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Cultural Safari

Lake Baringo is the traditional home of the Njemps people.

The Njemps are linguistically related to both the Maasai and the Samburu, and possibly genetically related to one, or both of these tribes. The Njemps have many clear cultural associations to both groups, and there are several theories as to their actual origin. One possibility is that the Njemps are descended from a Samburu clan known as the Il-Doigo, while another theory sees them as descendants of a Maasai clan driven out of the Laikipia area by inter-clan warfare.

Whatever their origins, the tribe moved into an area known as Njemps (the south and west shores of Baringo) and adopted this name. While maintaining many of the customs of the Maasai and Samburu nomads, the Njemps developed a very different lifestyle. Eschewing nomadic movement, they became sedentary agriculturists. Even though the soil around Baringo is not particularly fertile, they developed an effective system of irrigation and grew crops on the shore of the lake.

Throughout the late 19th Century, they sold their produce to passing caravans of explorers and traders, and this successful business led to them refining and developing their agricultural skills. Once again, this form of trade was completely alien to their Maasai and Samburu relations.

But the Njemps most significant break with tradition was the adoption of fishing. To a Maasai or Samburu, the eating of fish is completely taboo. Even today most Maasai or Samburu will refuse to touch, let alone eat, a fish and will react to the very suggestion with revulsion.


Yet the Njemps took advantage of the abundant supply of fish in Baringo (mostly the common tilapia) and they became a major part of both their diet and their trade. They build a distinctive fishing canoe from a local reed called ambatch, bound together with sisal rope. These boats are paddled with a pair of small hand paddles. the craft look extremely unstable and flimsy, but the Njemps routinely use them to transport heavy loads and live goats and sheep across the lake.

The Njemps often fish on the shore using nets and lines, and have no fear whatsoever of the lakes many crocodiles. Despite this, some attacks have been recorded, so visitors should not swim in the Lake.

If you are visiting Baringo, you will pass by many Njemps villages while exploring the shores or Ol Kokwe island.
See general information on this region....
Related Links
See Maasai culture
See Samburu culture
View Traditional Art



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