Reaching the El Molo village on the remote north-eastern shores of Lake Turkana is no easy task but when you get there, a whole new world opens up as ALLAN OLINGO found out
Travelling to El Molo on Loyangalani road is not for the faint hearted. It’s a journey that takes a minimum of two days, from Nairobi covering over 500-kilometres of largely rocky surface.
|An El Molo man admires his catch from the lake. [Photos: Martin Mukangu /Standard]|
When you arrive in the villages, mounds of huge stones welcome you, and you might get confused thinking they have been arranged for pick up by construction workers. But no, they are graves. The cemetery area is what you get to see first, as you drive in to this village.
Welcome to certainly one of the smallest tribes in Kenya. There is a big riddle about the total population of the El Molo community. While some estimate their total population to be a paltry 200, ‘Captain’ Guya, the patriarch of this community informs us that they number around 700, as he welcomes everyone.
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A strange thing about the El Molo is that they don’t disclose the population of their community. When I pressed Captain Guya, he said disclosing their exact number endangers them more. Many have over the years been assimilated by their neighbours, the Samburu, Rendille and the Turkana from intermarriages.
“The pure El Molo here are few. With increased access to modern medicine and intermarriages with neighbouring Turkana and Samburu, this tribe that once faced extinction has increased in population, but only out of intermarriages,” Sharon Mwelu of the National Museums of Kenya informs us.
The El Molo people live in small villages on the south-eastern shore of Lake Turkana. They construct their rounded huts with palm fronds supported using thin strips of wood. The huts have the manyattas shape, but the difference is that they do not have the cow dung smeared on them.
Like the Samburu, the El Molo women wear necklaces and bracelets made of coloured beads and most of the time, they sit behind their houses, or close to the ‘open market’ area, where they wait for the tourists to buy their ornaments.
The name El Molo, Guya informed us came from a Maasai phrase meaning “Those who make a living from other sources other than cattle”.
Unlike the Samburus and Turkanas, the El Molo do not wholly depend on livestock for their livelihood.