Black Cattle clans more to the west, in the highland
cattle-keeping regions of the Loroghi Plateau and Mt. Nyiru.
The localised descent group, or clan-settlement, is the most important unit of
economic production and political organisation in Samburu. Each settlement is
mobile and autonomous, descisions being made in council meetings by each local
group's married men. Although several settlements may act together in herding
activities, moving, or defense, there exists no wider political organisation than the
segmentary descent system to unite local groups.
The Samburu organise the recruitment of their moran age-sets strictly within
their segmentary descent system. Boys are initiated by circumcision and undergo
further age-set ceremonies within their local settlements with clan brothers and to the
exclusion of outsiders, although several settlements belonging to the same descent
section will time their ceremonies to occur simultaneously.2 Unlike Maasai moran,
2 The Samburu have a daily calendar based on the duration of the new moon, e.g., "The
1lth day of the moon", etc., of which even numbered days up to the fu11 moon (the 14th
day) are propitious for ritual events. For monthly and annual time-reckoning, the Samburu use both seasonal reckoning (based on the long and short rains in the spring and fa11),
and the more concise Rendille annual calendar which names each month according to its
ritual significance. The Rendille, furthermore, employ a weekly calendar naming each
day of.the week, and a seven year cycle using the weekday names, but this weekly system is
not used widely in Samburu.
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare
who live in large manyata with age-mates recruited from many descent groups,
Samburu youths spend most of their moranhood with local clan age-mates, living
either in their parents' settlements or in temporary livestock camps.
The responsibility of the Samburu moran for the herding and protection of the
settlement herds in mobile livestock camps is an important economic task, and
distinguishes Samburu moran from their Maasai counterparts. Rainfall in Samburu
is often less than 500 mm a year, and erratic in timing, quantity and location. Ac-
cordingly, the Samburu divide the bulk of their livestock into highly mobile camps
(lalei) of non-milking stock with a small residual herd of milkers and calves maintained locally in the sedentary domestic settlements of married adults and younger
children. Management of the livestock herds in the distant camps demands a strong
and selfisuMcient labour force capable of spending prolonged periods, often six to
twelve months per year, away from the home settlements. In this context, the role
of the moran in production is clear, and their ritual separation from the society
facilitates and emphasises this division of labour which is necessary to maintain the
Recognition of the economic role of the moran age-set in livestock production
has not been extensively described in previous studies of pastoral societies. Paul
Spencer, who has portrayed in great detail the age-set system of the Samburu, views
the age-set organisation primarily as a vehicle which "enables the elders to retain
power in the society and to practise polygamy on a large scale" [SpENcER 1965:
101]. The prohibition restricting the moran from marrying until the circumcision of
'rt e'N
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Photo. 4. A Samburu moran herding cattle in the highlands
a new age-set thus allows the elders to acquire more wives. Although Spencer's
focus is not on the role of the moran in economic production, he does refer to
disagreements between the moran and the elders, particularly over decisions related
to livestock property and women,
Spencer describes at length how the elders exert their control over an often rowdy
and forcefu1 moran group. Moran are recruited and organised on the basis of their
clan aMliation, and their ceremonies and behaviour are supervised by their "firestick"
elders (oipiron), who are local clan agnates two age-sets senior to the moran. According to Spencer, the control of the "firestick" elders over the moran ultimately
rests on their curse which, though rarely invoked, is always implicitly threatened.
[SpENcER 1965: 184]
The elders' curse (ol deket) differs from sorcery (enkurmpore) in that it is a moral
and public indictment whereas the latter is immoral and private. Any justifiably
grieved Samburu can call on God to punish an offender, but his curse will be the
more effective, the greater his seniority over, and the closer his kinship with the oflen-
der. Although I agree with Spencer that the curse is an important fbrce employed if
coercion is necessary to assert the elders' control, the segmentary descent system itself
provides strong bonds of loyalty and cohesion within the society, and moran will
usually defer to the elders' authority for the sake of the unity and welfare of the local
descent group as a whole.
Control of the moran in Samburu is effected both by loyalty and service to the
clan settlement and by the threat of the clan elders' curse. In Maasai society,
however, neither means of control operates, for descent group aMliation is not the
primary organising concept. Both age-sets and residential groups are recruited
territorially, and not by segmentary descent affiliation.
