The Rendille tribe stands to be one of the most culturally rich I have had the liberty of living amongst. Colloquially known as ‘The Holders of the Stick of God”, this community exists as a nomadic pastoralist Cushitic-speaking ethnic group that resides in the arid North Eastern Province of Kenya. The vibrancy of the Rendille people is only magnified by the barrenness of their abode.
The Rendille people maintain an extremely traditional pastoralist lifestyle, continuing to tend to the camels, sheep, goats, and cattle that share the desolate space. I felt my own lifestyle being stripped down to its bare necessities. It was refreshing, cleansing, revitalising. Even though the Rendille live in harmony with the animals, I saw a clear structure to the way in which they manage their livestock. The camels are reserved for the northern part of their territory, with the cattle allocated to the southern region. Even in such a wild milieu, there is order. When it comes to ceremonial practices, the main formalities I was made aware of were the rituals of Naming, Circumcision, Marriage, and Death, all of which held a similar value to the rituals we practice in the westernised world, albeit a vast enactment. Each of their ceremonies is accompanied by significant events and practices as rites of passage. Small intricacies that I simply could not fully grasp during my time spent there.
The Rendille women wrapped their necks, wrists, and ankles in magnificent beads that, when stacked, formed neverending patterns that held my gaze for moments on end. The young warriors known amongst the tribe as ‘moran’, wore shukas, which are colourfully pigmented cloth knotted around their bodies. In addition to this, they tint their hair with a mixture of mud and minerals. A mask of colours that generate further contrast to their environment. The ritual of marriage warrants the women to have a slightly different variation of beading. Rendille girls engaging in this practice receive empooro engorio beaded collars made of either pam fibers, or giraffe or elephant hairs.
In contrast, the warriors prepare for the wedding by applying a makeup coating of red ochre and sheep fat, painting their skin with a shine intensified by the Kenyan sun I felt constantly beaming down on us. They also adorn themselves with long woven and braided hair strands, also dyed red using the versatile ochre and fat blend. What I found most interesting about the Rendille tribe was the interplay between detail and modesty. It is a dichotomy I struggle to describe but was fortunate enough to be immersed in, even for a little while.
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