All photos and text copyright 1995 by Jonathan B. Wight. No use without prior permission.
With their lands lost to colonization and environmental degradation, this Samburu tribe subsists on tourism.
KENYA COMPRISES AN AREA with over forty separate tribes, speaking different languages and with very different cultures. The family shown here belong to the Samburu tribe, descended from earlier migrants from Egypt. Their lands are located in the highlands area of northern Kenya, where herding is the primary activity. By contrast, a large Arab Muslim population lives along the coast, where Mombasa is a famous trading port.
WHEN THE BRITISH discovered that the highlands were adaptable for tea and coffee plantations, they parceled off the land to white settlers. To get crops to market the British built a railroad as far as it would go before hitting the hilly terrain. At the "end of the line" they built a city -- Nairobi.
IN THE 1950s an independence uprising (called Mau-Mau) resulted in the violent deaths of perhaps fifty descendants of white settlers, who by this time considered themselves full-fledged Africans. In the 1960s Kenya and much of the rest of Africa gained independence from the colonial powers. But holding together a country of disparate tribes has proved impossible in many cases. Africa was divided among colonial powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. The boundaries created by Europeans had, in many cases, no connection to tribal or geographical realities.
When I visited KENYA in 1991, it was ruled by one man from a minority tribe, who repressed dissent from other tribes. President Daniel Arap Moi had his picture in every tiny store, office, and bus station across the country. I asked a shop-keeper why President Moi's picture was displayed in his store. He answered simply, "Because the police come to inspect...." He then moved his finger across his throat to indicate what would happen to those suspected of disloyalty. This unfortunate pattern still exists across Africa today, in which political corruption and personal aggrandizement have contributed to paralyzing economies and creating a negative development process.
THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN in the Spring of 1991.
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