A celebration of culture at Loiyangalani

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Rendille dancers perform at the festival Pictures: By A Correspondent 

Posted  Monday, May 30   2011 at  00:00

A cool wind blows and raises some dust in the afternoon sun in this far flung town of Loiyangalani in one of Kenya’s remotest northern regions. The imposing mountains in the backdrop and the clear blue skies give an illusion of tranquillity.

But tranquillity is just an illusion here, since the surrounding villages suffer occasional of cattle raids and cases of banditry. But as they say here on the southeastern shores of Lake Turkana, life has to go on.

Loiyangalani in the Samburu language means a place where the weak seek refuge. This is why it is not only home for the seven communities living here, but also their sanctuary.

On any given day, the people of Loiyangalani would be going about their business — herding livestock, playing bao or attending to household chores unfazed by the intrusion of visitors who either drive or fly here.

But this afternoon, this small town which has has featured in several Hollywood productions — Ghost and the Darkness, White Maasai, The Air up There, Mogambo and The Constant Gardener — has an air of excitement about it. It is festival time. That is, the annual Loiyangalani Festival.

It is around 4pm but the temperatures have soared to 40 degrees centigrade. People are thronging the venue and some have already surrounded the centre stage.

The dignitaries most of whom have flown in from Nairobi have already taken their seats. Anytime, the festival will start.

Away from the centre stage is a blacksmith banda showing how communities here produce their traditional armoury and on the opposite end under a shed is a group of elders both from the Turkana and Samburu communities playing bao, a popular pastime game among the communities here.

In no time, the Samburu musicians majestically walk onto the centre stage, with a colourful blend of red, yellow and green attire and jewellery.

Tucked in the crowd, 25-year-old Samuel Loperito is trying to catch a glimpse of the Samburu dance troupe. Himself a Samburu, Loperito is full of praise for his culture saying it is one of the richest and has stood the test of time from Western influence.

“You see, that is what our culture is made of. This is a great song by my people. This is our culture and at least we now have the opportunity to show it to the world through this festival,” he says.

Clad in brown hide cloth and colourful head feather gear, ankle bells and a stick in their hand, the Samburu women sway to the rhythm of the song complementing the slight jumping of the of the men.

The dance is filled with some raw emotions, almost seductive, but not like that of the Gabbra that Rebecca Ntoyelai, a Samburu would say is as sexy as the ones seen among most Ethiopian communities.

Ntoleyai says unlike her Samburu community, the Gabbra’s dressing-usually in all white is quite outstanding. It is only at a time like this that young people like Loperito get to see a display of cultural dance from the neighbouring communities. The festival offers a rare coming together of cultures.

Even though intermarriage is common among the communities here, they hardly share songs and dances or even blacksmith’s wisdom.

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