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Lemarti’s Camp – The Cultural Oasis

May 11, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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Lemarti’s Camp, located in the Kenya’s Northern Laikipia Plateau, was our second destination in East Africa. The majestic Laikipia is one of the last undiscovered frontiers of the wildest Africa. The local Samburu people own the land and live in harmony with the animals, while the ecosystem remains intact. The fascinating cultural experience we had with the Samburu people at Lemarti’s camp made this camp a very unique place compared to the others.

Before I begin to tell about the experiences at the camp I must tell you about the actual camp itself and the people that run it. The camp is owned by Lemarti, a local Samburu, and his famous fashion designer wife Anna Trzebinski. Anna designed the entire camp and created a sense of style and luxury without the use of power or running water. Light at night comes from candles and lanterns and “the loo is made from elephant jawbones” as Anna would said. You truly feel secluded from the world being the only camp in the area, surrounded by fig trees, local villages, and wildlife. Her spectacular work, all Kenyan produced, made this place an unforgettable oasis in the shadow of Mount Kenya. Anna and Lemarti’s camp is a true reflection of their life together. Her life before him was very different, and the tragedy of her former husbands murder in Nairobi led her where she is today. Anna has one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever heard, you can read one of the many articles written about here.

The camp is run by owner Lemarti and his best friend Boniface, another local Samburu. Both Boniface and Lemarti were the most entertaining, wild, true to their roots people we met in Africa. As we spent our entire visit there with them, they truly demonstrated to us how the African people live and survive. Boniface showed us various plants used as medicine, and how the local people in their area climb the trees and collect honey comb from the village beehives. During our game drive through the bush there was a bull who had been killed by hyenas, and before we knew what was going on Lemarti and Boni had jumped out of the car and cut a piece of the remaining bone marrow and started eating it. The way of life here is obviously very different from anywhere else in the world, and to spend a few days soaking up their traditions was unbelievable. As I’m sure you can imagine we aren’t the only people to find their ways of living completely fascinating… National Geographic did a series on them and here are a few clips I found from it.

The Samburu people, who are related to the Maasi, are the aristocrats of the nomadic tribes. Cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are the most important to Samburu people and their culture, as they are extremely dependent on animals for their survival. Their diet consists mostly of milk and blood from their cows. The Samburu’s settlements are called manyattas, which are several huts surrounded by a thorny fence for protection of themselves and their animals from the wildlife. The huts are made from mud, cow dung, grass, sticks, and anything else that can be found and used.

The Samburu live in groups of five to ten families. Traditionally men look after the cattle and they are also responsible for the safety of the tribe. As young warriors they defend the tribe from any attack by man or animal. Samburu boys learn to tend cattle and hunt at a young age. Samburu women are in charge of gathering roots and vegetables, caring for their children, collecting water, and maintaining their homes. Samburu girls generally help their mothers with their chores. Entry into both manhood and womanhood is marked with circumcision.

Samburu, meaning butterfly, are known to be beautiful people by surrounding tribes. They wear a Shukka, which is a red cloth wrapped around as a skirt, as their traditional dress. Allotting with the Shukkas many colorful beads are worn in the forms of necklaces, earrings, and brackets. The jewelry is worn by both men and women, but only the women make it.

In the Samburu culture dancing is very important. Their dances consist of jumping very high from a standing position and dancing in circles while singing together. No instruments are used. Men and women do not dance in the same circles, but they do coordinate their dances. This goes along with the way they conduct their village meetings as well. Men sit in an inner circle to make decision, and women sit around the outside to give their opinions.

This amazing camp taught us more than we could have ever imagined. Learning about the ways of life and tribes in Africa was an awing experience. When taking a trip to Africa you often just think of the animals, but getting to know the people and how they survive in this wilderness is fascinating beyond belief.


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