Are the Ilchamus (Njemps) of Kenya nearing Extinction?


Njemps -Ilchamus-Maasai word meaning people who can see the future.
This is a small tribe from the maa people living south and south east of Lake Baringo in Kenya regarded as a minority group in the world and is closely related to the Samburu living more to the north-east in the Rift Valley Province. Njemps are descendants from a Samburu clan known as the Il-Doigo, while theories consider them as descendants of a Maasai clan driven out of the Laikipia area and live around the shores of Lake Baringo, within Baringo Central constituency.

Way of life

This tribe, are  people who are the only pastoral as they practice cattle herding and also are involved in fishing activities for their sustenance and practice agriculture alongside  using irrigation systems to farm at the shores of Lake Baringo and practice less nomadic movement.

njemps baringoDuties and roles in family

Adult men take care for the grazing cattle as this the major source of livelihood while maintain the portable huts, milking cows, obtaining water and gathering firewood. Houses are of built up of mud and thatched houses of grass mats stretched over a frame of poles. A fence of thorns surrounds each family’s cattle yard.
Great importance is given to the preparation of gifts by the bridegroom and these are two goatskins, two copper earrings a container for milk, and a sheep for the ceremony. The marriage is concluded when a bull enters a hut guarded by the bride’s mother, and is killed.

Fertility is of much importance for this community. A fertility ritual involves placing a mud figure in front of the woman’s house. And later, a feast will be given in which the husband invites neighbors to eat a slaughtered bull with him. As a little fat is spread over the woman’s belly so that God may give the woman a child
Duties of boys and girls are clearly outlined. Boys herd cattle and goats and learn to hunt, defending the flocks. Girls fetch water and wood and cook.

Initiation rituals


Island Camp in L. Baringo near Ilchamus tribe in Kenya.

In this community we still have boys and girls going through an initiation into adulthood, which involves training in adult responsibilities and circumcision for both boys and girls though the government is still educating the community of the dangers of girl circumcision.

Initiation is done in age grades of about five years, with the new “class” of boys becoming warriors, or morans. The Moran status are divided into two categories, these are senior and junior. After serving five years as junior morans, the group goes through a naming ceremony, to be initiated to becoming senior morans for six years. After these eleven years, the senior Moran is free to marry and join the married men (junior elders).

L. Baringo Hippos

Hippos at L. Baringo near Ilchamus (Njemps) Tribe in Kenya

Ilchamus are very independent. Community decisions are normally made by old men often under a tree sitting session. Women may sit in an outer circle and usually not to speak openly to the council but may convey a comment or concern through a male relative. However, women may have their own meetings and take it to the old men council for the final decision to be pronounced.

The Ilchamus love to sing and dance, but use no instruments. They have dances for various occasions of life and rituals. The men dance jumping and high jumping from a standing position is a great sport. Most dances involve the men and women dancing separately from each other.

Njemps l. baringo

Illchamus Woman fishing with an locally made boat in L. Baringo


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