Boys with birds

Development of a Samburu Cultural Archive

The Samburu County government is in the process of establishing a Cultural Centre with an official archive. The Samburu Lowlands Research Station is working closely with the County on that project, and all research documents and artefacts deposited with the Samburu Lowland Research Station will be shared with that entity once it opens. We are affiliated with a sister research station in Maralal in the Samburu Highlands, and we will also be sharing with that research station. Until the Country facility is opened, we have agreed with the County that the Research Station(s) should collect documents and artefacts at the on its behalf.

Unless you specify otherwise, materials deposited with the Samburu Lowlands Research Station will be assumed to be deposited under the Creative Commons (CC) licensing standard. The CC licensing standard is used by major museums and other institutions internationally to enable the public to benefit from their intellectual property. If you do not wish to share under CC licensing standards then you must mark each digital file with the word “restricted” and file the nature of the restrictions with the Research Station along with the deposited material.


The Samburu Lowlands Research Station is working with members of the local community and with Samburu academics to develop a code of ethics that reflect the highest standards of practice for researchers undertaking anthropological, ethnographic, ethnobotanical, or any other kind of investigation from the Research Station, as well as further policies pertaining to community intellectual property. This page of initial guidelines will develop over time through that collaborative work.

Underlying Ethos

There are two concepts that drive the ethics and policies concerning research conducted at our Station.

1. Recognition that the skills and information that are shared with you by community members is intellectual property that belongs to the individuals and the community at large.

Most of the people you will be working with are illiterate, so they cannot write down their knowledge to share with their children, even if they wanted to, and have little or no access to recording equipment or locations to deposit objects and artefacts. We are asking that certain kinds of information that you take from the community be shared with the community in the form you have recorded them, so that the individuals you film, photograph, and interview can have access to that material to share with their children and the larger community.

2. Shared benefit: the community you are studying should also benefit from your work.

Historically, researchers come, do their studies, and go home with all the data. If they publish an article or paper or pass their degree, their work is recognised and benefits the researcher in their home community (or institution), but does not necessarily make its way back to the local community in any form. We ask that all important elements and artefacts of research into the practices, ecology, natural history, or any other area of life or land that is conducted within Samburu County by people residing at the Research Station, is shared with the local communities from whom it came.

Underlying Research Objectives

1. To capture practices before they vanish without trace

In general, Africa has not been the focus of much ground-level research in archeology, natural history (and the list goes on). The rapid changes taking place in Samburu County mean that many of the practices that you document here will have disappeared within our lifetimes. Indeed, many cultural practices have already been lost, without ever having been documented.

2. To fill gaps in basic research texts

Basic research into specific areas of ecology, people and language has not been done on any scale, or published, requiring each new researcher to start again virtually at the beginning. For example:

  • straightforward data like the scientific names of local plants is lacking, requiring researchers who wish to conduct research into any related area to first request local names from informants and then try to match plants with scarce botanical texts.
  • Northern Maa does not have a proper dictionary, so every researcher has to get definitions of words from scratch: an arduous process.

3. To develop shared working practices that benefit all researchers into any aspect of Samburu life and culture

Given 1 and 2, another purpose of our ethical code and policies is to enable researchers to build on each others’ work rather than every visiting researcher starting again from the beginning. As researchers’ data, especially underlying research materials, is not always published, we are asking that some raw work product and certain kinds of artefacts collected by researchers be deposited with the Research Station before you return to your homes and institutions.


Visiting researchers are asked to read and comply with the following specific policies of the Research Station regarding the data and material they collect whilst working at or from the Station.

1. Botanical and Insect Samples

Please make two collections of each item, one to take back with you, and one to leave with the Research Station. Specimens should be mounted, if possible, but must be labelled with discipline-standard notations. These include the local common name, the scientific name (or as much of the scientific classification as you know, such as family, clade, or genus). GPS coordinates of pace of finding should be included with samples. If there is an ethnobotanical component, including potential medicinal uses, to the collection, please share that information in as much detail as possible. Botanists should adhere to the ethical guidelines of the International Society of Ethnobiology.

2. Video recordings

Urbanized Samburu children are already not conversant with many details of traditional Samburu culture. Optical fibre is being installed in Samburu County and some schools already have computer labs. Your videos of processes, ceremonies, and any aspects of traditional daily life will serve an important function within the Samburu Community, as well as benefit other researchers who will then not necessarily need to repeat what you have done.

We ask that you provide a copy of all of your videos of Samburu practices to the Research Station before you leave. Examples include, but are not limited to: tending to and caring for animals (e.g. watering, milking, grazing, transhumance); wood carving (e.g. making containers, forming housing materials), blacksmithing (preparation and the practices themselves); hair styling; string making; singing (e.g. in the context of cultural practices such as milking, religious ceremonies, food preparation).