According to Jacobs, the Pastoral Maasai are a loose confederation of distinct
and autonomous tribal clusters (olosho, oloshon) such as the Purko or Kisongo, each
composed of defined localities (enkutoto, enkutoton) which are the primary units of
economic production and political organisation. Each locality is made up of local
settlements composed primarily of age-mates (and their families) who, when moran,
participated together in the local Eunoto ceremony and lived together in the large
warrior villages (maayata).
Aithough Maasai society is composed of six patrilineal and ideally exogamous
clans (ogilata), these are not localised and do not have strong political influence.
They are important in that co-residents within both the manyata and adult settlements
tend to associate along descent lines, but any one settlement or locality is composed
of members from several descent groups. In Maasai, both age-set recruitment and
local settlements are organised by residence in the geographically defined locality,
which has a congress of age-set representatives who make decisions for the locality
as a whole. Furthermore, localities representing the entire tribal cluster will occasionally meet to discuss wider political issues, with councils made up of the various
age-sets from each constituent locality. [JAcoBs 1965a: 174-5, 178, 218, 236]
One can only hypothesise why Maasai and Samburu vary so sharply in their
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare
respective social organisations. A significant factor is the richer quality of the
Maasai rangeland, where over 60% of the area receives more than 750 mm of rain
per year, compared to less than 20% of the Samburu area. These differences have
no doubt permitted the Maasai to- establish a more sedentary settlement pattern,
where livestock can be managed within each locality, an area defined by Jacobs
[1965a: 73-4] as "a selficontained ecological unit with its own permanent water
resources". The proximity of water and grazing to the settlements on a year round
basis has contributed to releasing the Maasai moran from the more extensive livestock
duties perfbrmed by Samburu moran, and perhaps enabled the system of fixed
manyata residence to develop. Furthermore, the permanent concentration ofa large
body of moran contributed to the greater military organisation of the Maasai.
The manyata system appears to have inhibited direct control over the moran
by the elders. Although Maasai "firestick" elders also supervise the age-set ceremonies, as in Samburu, they do not possess a strong power to curse, as they are not
in a direct kinship relation to all of the moran. Furthermore, the Maasai practise
of circumcising their sons two sets below themselves, so that the firestick elders are
simultaneously "fathers" of that set, inhibits the use of the curse, since an elder would
be reluctant to curse his own son's age-set. Spencer [1965] describes how this conflict
is avoided in Samburu, where elders circumcise their sons at least three sets below
themselves, so that no sons are in the firestick relationship.
The descent system enables Samburu elders to exert control over the moran by
appealing to descent group unity on the one hand and threatening to use their descent-
based curse on the other. In Maasai, no such means to reduce conflict between the
two age-sets exists, How, then, are the Maasai moran "kept in their place"? It is
here that the role of the leading prophet becomes crucial.
At the request of the "firestick" elders of the territorial unit as a whole, the
leading prophet blesses the circumcision knife and provides entasim medicines for the
moran. Although not necessarily present at every locality ceremony, the prophet's
essential participation in the ritual life of the moran enables him to assume a ritual
authority which is capable both of unifying and threatening the moran group as a
According to Berntsen [1973: 82-51, it was formerly feasible for the influence
of the leading prophet to extend beyond his ritual role into the political sphere.
The prophet had a strong relationship with the age-set spokesman (ol aigunani),
offering both advice and protection over afuirs of warfare. This power could help
explain how certain Maasai prophets, particularly Mbatian, were able to exert wide
political influence and even direct leadership during the Maasai wars of the 19th
The 19th century was a period of great movement, relocation, competition, and
conflict among the pastoral groups in and around the Rift Valley of East Africa.
During the first half of the century, several groups attempted to make small but
important territorial gains: the Samburu and Rendille took Mt. Marsabit from the
Laikipiak and Mts. Nyiru and Kulal from the Boran, while further south the Laikipiak
Photo. 5. The prophet prepares entasim medicines.
