The People with the Swimming Cows
The Njemps -- also known as the Il Chamus -- are the smallest tribe living in the immediate vicinity of Lake Baringo. They've been based here, on the lake's eastern shore, since the 1700s. Since then, their proximity to such an abundance of fish has meant that they've changed from being purely pastoralists into fishermen. They use ambatch (balsa wood) to make their small, simple boats, known as gadich, and are a familiar sight upon the lake surface, although the best time to meet them out on the water is in the early morning, since they usually spend all night fishing.
Traditionally, during times of drought, they take their livestock to the islands, where they'll have at least some access to grazing. They ferry their sheep and goats by boat, but their cows must swim there. To make sure the bovine beasts know where they're going, they're led to their destination by the "head cow," a special, privileged animal that, perhaps for its navigational prowess and instinctive leadership ability, is never slaughtered for meat.
It's possible to arrange a visit to a Njemps homestead, based at any of the camps or island lodges on or around Baringo. The people you meet can demonstrate how they build their boats, construct their simple dwellings, and smoke the fish they catch. And, of course, you'll see where they keep those very special swimming cows.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Called mdiga in Swahili, the desert rose (found in the northern, arid parts of Kenya's Rift Valley) is not a rose, but a shrub that looks suspiciously like a miniature baobab tree. As the name suggests, these handsome, hardy plants can survive in hot, arid conditions -- when in bloom, their pretty pink flowers are particularly striking. As beautiful as this "rose" can be, however, be warned that such looks are deceiving -- its sap is deadly and is traditionally used by African tribespeople as a poison for their arrows. Unfortunately, such knowledge has not been wasted on poachers, who have been known to use the poisonous roots to kill elephants. In a less threatening context, the plant has been used traditionally to detick cattle.
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