The Women of Rendilleland
The cycle of a woman’s life in the Rendille tribe is centered around life itself.
Sustaining the community. Taking care of familial needs. Building shelter. Educating her children. Feeding the family.
The life of a Rendille woman is deeply connected to family and to the environment. Each plagued with hard decisions. Which child can she afford to send to school? Should she spend a whole day searching for a week’s firewood or buy it for a hefty price? Each at what sacrifice?
The life cycle of woman has only two parts: childhood and wifehood. The former is preparing for the latter and the latter is taking care of the former.
The cycle of a man’s life is more complex (child, warrior, husband, elder) and is focused on protecting and preserving the community, and more importantly the camels (their sacred lifeblood).
As men grow older, elders have more time and spend hours every afternoon around the bola board playing games. When a group of Rendille women was asked what type of games they played they laughed and Maria Gu’duro said,
“Women have no time to play.”
The woman is in charge of creating and up keeping the hut, cooking, gathering firewood, taking care of the goats and small livestock, rearing children, and fetching water. Each task is vitally important to survival and incredibly hard work. Women walk to wells 5km away to fetch a day’s worth of water. Women walk even farther to collect wood for cooking, sometimes an entire day trek. Each evening they milk goats. The Rendille are a semi-nomadic tribe, so when the village moves the woman is in charge of moving and rebuilding the hut. To repair a small section of the roof takes around a month.
Growing up, children play games to prepare them for their adult life. Rock outlines of huts can be found scattered throughout the village where kids play “house”. Even as they play, older children can be found carrying their younger siblings on their backs.
Girls get married from the ages of 11-18 at a 9 camel dowry price. On their wedding day they are told to take care of their husbands (what they have been preparing for their whole life). Before a girl moves to her husband’s village, she can spend anywhere between 2 months to 2 years in her own village. Newlyweds dress in beautiful beaded necklaces and headbands; beads mean beauty in Rendilleland.
The Rendille equivalent of a wedding ring is a red and white beaded necklace called an irti ti orr. The red symbolizes camel blood and the white symbolizes camel milk; when the two are mixed they can never be separated. There is no divorce in Rendille culture and a woman may never remarry, even in the event of death.
Swari Eysimlukhumulkhaw, mother of 4, said “the most important thing in my life is taking care of my kids. Every woman has rudimentary work. There is nothing more, there is nothing special.
“It is a lot of work, but who will do it?”
Her question is not stemmed from discontent with her position in life and her community, but merely not knowing a way of doing life that would fit better. Swari, like most of the Rendille people, is happy with her place in life. Though they have material poverty, the only thing they really need is regular rain. The Rendille are content spending their days repairing roofs, cooking, and gossiping away with their neighbors. One place where you find the joy of the community bursting out is in their dancing. When the moon illuminates the desert like a dance floor one can find groups of Rendille warriors, husbands, and women dancing deep into the night. The dance parties are the overflow of a happy life spilling into the night. Women can even be found dancing or singing through work.
This piece strives to illustrate the daily life of a Rendille woman. Each woman pictured is dressed for daily living. Each photo was captured with the intention of telling a story. The color red is a residing theme in the piece, a symbol of womanhood and ferocity of love towards family and of being the true lifeblood of the community. The photos are arranged to represent the way Rendille have been living for thousands of years and will continue to do so in the same manner.