Alex Saning’o (in red shuka) with Lazaro Tokore, a colleague plaits Patience Agrrey, a regular client at their salon at Buxton in Mombasa County

As a young Moran in the plains of Oloitoktok, Kajiado County, Alex Saning’o never imagined  he would one day be plaiting hair for a living.

Saning’o moves his 28-year-old hands with seamless dexterity as he works on a client’s hair. His mastery of a job he has been doing for the past eight years is noticeable as he effortlessly adds a new strand of braid as we talk.

“As a young Moran, my constant dream was to own a huge herd of cattle. But I did not know I will have to travel a winding route to get there,” says Saning’o, one of the group of eight Morans who operate a salon near a matatu stage in Buxton, Mombasa. 

Back in the day, Saning’o and his friends spent hours twisting each other’s hair as the cattle grazed on the planes of Oloitoktok and, “I never imagined the art of plaiting, which we call enjarare in Kimaasai would one day be my source of livelihood.” 

Inside Saning’o’s salon hang braids of brown, black and golden colours. There are also posters with pictures of different styles of braids.

On a good day, Saning’o and his colleagues can plait up to 20 customers.

“We could hardly get three customers in a week when we started out in 2007. But today we attend to up to 20 customers on a good day,” says Saning’o, adding that the better returns from the plaiting hair has had many Morans migrating to towns as opposed to taking traditional jobs of guarding.

Saning’o says although there are currently many Morans in the plaiting business, creativity and speed have given him an edge. “It costs Sh2,000 to do the small braids and Sh1000 for the thick braids,” says Saning’o. The Sh2,000 fee is labour fee and excludes cost of braids which the client bears. “Working on tiny braids consumes more time hence the higher price. One person can plait up to three customers in a day,” he explains.

He says business peaks from Thursday through the weekend and it is at the lowest from Monday to Wednesday.

Saning’o and his colleagues invest the proceeds from plaiting in livestock. They have better returns. “Some of us use the money we make from the business to buy cattle to boost our herds. There are those of us who are in chamas (merry go round) from where they target a lump sum to buy cattle or start business,” he says, adding “I had five cows, 25 goats, 15 sheep when I started out in 2007. Now I have 40 cows and 100 goats and sheep thanks to plaiting.” 

“I buy cows between Sh5,000- 10,000 each and sell them at Sh30, 000 each. I normally take a few days off to increase stock when I accumulate a reasonable amount of money,” says Saning’o adding that a fully grown goat can fetch up to Sh3,000.

A quick calculation shows Saning’o’s herd is worth over Sh1 million, a feat he casually dismisses saying a good number of people in his Oloitoktok countryside own a herd of a thousand cattle or even more.

“I look forward to owning a huge herd and this dream keeps me motivated to work harder every day,” he says.

Saning’o who enjoys chatting with friends in the evening advises the youth not to be selective on jobs as long as it helps them put food on the table. “I love this job for it has helped provide for my family and boost my herd back at home,” said Saning’o’s colleague Lazaro Tokore, 30. “I love this job as it enables me fend for my family and my parents,” said Daniel Lengere, Saning’o’s colleague who has been plaiting for three years now.

The clients like them for their speed and artistry. “I like how they plait fast and accurately,” said Celine Kinya, “I think I will turn heads.”