Morani - The Warriorhood Tradition of the Kenyan Tribes

The Samburu people from Northern Kenya are closely related to the people of the Maasai tribe in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania. Like most tribes of East Africa the Samburu and the Maasai practice a rigid classification system of their community into age sets and age grades. An age set describes a generation and each individual of the age set remains permanently attached to this set. The age grade (sometimes also called 'age class') describes a stage within the age set. It is the responsibility of the elders of a tribe to initiate a new age set with a specific new name. The initiation of a new age set is always accompanied by a big ceremony, which is certainly one of the most important events of a Maasai or Samburu man's life. The elders of a tribe also determine at which age the young boys enter their first important age grade, the age grade of the warriorhood. The Maa language of the Samburu and Maasai for "warrior" is "moran".


The passage into the warriorhood roughly takes place at the age of fourteen or fifteen, sometimes also as late as eighteen. A circumcision ceremony marks the important graduation from childhood to a junior moran. The new generation of warriors is from now on responsible to protect the villages, the families and the cattle from predators or attacks from other tribes. At the same time they are also in charge to raid cattle from neighboring or rivaling tribes. The warriors guard the cattle when grazing or move with the cattle to remote cattle places in order to find water in dry season.

Historically it was expected that a moran killed a lion armed with nothing more than a spear. However, this is not allowed anymore and the Kenyan government as well as the Kenya Wildlife Service is very strict in the protection of the wildlife. The junior warriors are not allowed to eat with their families in their home villages. Usually they live in the bush while guarding the cattle, or they live in special moran manyattas. The morans wear long hair often dyed by red ochre. They also wear elaborate hair dresses with beads, ostrich feathers and head bands. Especially for dances and ceremonies they paint their faces and bodies with red ochre.

After roughly 7 to 10 years the junior warriors pass on to the status of a respected senior warrior. They are still responsible to protect the villages, but they are also expected to go back to their villages, marry and raise a family. The senior warriors instruct the next generation of the junior warriors in cattle raiding, war tactics and hunting. In their early thirties they eventually leave the age grade of the morans to become a junior elder and therefore a respected person in their village.

Meanwhile 60-70% of the Maasai and Samburu children go to school. However, at school they are not allowed to wear traditional clothes or long hair. The teachers are mostly hired from the government, often from another tribe and always very strict in pushing the official public school rules. Unless of course it is a rural community school, but in order to get money from the government the local Samburu or Maasai teachers more or less have to follow the same rules. In practice it means, that basically a young Maasai or Samburu moran has to choose between the traditional lifestyle and a proper education. Unfortunately very often the decision is not theirs, because the father decides if the son goes to school or is needed in the village to guard and protect the cattle. An uneducated moran cannot speak English or Swahili, and he cannot read or write. However, the educated warriors with shaved hair and western clothes try to experience the old traditions at least a bit by joining the dances, weddings and other ceremonies in their villages.