Rendille - Religion and Beliefs

Additional information about Rendille religion and beliefs would be most welcome - this is all I have.
In this page:
Signs & omens
Sacrifice & propitiatory rites


The Rendille believe in one God, and call him Wakh (the Ariaal know him as Engai, the same word used by the Samburu and Maasai) - an omnipresent creator who can be reached through prayer. According to a number of missionary sources, their ceremonies are similar to "Old Testament Jewish traditions", although no indication is given as to exactly what these traditions are. Rather than pointing directly to Jewish roots (as some theologians have tried to do with other east African tribes, especially in Uganda), these "Jewish traditions" would simply appear to be beliefs and customs which are common throughout East Africa, and which the ancient Jews - geographically not so far from East Africa - may well have shared.

Signs & Omens

The Rendille believe in signs, especially ones involving their animals. For example, the way a certain bull camel approaches a proposed new settlement area is taken as a good or bad omen. A propitious camel may be placed outside the camp facing the direction of an expected enemy attack in order to prevent the attack.

Like their neighbours, the Rendille have a tradition of healers and soothsayers, although the only source I have about this calls them laibon, which is a Maasai word and unlikely to be the term used by the Rendille themselves. The soothsayers are able to read the will of God (ie the future) in a variety of ways, for example in coloured stones and bones tossed from a gourd onto a green cloth spread out in the shade of an acacia tree. As with the Turkana, trees - or rather, the shade that they provide - are often sacred places. The healers concern themselves with curing disease, both of people and animals, which are believed in part to be the work of sorcery. This can be countered with amulets and herbs. Disputes and conflicts are arbitered by the elders in general, and do not have a religious aspect - see Peacemaking among Rendille Brothers for an example of this.

As with all Kenyan nomadic people, settlements are abandoned following the death of a person.

Sacrifice and propitiatory rites

Propitiatory rites are performed by Rendille on special occasions: the Hay or feast of the full moon, the Sorio - a true sacrifice to pray for rains - in which camel is slaughtered, its blood poured on everybody of the clan and on every head of the herd. The Almado ceremony is more of a festivity, and marks the beginning of the Rendille new year. Prayers for rain and peace are offered by the elders and in every hut a new fire is lighted, taking the charcoal from the ever-burning fire of the naapo.
   For more on sacrifice, see Rain & Sacrifice under Turkana Religion & Beliefs: a lot of the underlying ideas are similar.


According to a missionary source, there are apparently only sixty "true believers" among the Rendille, and of these, "all but two have been totally alienated from their culture." Many more are nominally Christian. "They do not oppose the gospel, but since their own religion is so like the Old Testament, they easily give lip-service to Christ because they feel it does not contradict what they believe. We do not see any real heart change... They feel they are righteous. They do not feel the need for deliverance, forgiveness or salvation - very much like Muslims."

For the time being, at least one major aspect of Rendille culture appears to have survived.


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Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

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