Rendille - History

Rendille history

The Rendille's existence as an independent tribe has always, it seems, been somewhat perilous, although until the sixteenth century, the Rendille formed part of a much larger group (the Omo-Tana, or Proto-Somali) which also comprised the ancestors of the present-day Gabbra, Sakuye, and a number if not all of the Somali groups. Their homeland was in southern Ethiopia and Somalia, and possibly northern Kenya. These people spoke a 'Somaloid' language, and were already engaged in camel herding as their primary means way of life. The resulting social structures consisted - as they do today - of a complex system of rituals, forage rules and seasonal migrations, mostly determined by their environment and camel raising. Their extensive ceremonial calendar (see The Stages of Life), was named after, and organised by, the various stages involved in camel culture, and combines both lunar and solar aspects.

In the sixteenth century, however, the sudden and forceful expansion of the Oromo-speaking people from Ethiopia - ancestors of the Borana -brought about the disintegration of the original Omo-Tana group, and their migration southwards and westwards into Kenya.

Over the following centuries, these tribes grew more distinct from one another, ironically at the same time as they developed alliances and ritual kinship arrangements with the Borana's ancestors for protection. This position of weakness has persevered to the present-day. Nonetheless, being the southernmost of the 'Somaloid'-speaking people meant that Rendille contact with the Borana was less pervasive than for the Gabbra, for example, which enabled them to keep their culture and language more intact. More recently, however, they have entered into an interdependent relationship with the Samburu, to such an extent that the Samburu language now risks replacing Rendille. Coupled with the prolonged droughts of the last few decades and the resultant loss of livestock, the Rendille are now more vulnerable than ever.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle - fine art photography