displaced the Samburu and Rendille from the Lordghi plateau and the Uaso Nyiru
River [SpENcER 1973: 152]. The Purko Maasai, further to the south and west, gained
the narrow but rich Rift Valley corridor around Lakes Nakuru and Baringo from the
Uasin Gishu Maasai [BERNTsEN 1973: 113]. By 1850, the dominant pastoral groups
in Kenya's Rift Valley were from north to south, the Turkana and Boran (to the west
and northeast respectively of Lake Turkana), the Samburu and Rendille (east and
south of the Lake to the Uaso Nyiru River), the Laikipiak (on the Rumuruti-Loroghi
Plateau), the Purko Maasai (in the southwest, from Lake Nakuru to Natron), and
the Kisongo Maasai (in the southeast, towards the Maasai Steppes, in northern
Whereas the warfare undertaken in the first half of the 19th century was motivated by the desire for territory and for livestock to feed a growing population, that
of the second half of the century resulted from the need to feed a starving one. Both
human and stock populations were decimated by a series of droughts and epidemics,
including cholera, pnuemonia, small pox, and rinderpest. Large-scale fighting en-
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare
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Pastoral Tribes in Kenya (19th Century)
sued between pastoral groups, which resulted in the annihilation or disintegration
of socio-political groups such as the Uasin Gishu and Laikipiak Maasai.
According to Jacobs [1965a: 75] the Laikipiak nearly defeated their southern
rivals, the Purko, until Mbatian, the leading prophet of the Kisongo Maasai, ordered
the Kisongo moran to reinforce the Purko and thus brought about the defeat of the
Laikipiak, sometime between 1870 and 1875.
It is not clear from Jacobs' description whether Mbatian provided direct political
leadership to the Kisongo-Purko Alliance, fbr it is also known that the Damat and
Loita Maasai tribes also joined the Purko, which suggests that, with the increased
possibility of a total Laikipiak defeat, other groups, such as the Kisongo, stood to
gain by joining the fight, particularly to accumulate livestock in such depressed
times. It is clear, however, that a prophet such as Mbatian would have had the power
and ability to direct such a military alliance as reported in Maasai, owing to his
unique position of ritual authority and political infiuence among the Kisongo moran.
What should be apparent from this discussion, however, is that no such figure did
or could arise among the Samburu. The Samburu role in the Laikipiak wars was
largely defensive, and although raids were carried out in the eastern lowlands by the
Ariaal Rendille (lowland Samburu)3 against the Laikipiak, they were largely spontaneous and carried out by independent clan units, without a cohesive territorial
fighting organisation, nor a political leader or military strategist in the form of a
prophet to guide their actions.
In conclusion, the prophets have a stronger role in Maasai than Samburu because
of the different ways these societies recruit and organise their moran age-sets. Where
Maasai age-sets are recruited on the basis of territorial residence and undergo large
and inclusive ceremonies ritually united by the influential role of the leading prophet,
Samburu moran have no allegiance wider than their local descent group, and are
associated in small clubs (oipul) aMliated to particular clan settlements.
In Samburu, it is the clan elders, through their curse and descent aMliation, who
control and direct the activities of the moran. The Maasai, lacking a strong descent
organisation, rely upon the mutual efforts of the local elders, the age-set leader (ol
aunoni), the age-set spokesman (ol aiguenani), and the leading prophet (oloiboni kitok)
to provide leadership and control over the moran. Through their ritual role in the
age-set ceremonies, the Maasai prophets have obtained strong positions of authority
and influence in the society which are absent in Samburu.
Underlying these differences, I believe, is the greater nomadic mobility of both
Samburu moran groups and Samburu domestic settlements. The Samburu area of
3 The Samburu living in the eastern lowlands near the Rendille are known as the Ariaal
Rendille or the "Masagera" Samburu i.e., "Those Rendille who fbllow the Masai". The
economy of the Ariaal is based largely on camel production (unlike the highland Samburu
who own mostly cattle), and their settlement patterns, material culture, and herding prac-
tices resemble Rendille very closely. Furthermore, Ariaal settlements are almost fu11y
bilingual in Samburu and Rendille, owing to the large number of wives recruited from
Rendille, and they are often thought to be Rendille. However, the Ariaal are included
in the Samburu segmentary descent system (primarily in the PWiite Cattle moiety), and do
not participate in the ritual life or the descent-based political organisation of the Rendille.
Properly speaking, the Ariaal Rendille are "lowland Samburu".
During the Laikipiak Wars in the 19th century, the Ariaal made repeated attacks on the
Laikipiak and their Rendille-speaking allies, the Kiriman, around the Uaso Nyiru River,
and acquired large livestock herds from these raids. Further north, the Ariaal and Rendil-
le fbught the Laikipiak around Mt. Marsabit and Laisamis. The fact that the Ariaal
and Rendille live in large settlements, with populations reaching 500 and a moran force
of 20-30 per settlement, probably contributed to their greater fighting organisation against
the Laikipiak than the smaller Samburu communities in the highlands near Maralel・
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare
Photo. 6. MOran repairing a well in a highland cattle camp
northern Kenya is predominantly an arid semi-desert with certain highland areas
including the Loroghi Plateau and Mt. Nyiru to the west, and extensive lowlands to
the north and east. In this predominantly dry environment, the moran serve primarily as herders and protectors of the livestock in mobile camps, and secondarily as
"warriors", raiders, or protectors of the settlements.
