True Travel Times
Samburu and The Singing Wells
When you think of Kenya, you think of the Masai Mara, or a safari destination in general. What you probably don’t think of is what else Kenya has to offer. My favourite part of visiting this magnificent country was observing the extraordinary culture and tradition, totally untainted by the modern world, in Laikipia and Samburu. Whilst every camp will offer you a chance to do a ‘culture visit’ in the Mara, these have become incredibly commercial and you can expect the local Masai to arrange these visits simply for your benefit, ‘performing’ their rituals for the tourists year round.
Up at Sarara camp, in the Matthews Range, it is a totally different story. The Samburu people that neighbour this very special camp have an age-old tradition called ‘The Singing Wells’. This is not arranged, nor is it put on for the tourists; we simply have the great pleasure of observing this daily ritual, taking in its purity with deep fascination. I assure you, you won’t have seen anything quite like it. In fact, not one photo has ever been taken at the Singing Wells out of deep respect for the Samburu people, for they believe the photograph captures a piece of their soul.
The ritual consists of Samburu families taking their herds of cattle to the Singing Wells, where they dig for water to fill up troughs for their cows, goats and camels. In such an arid environment that is Samburu, for a large majority of the year, these wells run deep, requiring almost a chain of people to pass up a bucket in order to quench the thirst of their cattle. Whilst doing so, each family chants or sings their individual family song, which leads the cattle to their family well, and quite astoundingly, the cattle recognise their song.
I watched in a trance, totally mesmerised as I observed this gathering of families, sharing stories and passing on messages as they watered their cattle, so vital for their livelihoods. It is an image of red dust, cow bells, naked Samburu and song, creating what can only be described as a biblical scene. After all, this gathering has remained unchanged for centuries.
The Singing Wells are not only a meeting place for the Samburu, but for the wildlife too, who, during the dry months, will gather there as the sun goes down, desperate for water. I was amazed not only by the ritual of the local community, but also by the elephants who kneeled to carefully drop their trunks down these impressively built wells. If you are lucky enough, you will spot the elusive leopard prowling the banks, also hunting for a water supply.
The culture I experienced up in the Northern parts of this diverse country was thoroughly enjoyable and definitely memorable, and I absolutely recommend a visit during your time in Kenya.
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