AFRICAN WARRIORS by Thomasin Magor


The Samburu
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 An intimate, sometimes striking photo-essay detailing the folkways of the Samburu, a warrior-based society of northern Kenya. Magor, a Kenyan-born model who studied design in England, lived among the Samburu for six years, recording the daily rhythms and significant ceremonies of this traditional culture, whose members depend on herds of cattle, goats, and camels for their survival. Living in semi-arid scrublands, the Samburu follow rigidly circumscribed patterns that dictate age- and gender-based divisions of labor, family and social organization, and the timing and enactment of rites of passage. The book's principle focus is on lmurran, the young warriors whose duties are to guard the community and its herds. Flamboyantly attired in ivory earrings, colored beads, bracelets, and feathers, their faces and upper bodies smeared with red ocher, they are photographed leaning upon their spears, chanting and leaping during a warrior's dance, and slitting a cow's vein for blood (which, along with milk and meat, forms the diet of the Samburu). Having gained the trust of her subjects, Magor photographed the circumcision rights performed on teenage boys, as well as the preparations for and aftermath of female circumcision performed on young girls before marriage. These pictures and their accompanying captions may be jarring to Western sensibilities, but Magor's writing is dispassionate and informative. Her camera also chronicles wedding ceremonies; rituals denoting the passage from warrior status to elder status (at which time a man can marry and take part in council meetings); and, poignantly, a private ceremony performed on a riverbank by a mother whose son is ready to move from her home. Also photographed or described are the more prosaic features of Samburu life: care of livestock, the hierarchial arrangement of huts in the villages based on the status of the elders, and the harsh but beautiful Kenyan landscape. With over 200 color photos, this is a well-documented record of one of the last remaining societies of its kind.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8109-1943-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Abrams
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994