Throughout the dry periods, the moran are responsible fbr seeking water and
grazing resources wherever they appear for the bulk of the livestock, and particularly
fbr the cattle.4 Furthermore, the larger domestic settlements of married adults and
young children are often compelled either to move in their entirety or periodically
to break-up, as independent families join other clan kinsmen in settlements with more
productive resources. Because of the highly variable rain and grazing conditions,
Samburu society is often in motion, as families or whole settlements move towards
4 The Samburu keep herds of cattle, donkeys, and small stock of goats and sheep. The
Ariaal keep camels, cattle, and small stock. Where the small stock can generally be
herded close to the settlements by the younger children, the cattle and camel herds must
seek pasture and water over a larger area, and are herded in mobile and distant camps.
In Samburu, the moran are responsible for the cattle camps, although older girls and
uncircumcised boys will also participate. In Ariaal, uncircumcised boys will manage the
large camel herds in the desert, while the moran assume responsibility for the cattle herds
in the highlands. This division of labor is enfbrced by the prohibitions separating the
moran from the camels, such as "only a married man or uncircumcised boy can milk the
camels, as they don't like the smell of women or moran".
highland areas in times of drought, or to lowland areas in times of overcrowding in
the highlands. Descent affiliation becomes the primary criterion fbr joining new
settlements, and thus the segmentary descent system serves as the most adaptive
organising principle in this pastoral society.
The Maasai area of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania is much richer than
that of their northern Samburu neighbours. With 60% of the land receiving more
than 750 mm of rain per year, Maasai settlements are sedentary, close to permanent
water, and near sufficient grazing resources. Lacking the need for extensive live-
stock herding camps, the Maasai moran are free from day to day herding tasks and
able to congregate in their own sedentary villages, the maayata.
Freedom from herding and the manyata system has no doubt encouraged the
Maasai to develop a strong military organisation with which to raid neighbouring
tribes for livestock. Pastoral societies must necessarily maintain, if not expand,
their livestock production of milk and meat, the staple foods of the human population,
and the surest way to increase herd production is to increase herd size. In times
of acute shortage, the quickest way to increase herd size is undoubtedly to steal cattle,
preferably from other tribes. The Maasai are surrounded by mixed agricultural
societies such as Kipsigi, Kamba, and Kikuyu, who have historically been in defensive
positions in regard to the large and organised raids of the Maasai.
The Samburu and their Rendille allies, however, are surrounded by other pastoralist tribes including the hostile Turkana to the northwest, Boran and Gabra peoples
to the north, and Somali to the east. Although the Samburu environment is harsher
than that of the Maasai, it contains perhaps the richest grazing and water resources
in northern Kenya, and thus has a relatively dense human and cattle population
(4.3 and 18.75 per km2 respectively). The Samburu are subject to frequent attacks
from their neighbours, particularly the Turkana, and for the most part are on the
Although my argument may appear to reduce the diflerences between the Maasai
and Samburu social and political organisations to simple ecological factors, it is not
intended to be deterministic. Rather, my aim has been to show how a rigorous
examination of one particular social institution, shared by two closely related societies,
can deepen our undertsanding of these societies.
1973 Mbsai and noikop: Ritual lixperts and their Ibllowers. Unpublished Master's
Thesis, University of Wisconsin.
JAcoBs, Alan H.
1965a 71he 77aditional Political Organization of the Pastoral Maasai. Unpublished
D. Phil. Dissertation, Oxford University.
1965bAfrican Pastoralists-Some General Remarks. Anthropolagical 2uarterly
38(3): 144-54.
Prophets in Samburu and Maasai Warfare 67
1976 77ie 71raditional Mstory ofthe Jie of Ugando. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
SpENcER, Paul
1965 711lee Samburu: A Study of 6erontoeracy in a ?Vbmadic 7)ibe. University of
Califomia Press.
1973 Aibmads in Alliance: ,S)7mbiosis and Growth among the Rendille and Samburu of
Kenya. Oxford University Press.

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