In Kenya's Rift Valley, blood and bulls mark gateway to manhood

Wed Feb 10, 2016 6:03am EST
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By Siegfried Modola

BARINGO COUNTY, Kenya (Reuters) - In an isolated region in Kenya’s Rift Valley, young men spear a bull in a ceremony that marks a gateway to adulthood.

Far from the bustling capital of Nairobi, locals gather at dawn, men on one side, women on another, to witness the event in a community where cattle play a central part in life.

The men, aged between 18 and 20, are part of a small Pokot community of herdsmen who tend cows, goats, sheep, camels and donkeys in Baringo County. The initiation is called Sapana in the Pokot language.

A Reuters photo essay at shows the ritual killing of the bull, young Pokot men drinking clogged blood from its carcass, clashes between some initiates during the ceremony, the smearing of participants with the contents of the bull's stomach, and Pokot women dancing in celebration.

"In our culture, Sapana is the most important rite for a man to be able to gain authority within his community," says Hassan Tepa, an elder.

It is a jolting, three-hour drive to this region from the lowland town of Marigat, close to Lake Baringo. Kenya has about 620,000 Pokots, 2009 census statistics show, and some also live in neighboring Uganda’s Karamoja region.

As Kenya develops and more people migrate to the cities in search of work, such traditional practices are on the wane. However in this remote region, ceremonies such as Sapana still hold sway.

The ritual allows men to sit with local elders and take part in their community’s decision-making. Sapana also gives improved access to marriage, once the man and his family have accumulated a dowry of cattle.   Continued...

A young Pokot man sits on the ground after having been smeared with the contents of a bull's stomach by elders during an initiation ceremony in Baringo County, Kenya, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola