John Tyman's
Cultures in Context Series
AFRICAN HABITATS : 
FOREST, GRASSLAND AND SLUM 
Studies of the Maasai, the Luhya, and Nairobi's Urban Fringe
PART THREE : THE SAMBURU
32a. Woman's Work (II) : 421-438
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421. After milking the cows the women walk to the stream for water. Since cattle also come here to drink, the water is polluted ... which is one reason why so many children die when they are young (as little if any water is ever boiled enough to kill the bacteria).
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422. Originally women carried the water home in water-proofed baskets, or pots obtained through trade with other tribes. Today they use jerry cans, hung from leather straps. Their heads support the weight, much like porters in Nepal, though the stream may be an hourís walk from the village.
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423. To save time and effort, clothes are washed beside the stream, and rinsed in it later -- adding to the level of pollutants.
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424. People may wash themselves here too.
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425. Back at the village, some of this precious water will be used by other family members to wash themselves, but it will be used sparingly.
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426. They clean their teeth without toothbrushes or toothpaste -- breaking a stick from a bush, crushing its end, and using this to scrub their teeth several times a day. As a result, without a lot of sugars and soft drinks, folk here often have better teeth than people in Europe and America.
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427. Women also do all the cooking at home, and the cleaning, and they teach their daughters how to do these same chores when they grow up.
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428. Like the boys, young girls have time to play when they are infants, but they share in womenís work from an early age ... baby-sitting, for example.
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429. Their biggest chore is looking after the youngest animals, which are kept close to the village.
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430. They also maintain a watchful eye over the pregnant ewes and nanny goats, which are also kept close to home.
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431. And they will help with grazing and milking ... of cattle as well as sheep and goats.
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432. In their early teens they will spend lots of time flirting with boyfriends and may live with them in their manyatta --though they will be disgraced if they get pregnant. The years of flirting benefit them but little, however, for it is their parents who will decide who they marry and how much the groomís family will have to pay as a bride price. Eight to ten cows would be normal. The chances are, by the time they are 15 most girls will be married and bearing children.
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433. They will not be married to their boy friends, but to much older men. A man is only allowed to marry when he attains the rank of an elder: and only then will he have at his disposal the cattle needed to pay the bride price. Traditionally, a Samburu bride would be circumcised on the morning of her marriage. And hour or so later the groom would arrive with his age-mates bringing a bull, a cow and a sheep. The marriage contract would be finalized by the slaughter of the bull. Its meat would be divided up by the elders: and the next day the bride would pass between two rows of elders who spray her with milk as a sign of blessing as she leaves for her husbandís house.
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434. The life of a blacksmith (who does not progress through age grades in the normal way) is linked to that of women in two respects. Since he works with fire he is considered to be endowed with magic powers and may be called upon to preside at difficult births.
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435. But the blacksmith, in turn, needs help maintaining a blast of air through the goatskin bellows which raise the temperature of iron to the point where itís soft enough to work.
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436. And the energy needed to operate these pumps is provided by his mother or his wife.
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437. This is a customer checking on the sound of a new bell, made from a piece of steel pipe flattened at one end. It will be used to locate animals grazing in the bush.
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438. The blacksmith also makes spears and arrow heads -- typically today from steel reinforcing rods obtained from construction sites in town. (Arrow heads.)


AFRICA CONTENTS


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