Every video should have a filename in the following format:

last name_first name_descriptive title_location_date_CC or restricted

We are not expecting edited footage. If there are multiple takes of the same session then please label the videos to indicate where they fit into a sequence. In this example, there are three takes of the same session.

last name_first name_descriptive title_location_date_001-a_CC or restricted

last name_first name_descriptive title_location_date_001-b_CC or restricted

last name_first name_descriptive title_location_date_001-c_CC or restricted

3. Photographs

General photography

Please select up to 20 photographs of a general nature that captures the Samburu culture as you have found it. Images that interest you, and that relate to the research undertaken whilst at the Research Station. See naming convention, above.

Photographs of processes

Photos that belong in a series because they tell a story should be labeled as for the multiple-take videos, above.

4. Language / Dictionary Entries

Northern Maa does not have a proper dictionary. It also does not have standard orthography. Words can encode culture.  The Samburu Lowland Research Station asks that you collect words whenever you can and that you leave your word lists and (where you have done more detailed work) dictionary files with the Research Station when you leave.

When recording words, phrases and terms, please check the spelling with multiple locals–there are often disputes over the exact spelling, and variants should be included with the entry. Please mark the entries as “provisional” or “final” depending on how you think of them. All word lists and dictionary entries will be made available to a future dictionary project, once a credible project is undertaken by lexicographers.

An example of a near-complete dictionary entry created at the Research Station:

Kebebek [adj]. Thin, or diluted milk. The oppostie of keirucha. By nature, this is a relative term.  Comparing milk textures, camel milk is the most kebekek, followed by cow, sheep, and goat. Milk texture changes seasonally. For example, cow milk, always less kebekek than camel milk, is  seasonaly perceived as kebekek when rainy season fodder naturally dilutes its texture. The stongest diluting effect is felt from the Spring “little rain” [Samburu term to be added] that fosters strong growth of tender leaves in shrubs rather than from the “big rain” [Samburu term to be added] in late autumn and early winter which has a more immediate effect on the grasses. Elders monitor the condition of forage from their manyatta homes in part through changes in milk texture as plants adjust to the natural wet and dry cycles of the Northern Kenyan interior climate. Goat milk is also made more kebebek for one or two milkings when, after one week on forage, they are finally taken to water. The diluted milk of unscrupulous market women is kebebek. Chai (tea, milk, water, and sugar) that is more dilute (1:4 milk to water) than the standard recipe (1:2) is kebekek. Ill people may ask for their tea kebekek; it may also be a personal preference.

5. Archeology

Adhere to International standards. Any artefacts found in or removed from the ground are the property of the Samburu people and must be notified to and deposited directly with the Samburu County Government Department of Culture. Research Station staff will assist with this process as needed.

6. Statement of Research Accomplishments and Contact Details

We ask that each person (or group lead if you were part of a group project) working at the Research Station leave us with a statement of what you did at the Station and when. This should be short, no more than 1,000 words. Please include your name, your institutional affiliation (if any), the name of any grant or funding body, the dates of your visit, your email address and telephone number along with this statement. Your statement, name (individual and/or group) and dates of residence will be posted to the Research Station website. Your institutional name and funding source will also be posted if you grant permission. Unless you ask us to post it, other (contact) details will be held securely by the Research Station and will not be shared with anyone outside the Station making an enquiry unless your permission is expressly granted. Contact information is collected to enable the Station to get in touch with you to pass on any follow up queries from other researchers. Telephone numbers are required as well as email addresses, as text messaging is widely available to local people whereas email is not.

7. Bibliography and Copies of Papers Consulted

Local researchers are at disadvantage relative to those working in well-funded institutions that grant them access to the major online databases of research papers. We ask that you send us PDFs of papers you have consulted, and a bibliography of those papers and any books you have used (Chicago style preferred). Please consider bringing paper copies of key papers with you and leaving those at the Research Station for others to consult. We will make all PDFs of academic papers available for people living in Samburu County and Kenya more generally.

8. Intellectual Property, Community Benefit and Ongoing Engagement

We ask that you think about what constitutes intellectual property, and how it is embodied within the community.

Drawing on guidelines from the Society of Ethnobiology, besides sharing digital files we suggest that researchers “explore ways to promote benefit sharing. One example is to allocate funding in research grants to the community to enable participation in conferences.”

Drawing on those same guidelines we encourage you to check facts after you return home with the people you worked with via voice or text messaging. If they do not speak your language then please work through your translator. We also encourage you to submit papers pre-publication for local peer review. As noted by the Society of Ethnobotany, this involves some risk of loss of control, but is balanced by the fact you are likely to end up with a paper that shows a deeper understanding of your subject than would otherwise be possible.