The 43 tribes of Kenya are generally placed under three main categories. These are the Bantus, Nilotic groups and the Cushitic groups. Together, the first two groups make over half of the 43 tribes if not more. The limited Cushitic groups are therefore seen as minority tribes and little is known about most of them. Today we feature one of these Cushitic groups of Kenya, the Rendille, and learn more about them.
The Rendille inhabit the North-Eastern parts of Kenya, mostly Mount Marsabit. However, minimal numbers of the same group can be found around Lake Turkana area. They are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia and later split from the larger Somali ethnic group.
The name Rendille literally means the people from the stick of God. In Somali, Rendille means rejected. There are about 65,000 Rendille people in Kenya with a life expectancy of 40 years.
Way of life
It is recorded that the Rendille inhabit the harshest climatic regions of the country, with very minimal water and vegetation. As such, the group has maintained strongly their nomadic way of life. The Rendille community divides itself in homesteads of married men and their families. They then take turns to migrate and settle in different areas in search of water and food. When they find a suitable place, they set up camp and stay there until the resources are depleted and they move. They repeat this cycle at least 4 times a year to give the land time to rejuvenate. Their staple food is livestock meat, milk and blood.
Relationship with camels
The Rendille have a distinguished relationship with the camel regarding it as the most important animal a man can have. Unlike other pastoralist communities, the Rendille count their wealth depending with the number of camels one has. This can be attributed to the fact that the camels are very hardy animals that adapt to arid conditions. They however keep goats and sheep, and in some areas cows.
They are traditional and resistant
Although the Maasai are thought to be the only community in Kenya that resisted the Western influence on their culture, this is not true. Other communities also cling tightly to their customs and traditions including the Rendille. In fact, the Rendille are adamant about converting to both Islam and Christianity and instead believe in their traditional religion called Waaq. The few that have converted are younger ones that attend mission schools. Their dry areas of living also kept them safe from the British colonialists who did not see any need for the desert land.
They have complex relations with their neighbours
Although the Rendille are linguistically closer to the Somali than any other group, the Somali see them as deserters of Islam. They are also enemies with the Gabbra and Turkana because the two communities insist on raiding the Rendille of their livestock. However, the Rendille have an interestingly strong bond with the Samburu and this can be seen in the borrowed practises such as beadwork and learning their language.
Other cultural practices
The Rendille perform a significant amount of practices throughout the year both for religious and recreational purposes. These include song and dance, pouring milk libations, prayer, communal barazas etc. the Rendille also perform female circumcision, which is either carried out at the onset of puberty or on the first day of a marriage ceremony. Gender roles are also taken very seriously at all ages.