1977 / 52 minutes

Directed by
Chris Curling
Country of production
United Kingdom
Disappearing World Series

The Rendille are camel herders who live in villages and camps dotted over 10,000 square miles of desert and scrub bush in Northern Kenya. As the terrain they occupy is so dry, the Rendille grow no crops and their cultural and economic life is centred on their animals. As with other pastoral peoples, the Rendille have to be sensitive to the ever-shifting relationship between humans, animals and ‘natural’ resources in order to maintain a suitable balance between them. Throughout the year the Rendille have to follow the grazing and rains, dividing their herds between camel camps and semi-permanent village settlements: long-term planning and decision-making are therefore crucial and this film brings out the manner in which the elders make their decisions. Each man gives his opinion and is listened to attentively until eventually a consensus is reached. The role of the sexual division of labour and the age-set system is explained in commentary, interviews and visual sequences, in a way which allows the viewer insights in the various interacting levels of Rendille social structure. Sequences detailing the ritual activities surrounding the naapo ceremony (which marks a young man’s transition to elderhood) are given towards the end of the film, after explanation of the fact that young men have to live in camel camps for about 14 years, while girls look after sheep and goats living in settlements with women and elders. In this way the building of symbolic villages by moran, each man making his own `home’ with stones representative of wife and children before sacrificing a goat, is denied status as exotic spectacle: the subtitled comments of the naapo participants convey their feelings of embarrassment and uncertainty about the ritual procedure and allow a visual statement to be made about the relationship of ritual to every-day life. The importance of the purely visual images in conveying a sense of vast desert space, of a daily life filled with the movement and sight of camels, sheep and goats, and of the social effects of village layout, is not to be underestimated. Although this colour film could be criticised for at times beautifying and softening the rough edges of pastoral life, its power as a statement of what it means to exist as a Rendille is very much a property of the camera work. The skilled usage of cinema verite techniques, combined with full subtitling of interviews, gives to this film an integrity and sensitivity which serves to reinforce its concern for the Rendille and its anxiety that for the Kenyan authorities the Rendille are a problem and an embarrassment.

P.T.W. Baxter, 1977. Review of the film. RAIN, 20, pp. 7–9.

Language and subtitles
English with English Subtitles
East Africa
Herding Animals Social Organisation Everyday Life

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