Samburu warriors rock art

  • IASbaba
  • October 27, 2022
  • 0
History and Art and Culture
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In News: Linnaeus University in Sweden and the University of Western Australia initiated a community-led project together with the Samburu to learn about their rock art tradition.


  • The Samburu people in northern Kenya’s Marsabit county are pastoralists.
  •  They migrate from place to place in search of pasture and water for their cattle, goats, sheep and camels.
  • As part of their lifestyle, at the age of 15, Samburu boys leave their villages and go through initiation rituals when they live in rock shelters, which mark the passing from childhood to warriorhood and learn about their protective duties.
  • During this time the young warriors — called lmurran — express themselves by painting images on the rocks.
  • This is one of very few ongoing rock art traditions in the world and therefore, presents a unique chance to know where, when, and why rock art was created.
  • Samburu rock art tradition commemorates real-life events related to the warrior life-world. They express the wishes and expectations of the young men and is made as a leisure activity.
  • Dancing is an important part of Samburu culture and some paintings depict boys and girls dancing together.
  • While there are indeed many rituals in Samburu culture, rock art is not part of such practices.
  • Certainly, there are norms guiding the creation of the rock art, but the artist is free to express himself if the images reflect young men’s experiences.

About Samburu art:

  • The images are made using red, white, yellow and black paint.
  • Before the arrival of Europeans in the 1940s the artists preferred a pigment of red ochre, which was also used for smearing their hair and bodies.
  • The white colour was animal fat, which turns light when it dries. To make black paint they used charcoal.
  • As a binder, all pigments were mixed with fat from slaughtered animals.
  • Today, commercial paint is also used along with more traditional pigments.
  • The oldest rock art the elders remembered was more than 150 years old.
  • When visiting the rock art sites, we saw an intriguing relationship between rock art made by different generations of warriors. Present warriors are inspired by older art, but add their own memories and style and sometimes also the names of the artists.
  • The images become an inter-generational visual culture that reflects and recreates a warrior identity and lifestyle.
  • The artists always have specific people, animals and objects in mind when making their drawings. This is not clearly expressed in the drawings as they lack identifying details.
  • Studying the images doesn’t reveal the artist’s intention. Many of the artworks reflect first hand experiences of the warriors. A bull figure, for example, depicts a bull they slaughtered and ate.


  • Rock art has been made for more than 60,000 years and it exists on every continent except the Antarctic.
  •  Papua New Guinea and parts of Australia are among the few other places where new rock art is still being created, maintained, or repainted like at the Samburu sites.
  • Ancient rock art images offer glimpses of human thoughts and beliefs from times when no written records existed.
  • Marsabit county in northern Kenya is a semi-desert which frequently experiences drought.

Source: Down to Earth

Previous Year Question

Q.1) With reference to the history of Indian rock-cut architecture, consider the following statements: (2013)

  1. The caves at Badami are the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India.
  2. The Barabar rock-cut caves were originally made for Ajivikas by Emperor Chandragupta Maurya
  3. At Ellora, caves were made for different faiths.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3


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