The Rendille, associated by their language to the Somali, roam the region of northern Kenya between lake Turkana to the west and Marsabit to the East, between the Merille River to the south and the Chalbi desert to the north, an area of roughly 22,000sq km.They number approx. 20,000, and subdivide themselves into 12,000 Rendille and 8,000 Ariaal and Ilturia, a blend of Samburu and Rendille.
Rendille culture is a camel culture but they also keep goats, sheep and a few cattle in the neighbouring mountains. ne Rendille is not only dependent on the camel for its food but also for its migration. He doesn’t ride ride camel but uses it to carry all his belongings. Regularly from season to season, he carries his house from site to site, always the same. Contrary to his cousin the Somali, the Rendille has never looked towards territorial expansion. The huts are prefabricated and portable. They are erected by the women, while the men build up the protective enclosure. This semi permanent camp is called “gob”. The warriors between 14 and 30 years old take care of the herds.
They drive them very far, which is only a small part of their work,then they have to rind them water, taking the precious liquid in small leather buckets from very deep wells. In the evening they form a temporary camp called “for”. The herdsmen also milk the camels and staple food. Sometimes in animal is slaughtered for a special ceremony. The Rendille is not a trader, and lie is self sufficient except for a few products such as tea, sugar, beads and unfortunately the plastic jerrycan. In addition to the manufacture of practical utensils, personal adornment is a major expression of Rendille creativity. The clan is the base of the social unity. A typical settlement consists of about two dozen houses, sheltering approximately 100 persons. Each married woman has her own hut. The centre of a settlement is called “nabo” or “naapo)”, and is a ritual enclosure where the elders meet. A ritual fire is always kept burning. At every new camp after building the nabo and lighting the ritual fire, every woman comes and takes some ambers for her own house. To become part of the clan a boy must go through several periods of preparation.
As a young boy he helps around the camp taking care of the goats and hens. A little older, but still uncircumcised. he goes on the long trek with the herdsmen. After all this apprenticeship, the boy is circumcised and enters the warrior age-set. Eleven years after the circumcision, the man celebrates another rite of passage and becomes an elder. The wedding follows quickly after the “nado” ceremony and confirms his new status of elder. There is no age group for the women, but they are directly linked to the men’s system.
The passage from a girl to womanhood is done through the clitoridectomy followed by the marriage. There are however a few exceptions such as the “sabades” who marry sometimes after 40 years. By means of timing the Rendille calender into a seven year cycle, their marriage is delayed until their brothers are in their thirties and eligible for marriage themselves. Obviously the main consequence of the sabade is a birth control system, slowing down human demography in relation to the cattle. An unlimited human population in relation to slow reproductive live stock such as camels. would have been disastrous s to the RendiIle society. Another interesting aspect of the Rendille is their relationship and intermarriage with the Samburu. Of different origins and language, they have built up a solid political alliance. Physically, the uninitiated observer can see a greater resemblance between Rendille and Samburu, than between Rendille and their fellow Somali speakers.