Friendship Sticks at Segera

Aug 19, 2011 |  Kenya |  Laikipia |  Segera Retreat
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15 August was a special day on Segera. We were going about our daily routine, when we got word of mid-morning visitors at the main gate - members of the neighbouring Samburu community. It was immediately clear that this was no ordinary visit as they showed up with the head of security flanked by two boys clad in black and smeared in goat fat as well as two morans (Samburu warriors), one wearing a t-shirt with the words 'US Army' on it and another, dressed in the dress of a moran - shirtless with a traditional blanket wrapped around his waist. The morans had called on the head of security with a special request. They wanted permission to cut sticks from trees. The head of security could not however grant their request without consulting with the Zeitz Foundation conservation team on Segera.

For the past two years the Zeitz Foundation has worked very hard to encourage and actively participate in reforestation programmes around Segera so one can understand the initial hesitation from the security personnel to grant the morans' request. The fact that the morans were actively seeking permission to cut trees was in itself a 4Cs milestone on Segera as this was not the case a few years back when unauthorised felling of trees was the norm rather than the exception. But, what did these morans want the trees for?

August is circumcision season for the Samburu and is a ceremony that occurs once every 10 years. For the Samburu, the community's age-sets are highly structured and circumcision marks a boy's admission into the warrior class. Every boy that is eligible for circumcision needs 10 straight sticks, which they call friendship sticks. Friendship sticks are highly valuable to the newly circumcised who will only give them to people they consider very good friends once they are healed. These sticks are also used in a courting ritual by newly initiated boys. A boy will put some sticky goo on the front end of his stick and gently poke at a girl near the ankle. If the girl likes the boy, she will give him a beaded item. Many in the community compete for these sticks.

These are the trees the morans and the boys were requesting to harvest.

Having received permission from the Zeitz Foundation conservation team, the party was then taken to the ZF Conservation Unit Rangers who accompanied them to the nearby thickets of magic guarri (Euclea divinorum), of which we have a number here at Segera. Magic guarri is a shrub or small tree up to about 6 m tall. It is a species common in bush, dry forest margins, thorn-scrub and open woodlands and with the speed it is growing, cutting a few branches would not have a negative impact on the greater ecological area.

Thirty minutes later they returned, a happy lot, with the friendship sticks in hand. A cherished cultural requirement would now be fulfilled and twenty special friends would get a "Segera" memento of friendship.


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