By MWANGI NDIRANGU
- Beads are fascinating for the visitor, but for the girls of Samburu they signify bondage
Visitors often marvel at the beauty of the colourful beads worn by women in the Samburu community. For Rampaini Letereuwa, however, the red beads that adorn her neck are a source of big trouble.
The 13-year-old is pregnant, and her relatives intend to kill the baby when it is born this month.
“I know my baby will be thrown away into the forest to die or be killed like many others who have been subjected to a similar fate,” said Letereuwa, through an interpreter at her parents’ home near ol Donyiro market in Isiolo district.
She has never been to school and, like some other girls her age or even younger, Letereuwa is a “child bride,” having been temporarily married off to a Samburu warrior (moran) in a traditional practice known as aishontoyie saen (beading).
Once a girl is beaded, which literally means being adorned with necklaces by a moran, her parents build her a house where the moran, usually a relative, is allowed to engage in sexual activity with her.
Different beads carry different meanings. Engaged girls wear red beads.
Girls who are not engaged and those who are married wear beads of mixed colours. White beads signify purity and health, black means hardship while orange plus yellow is a sign of hospitality.
“A certain colour of beads is used by a moran to temporarily marry a girl from his clan,” says councillor Moses Lerosion of ol Donyiro ward.
He adds: “When a girl is beaded, she is not supposed to become pregnant because she is not circumcised and our community believes that an uncircumcised woman should not give birth.”
The practice of Female Genital Mutilation remains prevalent within the Samburu community.
The necklaces to bead the girls cost about Sh10,000 and are normally purchased in Nairobi shops.
“The morans normally conduct raids and steal animals from neighbouring communities to enable them raise money to buy the beads,” Peter Lekurtut, the Kipsing ward councillor, said.
An ol Donyiro elder, Loitipitip Lemantile, 69, says a majority of parents in the area still consider the beading of their daughters by morans as a show of great respect.
“After successful raids, the moran could give his in-laws cattle and give the girl’s mother nyiri nyiri (special meat boiled in fat),” explains Mr Lemantile.
He added that the beaded girl is always free to get married to any other suitor because in all cases, the girl and the moran are from the same clan and marriage is prohibited.
Ms Orietta Lemungesi, a woman leader, says an impregnated girl is seen as an outcast, leading to induced abortion using crude methods such as pressing the womb with rough objects, the knees and elbows.
In case an ‘unwanted’ child is born, it is either abandoned in the forest or given up for adoption in another community.
Ms Lemungesi is currently taking care of a four-month-old baby who was born through beading and rejected by its relatives.
However, not all girls end up conceiving as a result of beading.
Marion Nalarin, 26, she was beaded for six years from 1992 by a moran named Samaki Lepalo.
In 1998, she got married to Nalarin Lepiranto and they now have three children.
Marion told Saturday Nation that it was miraculous that she did not conceive all that time.
“During sex, Samaki used the withdrawal method. I did not understand what it was all about then. I only came to learn what he was doing a few years later when he explained that if I had conceived, the baby was not supposed to live,” she said through an interpreter.
She says she is now happily living with her husband at Mlima Chui village, about three kilometres from Ol Donyiro.
The moran who beaded her also got married and now lives in Kipsing with his family, 20 kilometres away.
Some girls, like 19-year-old Sylvia Kirendi, were forced to flee their home to escape the practice.
“I ran away from home and went to a Catholic priest who took me to a missionary school many miles away from home,” she said.
She has now completed her primary school education at Tinderet School in Nandi District.
Some elites in the area are worried that the oppressive culture of beading has refused to fade away.
A local religious leader, Father Angelo Guchu, termed the practice inhuman. “This practice dehumanises the girls and the killing of the babies is tantamount to murder,” said Father Guchu.
Ol Donyiro area chief, Joseph Leparmorijo admitted that the culture of beading is prevalent in the area.
“This issue of beading will only go away when we encourage our people to be educated,” said Josephine Kulea, a nurse from the Samburu community.
“In our community, a girl child is like an object. It is high time our people came out to fight these outdated practices, whi
ch have no meaning in modern life.”
Ms Kulea, 27, has rescued 13 girls from forced marriages in the last two years.
“My dream is to start a rescue centre where girls who stand up against these cultural rites can find refuge away from their parents and community,” she said.
“Isiolo County Council has given out a piece of land for that purpose and, with donor support, we are sure we shall have a rescue home soon,” said the officer.
Isiolo district children officer Mr Maube Nabakwe says beading is against the Children’s Act of 2001.
However, he is quick to point that his office is ill equipped in terms of personnel and facilities to fight the vice so rampant in the remote areas of the expansive Isiolo district.
“We can have the parents arrested and jailed. But if we do not have a home where we can take the rescued girls, then it might turn out to be a futile activity.
However, Mr Nabakwe says there is hope since local leaders have come together and there are plans to put up a centre for victims of beading in the district.
Meanwhile, young Letereuwa remains worried about her growing bulge.
“After impregnating me, the moran went away,” she said. “Although my parents have pledged to support me bring up the child once it is born, I don’t believe this will happen.”