Miki Iwamura was born in Japan, and raised in Tokyo and New York. Her formative years have developed a strong foundation for cultural diversity, which eventually lead her to various corners of the world with a camera. An award winner, Miki...
Focus:Photographer, Photojournalist, Researcher, Travel, Fine Art, Documentary, Photography, Portraiture
There was a severe drought during 2017 in Kenya which affected the Samburu community. Once an area where there was a lot of grassland, they are now seeing patterns of no rain for 5 to 7 months at a time. This community well was one thirds full during the same time the previous year.
They call these wells Singing Wells. The work is repetitive and physically demanding. To call their cattle to the well, the morans chant in unison as they pass their buckets to each other without pause, in rhythm to the tune.
The Samburu face lack of clean water annually during the dry season. They walk up to 12 miles everyday for water. Often, what they find is contaminated by wildlife and livestock resulting in illnesses. Once a month government trucks are sent to fill tanks donated by foreign aid. However, it is often unreliable.
With the help of foreign aid, this community has a few spots where people can collect their daily supply of water. But water does not come easy for many of the surrounding villages. Those with resources help when they can to get water to them.
In Samburu, it is the women's role to collect water however near or far. The Samburu are polygamous, and a woman with child can get married if the child is female. Muresi waits to become the first wife to a moran. She holds Rita's hand, who was recently married as the third wife to an elder.
The Samburu are known for their beautiful bead work. This mother proudly shrouded herself with her family history. The jewelry she wears is a visual record of her marital status and number of moran sons. With grace, she sang and danced to represent the past, present and future generations of her manyatta.
Meat is consumed only on special occasions. They are slaughtered ceremoniously and with care. Nothing is ever wasted. Each part of the meat is divided for various members of the family and their clan. Women also use the hides to make ceremonial dresses, bedding, and private satchels.
Morans are responsible for protecting their families, community and livestock. As climate change accelerates, some morans have taken up jobs to make ends meet. A few times a month, John is a security guard for a communications tower. A couple of times a year, Francis works for a NGO.
Red beads mean that a girl is taken. According to tradition, the morans are allowed to have a temporary relationship with a very young girl from the same clan. The moran buys red beads for the girl after getting approval from the family of the girl. The main objective of beading is to prepare the young girl for marriage in the future. Since the moran and his beaded girl are relatives, and the girl is uncircumcised, both marriage and pregnancy are forbidden. In case of a pregnancy, the pregnancy has to be terminated. In recent years, changes are beginning to take place to erradicate early marriages and FGM so the girls may remain in school.
Women in the village often gather together to bead necklaces, carve calabashes, and weave sisal mats for manyatta rooftops. It is where gossip and discussions take place, and where children learn from their elders.
Within the course of two years, power lines that cut across the Samburu landscape were built by the Kenya-Ethiopia Electricity Highway Project. It involves the construction of a 1,068km-long power transmission line from Ethiopia to Kenya. The project estimated to serve approximately 870,000 Kenyan households by 2018, and 1.4 million households by 2022.
The Samburu practice a classification system divided into generations. Each generation is set when a mass male circumcision takes place. There are currently 6 generations living, the second youngest being Lkishami who were circumcised during 2006. The Lkishami are on the cusp of change. Some follow in strict accordance to tradition, while others are what they call Literates; those that go to school and are educated.
Literates are defined as those who went to school. Education was far and in-between amongst the Samburu community until the current generation of warriors. As drought increases, the older generations are rethinking their ways to get more education into the community.
Bachelor's Pad. After circumcision, there is a period when the morans lead a bachelor life in accordance to tradition. During that time, they are encouraged to live on their own in the bush. As tradition shifts, this Lkishami moran lives on their own in a manyatta.
Scenes like this are still rare but becoming more frequent. Many Samburu girls do not attend school. The reasons are tied to the fabric of everyday life, which include household chores, tending livestock or searching and collecting water. Some also get married at a very young age. Semi-nomadicism also plays a part in inconsistency of attendance.
For the past few years, I have been returning to Kenya to work on a photo project with the Samburu in Northern Kenya. They are a close nit network of semi-nomatic communities with deep reliance on livestock and tribal way of life.
The Samburu were isolated from the rest of Kenya until a few years after independence in 1964. Their land was never a part of the highlands inhabited by colonists which allowed their culture and traditions to remain intact. This is changing rapidly in recent decades due to influx of the modern world- increase in road infrustructure, public transport, drifts into cities, widespread education and mobile networks.
The effects of climate change and multiple droughts are also impacting Samburu communities to restructure their way of life. Areas that were abundant in flora and fauna three decades ago is now arid dry most of the year. Due to these reasons, many are no longer relying on a purely pastoralist living. Family structures are also being divided into those that take care of livestock to those that go to school so that income may be balanced in times of drought. An influx of foreign NGO aid for access to clean water, education, women’s rights and wildlife conservation have also increased their associations with the Western world.
I met the Samburu by chance through one such organization associated with education. As a separate project, I began photographing and interviewing individuals in one community out of respect and curiosity for how they are co-existing with the modern world. With much learning and discussions, it became apparent that the younger generations of Samburu has one foot in tradition and the other foot in modern culture. As a person also from two opposing cultures, I felt connected to their undertaking, and it’s this transition and dual nature that I have been documenting for the past five years.