Tribes of North Kenya

The north of Kenya is home to unique and traditional pastoralist tribes who have largely maintained their way of life amidst a myriad of challenges. These included drought, environmental challenges, poor infrastructure and wrangling amongst each other.

Let’s take a look at some of the fascinating tribes who live in the harsh and dramatic landscape of North Kenya….

Samburu Tribespeople

The Samburu peoplea are a Nilotic people of north-central Kenya that are related to but distinct from the Maasai. The Samburu are found in the district located in north-eastern part of the Rift valley bordering Marsabit, Turkana, Isiolo, Laikipia and Baringo.

They keep livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys. Their normal diet is mainly comprised of milk, some vegetables and meat. They wear traditional costumes of woven fabrics, animal skins, wool blankets, ochre, beads and other ornaments giving them a very vibrant look. They ar sometimes referred to as ‘The Butterfly People’ due to their colorful ornaments, attire and hairstyles.

Samburu Tribespeople
Rendille Tribespeople

The Rendille tribe inhabits the climatically harsh region between the Marsabit hills and Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya. They are found in a place called Kargi and around the Ndoto Mountains. Their name translates to “Holders of the Stick of God.”

Traditionally, they are nomadic pastoralists, tending camels, sheep, goats and cattle. Traditional dress includes beautiful beads worn by the women around the neck, wrists, and ankles. The “moran” (young unmarried man) wears colorful “shukas” (clothe wrapped around their bodies) and color their hair with a mud/mineral mixture.

Rendille People
Gabbra Tribespeople

The Gabbra are related to the wider Somali people ethnic group of the Horn of Africa, they mainly inhabit the Moyale and Marsabit regions of northern Kenya. They have settled in and around the small desert settlements of Kalacha, Gas and North Horr on the edge of the Chalbi Desert.

They are particularly attached to their camels. The camel is at the center of their culture and economy, using it for meat and milk as well as transportation. They build their homes, fencing and household items out of palms, grasses, trees and other local materials which can be carried on camels.

Gabbra Tribespeople
Turkana Tribespeople

The turkana people live in the arid, sandy expanse of northwestern Kenya, from Lake Turkana to the Ugandan border. They are one of the largest nomadic communities and will be found on the shores of Lake Turkana; in Loiyangalani and Lodwar towns.

Traditionally, men and women both wear wraps made of rectangular woven materials and animal skins. The men carry wrist knives made of steel and goat hide as well as stools (known as ekicholong) used as simple chairs and headrests, keeping one’s head elevated from the sand and protecting any ceremonial head decorations from being damaged. Women will customarily wear necklaces and will shave their hair completely which often has beads attached to the loose ends of hair.

Turkana Tribespeople
El Molo Tribespeople

The el molo people are the smallest ethnic tribe in Kenya with their name translating to “People of the Lake.” They are found along the lake shores of Lake Turkana; Loiyangalani area.

The El-Molo’s life is now based on fishing with their main diet based on fish and occasionally crocodile, turtle and other wildlife. Killing hippos gives a great social status to the warrior. They used to be hunted from rafts with hand-made harpoons from acacia root with their fishing nets made from doum palm fiber. The El Molo still lives in small dome shaped huts built on the shore of Lake Turkana. Like the Samburu, the El Molo wear necklaces and bracelets made of colored beads though nowadays only the elders dress in a traditional way. Most of the el molo have now intermarried with Samburu and Turkana tribes and there are fewer “pure” el molo.

El Molo Tribespeople
Pokot tribespeople

The Pokot people live in West Pokot County and Baringo County and are part of the Kalenjin community.

About half of the Pokot are semi nomadic and semi pastoralists. They herd cattle, sheep and goats relying on their products to sustain their livelihoods. The songs and decorative arts, in particular body decoration are greatly appreciated among the Pokot. They adorn the body with beads and hairstyling and proceed to scarifications and the removal of the lower central incisors. Pokot girls wear a beaded necklace made of the stems of an asparagus tree. Men dominate the decision-making processes within the society and women have a very low social standing.

Pokot tribespeople
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