Fishing Masai

Lake Baringo is not only spectacularly beautiful because it sits in the center of the Rift Valley and is surrounded by highlands on both sides. It is also of interest culturally because it is home to the Njemps people.

With the arrival of the Europeans just over 100 years ago the Maa peoples of Kenya were displaced from Laikipia and other areas that they originally occupied and pushed into Narok, Kajiado and Samburu. A smaller sub tribe called Ilchamus in their mother tongue ended up on the shores of Lake Baringo. It was the white man who called them Njemps because Ilchamus was rather torturous on his heavy tongue and the name stuck to this day. The name Baringo actually stems from a Njemps word, Emparingo which means ‘lake’. And it was the white man who found it cumbersome to pronounce Emparingo, hence Baringo.  They number about 35,000 and are closely related to the Samburu.

They are the only people of Maasai origin who double up as both pastoralists and fisher men. Traditionally the eating of fish was taboo to the Maa peoples and there is a theory that the people in this area were forced into fishing when they lost all of their cattle during a great drought in the early 20th Century.

A Njemps man might have a small stool, ngorika, which served the dual role of a pillow and a ng’udi (walking stick). And he would wear ngorigi (beads) around his neck and mintoi (wooden plugs) in his slit ears. Sadly these traditions are fast becoming a throw-back to a past that is gradually being lost even among these conservative people due to the advancement of modernization. Slit ears are still a common sight, but mintoi have virtually disappeared as have ngorigi. Equally rare are men’s stools also being used as pillows.

The impact of civilisation among the Njemps is such that missionary educated elders who had their ears slit have had them stitched up as is the case with Paramount Chief Nabori.