The beloved avengers of the Samburu
In his life as a Samburu culturist and ranger, Mike Lesil has witnessed a lot of strange occurrences. One time, while on duty, an elephant trampled on a man, killing him.
That the elephant appeared from nowhere in a safeguarded area puzzled Lesil and his colleagues to a point they had to investigate the matter.
The findings seemed like some movie or a soap opera. They discovered the man had once insulted a Samburu elder and did not apologise. This angered the old man so much that he promised revenge.
“The old man had requested for a ride in the man’s car but he declined because he thought the old man was dirty. He went on to insult the elderly man, wondering why he couldn’t walk to his destination yet he had legs,” narrates Lesil.
Upon research, it was discovered the old man came from a family that had special powers and could summon elephants to harm disrespectful or wicked people.
According to Lesil, among the Samburu, there are families with special relationships with wild animals such as lions, baboons, elephants and snakes, whose services they can enlist if offended.
“The families are very secretive and would never reveal their identity to anyone. They regard their clan animals well, talking to and even feeding them. For instance, if a clan’s animal is a snake, members will never hit it even if it’s in their home. Same goes to monkeys and baboons,” he explains.
In the past, the Samburu used to live side by side with elephants. Local mythology indicates that an elephant emanated from a woman’s disobedience when her father warned her not to look back as she was preparing to leave the manyatta. Because she had a heavy heart leaving home, she looked back and God punished her by making her swell till she turned into an elephant. That is why to this day, the elders have a great regard for elephants and would place green grass, which they have spat on, on top of a skull as a sign of respect.
“There is a myth that elephants used to help women gather firewood. One day there was an argument when one women complained that the firewood collected was not enough, which angered the elephant and forced him to leave. This explains why the jumbos stay in the forest,” narrates Lesil.
Despite this, the elephant is still regarded as one of the tribes’ men. One of the Samburu clans is known as Lukumai (the elephant clan). Each time an individual meets an elephant on the way, a clansman would be required to throw dirt in the elephant’s direction to find out whether it was safe for them to pass. It was safe to move when the elephant kicked back.
This is not foreign to other religions or cultures when people who are wronged would avenge themselves in various ways. While people always link witchcraft to evil, it can be a force of good, to ward off evil eye, to bring rain and even ensure virility.
Treated like gods
“In Samburu, the families use their powers for good. For instance, if a man impregnated a woman and refused to take care of the child, such families would invoke their powers,” Lesil explains.
Both women and children follow the father’s animal and such families are treated like gods and their wishes accorded to them. For instance, if they come to your home and they want your dress or food, you must give it to them. If you don’t, something bad happens to you. Your stomach can swell or the dress can get torn until you hand it over.
Such practices are necessary in ensuring there is respect amongst the clans and animals. Whenever something evil happened to a person, the clans would trace the event to one of the powerful families and appease them for the anger to be averted.
“You were required to go to the family and appease them with whatever they demand. Failure to do so would result in death as it was a sign of contempt,” Lesil says.