Rendille - Feature Articles

Peacemaking among Rendille Brothers

The following article was originally published in "Honey and heifer: grasses, milk and water: a heritage of diversity in reconciliation" (Nairobi: Mennonite Central Committee, 1997), and reprinted on the internet in Wajibu: A Journal of Social & Religious Concern, in the issue entitled Traditional African Wisdom & Modern Life (volume 14, No.1 1999). See the copyright notice for textual extracts.

Peacemaking among Rendille Brothers, by Buliyar John Rigano


A very important reason for being aware of our traditions is in order that we may draw lessons from them for the solution of current problems. If there is one problem today for which we need urgent solutions, it is that of violent conflicts: conflicts in families, conflicts between clans and between ethnic groups. There is much to be learned from traditional ways of peacemaking. Here we give just one example of traditional conflict resolution which is still being used today.


Among the Rendille community brothers fight each other over inheritance. In April 1977, my eldest brother and I fought each other over a camel which my father gave me when he was still alive. Two months after the death of my father, my brother claimed the camel which I was given (note: among the Rendille the eldest son is the only child).

Brother: Who gave you the camel?
Rigano: The camel?
Brother: Yes (Aaa ....)
Rigano: It was given to me by our deceased father when my lower two teeth were removed.
Brother: How come I was not informed of that?
Rigano: I do not know, but as you and I are his children, do not think you are the only one who has such rights over his property.

At this time I was in school and I learned from my schoolmates from other tribes that in their customs all male children have equal rights to theirs father's property. Having that in mind I couldn't listen to him. Instead I told him to go to hell, no way would he get this camel. He started striking me with his herding stick.


First, two of our relatives who were close to us stopped us from fighting. After that they asked us why we were fighting and we told them that it was because of a camel. I told them that when my two front teeth were removed, my father gave me the camel. The gentleman said to us that it is true by regulation that one has to be given an animal when his teeth are removed. But he said we do not know whether the camel in question was given to him when his teeth were removed and we do not know the rules of inheritance among the Rendille community. He said, "we will forward your case to the elders who are well informed of such things."
   The issue was taken in front of the elders and my brother and I were summoned. Before deciding who would take the camel, the elders started talking about rules of inheritance and what happens when one inherits something unlawfully. The case did not end there. First it was taken to all our relatives. My eldest brother was asked to leave the camel for me but he became adamant.
   The matter was then taken in front of the elders who played the role of administrators and spiritual advisors. My brother was rebuked and told not to repeat such behaviour. He was also asked to reward me with another camel or else face the consequences according to traditional taboos. He was asked to choose either a dry twig or a green twig. The dry twig is a curse and eventually you die while the green twig is a blessing.
   My brother accepted the blessing and I won the case. He then gave me an extra camel.


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