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Guns and the Repercussions of Mercy and Cowardice: Samburu small-scale warfare in the 21st Century (Kenya), Bilinda Straight (Western Michigan University)

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Anthropologie à Nanterre

Mardi 12 Décembre 2017 16:00 - 18:00

East African pastoralists like the Samburu are well known for their participation in coalitional lethal violence specifically framed in the terms of “cattle raiding.” Moreover, Samburu have often been quintessentially depicted in postcards, coffee table books, and the popular media either as generously adorned girls or else as glamorous bachelor warriors roaming the countryside engaging in livestock theft against their neighbors. While the portrayal is often oversimplified, the accuracy of certain aspects of this stereotype cannot be denied for contemporary Samburu in the lowlands particularly. After a prolonged initiation rite with circumcision at its center, the Samburu age system prescribes 7-14 years (ideally) of bachelor warriorhood during which Samburu lmurran (warriors) are expected to engage in hazardous long-distance cattle herding and protection of the community and its livestock, which can involve some theft or raiding of neighbors’ livestock. As in other East African raiding has historically been an important component of the construction of lmurran masculine identity.

In the twenty-first century, the proliferation of small arms, competition for political representation, and highly organized theft resulting in the movement of large numbers of livestock have considerably transformed Samburu warriorhood, including increasing the death toll. What are the emotional consequences of a masculinity that often requires combat and killing? This paper examines the emotional lives of these young men, focusing particularly on the construction of mercy and cowardice.