For the women of Ngurunit, peace is a way of life

A display of unity. Women in Ngurunit village live, work and eat together regardless of tribe. The village is inhabited by both Samburus and Rendile and the women have been able to forge unity to protect their families and homes. [Photo: MImi Kabugo]
A display of unity. Women in Ngurunit village live, work and eat together regardless of tribe. The village is inhabited by both Samburus and Rendile and the women have been able to forge unity to protect their families and homes. [Photo: MImi Kabugo]

It is beautiful, remote and untouched by civilisation and one of the most noticeable features of Ngurunit Village in Marsabit County are the Ndotto Mountains which surround it.

While the landscape is breathtaking, the people who live cradled between the mountains have become a close knit community which makes the Ngurunit Village peculiar because it is home to two different communities — Rendille and Samburu.

What is peculiar is that the two communities live in peace, co-existing in the harsh climate and fighting to maintain their heritage.

With no cell service, electricity, poor roads and no running water, Ngurunit is trying to hang on to its cultural values as civilisation makes its slow march towards changing their way of life.

The Samburu and Rendille are two communities in Northern Kenya which are often portrayed as enemies over persistent clashes caused by inter-ethnic fighting over land, pasture and water which are scarce resources in the region.

Other communities such as the Turkana, Borana, Gabra and Somalis live in the villages neighbouring Ngurunit across the mountains.

The communities constantly raid each other and are involved in deadly clashes in efforts to seek better pasture.

Resources

However, in Ngurunit, war is unheard of, the Rendille and their Samburu neighbours share everything including, water, food, schools, hospitals and even intermarry.

Marsabit County Secretary for Education and Sports, Steven Labarakwe is a resident of Ngurunit and he explains that the residents of Ngurunit have lived in peace for years. He notes that due to the location of the village, they resolved to avoid conflict.

“The village is surrounded by other communities who cannot come together and resolve to share the resources they have. However, in Ngurunit, the communities understand that if they share, they can maintain peace and develop,” Labarakwe explains.

According to Simon Loibon, an elder in Ngurunit Village, while the communities have many differences in language, culture and political affiliations, the residents decided to work together to reap the benefits of each culture.

“As pastoralists we need water and pasture for our animals and since we travel long distances we often seek shelter from our neighbours manyattas as we move from place to place,” says Loibon.

Loibon notes that in order to survive the harsh droughts that often hit the region, the communities share the water and protect each other as they avoid pressure from political leaders to fight.

However culture and tribe are not the only forces that are trying to tear the communities apart

Devolution is causing problems for the people of Ngurunit because the village lies on the boundary of Marsabit and Samburu counties.

This means they now have to contend with different, two county governments from the two counties and elect leaders who are expected to come from one community which is causing tension in the village.

“Half of Ngurunit Village is in Samburu North Sub-County while the other half is in Laisamis Sub-County and we are now forced to pick political leaders from different communities and access government funds from different offices,” Loibon explains.

Ngurunit women jointly venture in basketry making to complement their families income and promote peace:   [Photo: Mimi Kabugo]

Ngurunit women jointly venture in basketry making to complement their families income and promote peace: [Photo: Mimi Kabugo]

Strategy

For the women of Ngurunit, peace is a way of life as they have cultivated it to protect their families and their homes.

With women and children being the worst affected during conflict by being displaced and attacked, the women of Ngurunit work, live and eat together regardless of their ethnic group.

Lilian Lekadaa, a woman leader says the reason Ngurunit Village is peaceful is because the Rendille and Samburu have intermarried.

“We have learned to accept each other’s differences and gone to the point of encouraging our children to intermarry, a custom which is largely frowned upon outside our village,” says Lekadaa.

She notes that the community have for decades shared the resources because both Samburu and Rendille owe their survival to each other.

According to Lekadaa, devolution has been difficult to implement because the communities refuse to be divided.

“ When one county government offers relief food, and they refuse to give those of us who have manyattas across the boundary, as women we share the food we get, because at the end of the day a boundary is just an invisible line and cannot be the reason you watch your neighbour starve to death, says Lekadaa.

She observes that the boundaries that were created for the counties will not work in Ngurunit because while one side has access to water, the other side has better schools and hospitals.

“We need each other more as women because we know that we cannot live without water and we also know we need our children to go to school and it is therefore in our best interest to share and ignore the county boundaries,” Lekadaa reiterates.

Language has also played a factor in uniting the community who have decided to mix the Samburu and Rendille language to give the community a unique language.

Loibon explains that because the Rendille and Samburu children are raised together they begin to pick words from both languages.

“When children interact they form their own way of communication and this means they speak both languages and sometimes mix up the words, making it possible to understand each other even if they are from different tribes,” says Loibon.

The Ndotto Mountains have become their source of protection but they have also become stumbling block to change.

Labarakwe sums up the community by saying: “The communities and tribes of Northern Kenya need to see that there is an alternative to war and clashes, just like the people of Ngurunit have done for decades.”