Why the Samburu of Northern Kenya are called Butterfly People

The local people that live in Samburu National Park are called ‘ Butterflies’ because of the beautiful colourful clothes they wear.


They are a proud race of semi-nomadic people who still maintain their warrior culture. Samburu also have a special and deep relationship with elephants. They believe that God created man and elephants as brothers and that elephants have special powers. Whenever they come across an elephant carcass, they’ll place pieces of grass or greenery on the skull of the animal as a sign of respect.


According to legend, the first elephant who lived with Samburu as their brother was working with a woman and she asked him to collect firewood. The elephant returned with giant logs and the woman got angry and told him to go back out and get more firewood as the logs were too big. Wanting to please the woman, he collected tiny twigs which could only heat an insect. The woman got angry again and she and the elephant began to quarrel. The woman threw her cow hide in the elephant’s face which is how he got his ears.  He then turned and fled and man and elephant remained apart forever.

Samburu people will only kill an elephant in defence although a few sadly have been lured by the prospect of money. If anyone is caught poaching in the Samburu community, they are banned from taking part in certain rituals, such as the great honour of being best man at someone’s wedding, because they are deemed ‘unclean’.

The Samburu revere the elephants so much that after marriage, the happy couple will light their first fire together using elephant dung. Samburu rely on the elephant for so many things – when the elephants break the trees, the Samburu get firewood; they use elephant dung for fires and when the elephants walk through the bush, they clear the path for Samburu.

A world without elephants would not only be a terrible tragedy for mankind, it would be the end of an important and symbiotic way of life for the Samburu people.



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