The Rendille Tribe

Living in the harsh regions of the Kaisut Desert, the Rendille tribe is a nomad and pastoralist group. They are really only semi-nomadic and tend to only move 2 or 3 times each year.

The Rendille are member of the Cushitic family of tribes. The Rendille are closely aligned with the Samburu and have often adopted much of their language as well.

Many years of drought have made life difficult if not impossible for traditional Rendille people, meaning many of them have had to leave their nomadic patterns behind and settle more permanently in various towns and aid depots. The town of Korr is one of the largest towns made up mainly of the Rendille.

Rendille History

Their original home was farther north, in Ethiopia and Somalia. It's likely that both the Rendille tribe and the Somali tribe have common ancestors. Oromo-speaking tribes of Ethiopia drove them out, and forced their migration southward into Kenya.

The colonial occupation of Kenya had little or no effect on the Rendille people, since their lands are very harsh and not desired at all by the Europeans.

Their Way of Life

Unlike some other pastoral tribes, the Rendille tribe tend to favour camels for their herds rather than cattle. Likely because their lands are very dry and the camel is simply better suited to the environment. They are milked just like cows, providing the staple of the Rendille diet. This is particularly the case for northern Rendille, whereas the southern groups are more similar to the Samburu and keep cows because the environment is less dry.

Their settlements are quite large, which is different from other nomadic tribes that live in separate extended family groups. An entire clan might live together, with a population of many hundreds. The tribal movements are not random, but follow a specific pattern to allow access to for all clans to the water sources and pasturing areas. It is a very fair system of land management.

The Rendille Family

Men are responsible for caring for the large herds of animals, as well as protecting them from predators and other tribes. All the household and childcare duties fall on the women of the tribe. It is the unmarried men who are required to travel the furthest from the camps with the herds.

Age-sets are the main component of Rendille society. Initiation rituals take place precisely every 7 or 14 years, creating a series of generational age-sets, each with its own role in society. In the common Kenyan practice, the first initiation is circumcision. Men have many stages of warrior-hood, but women are simply married or unmarried.

Marriages are usually arranged by parents, since it is not permitted to marry within one's own clan and contact with other clans is minimal for younger people. A bride price in livestock is always part of the negotiations.

Because men cannot marry until they have completed their warrior phase, there is usually a sizable age difference between man and his wife. It's fairly common for a 30-year old man to marry a girl only 14 or 15 years old.

Rendille Beliefs and Religion

Many tribes in Kenya have given up their old beliefs in the face of oncoming Christianity, but the Rendille tribe have not. The Rendille god is called Wakh, or Ngai. The fortune-tellers of the village cast stone or bones to predict the future, and to perform sacrifices for rain.

Related pages:

Tribes in Kenya - Main page
List of Kenya tribes with short descriptions

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