Preparing the moran for the ceremony ©Mark Boyd

Last year, our Footprint Manager Mark Boyd and a team from Sasaab had the honour of attending a circumcision ceremony near to the lodge. A momentous milestone in the life of any Samburu, it is a ceremony that only takes place once every 14 to 15 years, when a new ‘age set’ graduates from boyhood to becoming morans (warriors).

Initiation into warriorhood: the most significant ceremony of all in Samburu culture.

The group selected can be anywhere between ten to 20 years of age. They gather with their families in a lorora – a specially constructed village which houses all the families of those being initiated during the two-month process. Some travel far for the occasion.

A brave moran-in-waiting ©Mark Boyd

As an outsider, the magnitude of such an event is almost impossible to grasp. Having built a close relationship with the community surrounding Sasaab over many years, the lodge team gained a rare and privileged window into this ancient ceremony. Many of the Sasaab team are themselves Samburu and welcomed their colleagues to proudly witness their sons, grandsons and brothers’ journeys into manhood.

On the day of the circumcision, the lorora is charged with energy.

Dressed in goatskin cloaks blackened by animal fat and charcoal, the graduates break into an initiation song called a lebarta. Deep, melodious chants float through the village, a collective show of encouragement to embolden one another. For some, the tension is too much; they collapse into fits of emotion and are carried away to calm down.

When tensions run high ©Mark Boyd

Early in the morning, the boys receive new sandals made from the skin of the ox on which they will later sit for the circumcision. As a group, they travel to collect water from a source that never dries up – in this case, the mighty Ewaso Nyiro River, lifeblood of this semi-arid region. Singing to signal their return, each goes to fetch their family’s cows into the lorora, where milk is mixed with the water they have collected.

Each boy then moves to the entrance of his hut, drinking from the milky water before the remainder is poured onto his head as a blessing. Sitting down, they await the arrival of an experienced lakitoni (circumciser). Even the cows seem to grasp the magnitude of the event; the tension in the air is palpable.

As the circumciser approaches, the crowd jostles for a good view, but also to check the boys’ bravery.

Building courage ©Mark Boyd

A crowd forms to witness the event ©Mark Boyd

Forbidden to flinch or show any sign of weakness, the climactic moment is over in less than a minute, with which the boy gets carried inside to recover on a specially woven bed made by his mother. The lakitoni proceeds around the huts in a clockwise direction, followed by a supportive crowd. Wild celebrations follow every circumcision. Speared by an arrow, blood from the jugular vein of each family’s cow is mixed with milk and taken to the new warriors to drink.

Preparing the drink for the new warriors ©Mark Boyd

Rituals and rules shroud every action and event of initiation.

In the month that follows, the newly circumcised boys observe many rituals leading up to their final ceremony, in which they symbolically discard their black cloaks and receive a new warrior name. On the last evening, the newly named morans adorn themselves with the distinctive beaded jewellery and ochre stained hair we might recognise from photographs, a look that earns them their nickname ‘The Butterfly People’.

Some shy, others elated, the new generation of warriors dance in front of the village for the first time. Their shaved heads will be left to grow into long braided strands down to their waists. No longer mere children, these warriors can now play an active role in Samburu society, marrying and starting families of their own.

Sasaab in northern Kenya enjoys a unique partnership with the local Samburu Community from Westgate Conservancy where the lodge is located. This allows many of our guests to have authentic cultural experiences during their stay. Get in touch at info@thesafaricollection if you’d like to arrange a safari to the Samburu region of northern Kenya.