The Rendille community calendar functions according to a procession of seven-or fourteen-year cycles, which is based on both lunar and solar aspects.
The calendar, which is passed down in oral tradition, is essential for determining not only the various life-stages through which men must pass before being able to marry as elders, but also regulates with clockwork-like precision the various movements of the Rendille clans through their traditional territory, thus avoiding conflicts over forage and water rights, and preventing overgrazing which would otherwise quickly turn their already marginal lands into a completely sterile desert. The calendar also has implications for women in the form of the
Boys to warriors
A Rendille man’s life is marked by several clearly defined stages, which determine his occupation, when he can marry, and his status in general.
To start is boyhood, when he lives in the gob settlement with his parents, unmarried women and other children. His duties here are to look after the small herd goats or sheep around the settlement and helping their mothers tend the milk camels. Once he becomes older but is not yet circumcised, he starts helping warrior (morans) of the preceding age-set in the temporary livestock camps (fora) far from the gob, tending camels, or cattle in the case of the Ariaal.
After this apprenticeship, the boy is finally circumcised in the seventh year of the calendar, which marks his formal initiation into Rendille society, and with it, he joins the warrior age-set, where he will remain for eleven years. Circumcision is a public event and a matter of great pride.
A new age-set of warriors is formed once every fourteen years, which means that the ages of warriors vary from around fourteen to well into their thirties. Their social function is threefold: to graze and water the livestock, to protect the livestock and the people from attack (and raid others, of course), and – important for the elders ensconced in the relative luxury of the gob with their wives – to keep them out of temptation’s way!
Their camps (fora) are extremely rudimentary and generally, have no temporary structures like the gob (Rendille settlement, gob, are made of temporary structures that can be dismantled at a go due to their nomadic lifestyle). The boys and warriors sleep on the ground, and live on spartan diet consisting of soups made from wild herbs as well as from the milk and blood of the livestock (as with other nomadic tribes, the animals are not killed for this – a small incision with a knife or arrow is made near the animal’s jugular to tap the blood; once enough has been collected, the hole is topped with herbs or a special kind of mud with antiseptic properties).