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Where elephants came from

Megan Warrington

Author: Megan Warrington - 30 January 2024

Last Update: 9 June 2017

Part of the Travel To Kenya & Nairobi National Park & African Safari Collection

The Legend of the Elephant according to the Samburu

In the time of the first people, a young girl was preparing to leave the manyatta (a traditional circle of huts) to get married. Her father warned her not to look back at the family manyatta or feel sad to leave, but when the young girl left the manyatta with her new husband, she had a heavy heart and looked back at her family home. 

Where elephants came from

God was watching from afar and saw that the young girl disobeyed her father, so he decided to punish her. That night, as the young girl was sleeping with her new husband in their manyatta, something strange happened, she started to swell until she was so large that she turned into an elephant. The elephant then ran away into the night.

Where elephants came from

Samburu legend has it that all elephants are descendants from this girl and all elephants and Samburu share the same blood. To support this legend, the elders point out that an elephant only has two teats in between its front legs and that there are sections on the elephant’s body that’s not covered with hair – similarities shared with humans.

To this day, when coming across an elephant skull in the bush, the Samburu elders would place green grass which they have spat on, atop the skull as a sign of respect.

How the elephant got his big ears, according to Samburu legend

Where elephants came from

In the beginning of time, the Samburu people and the elephant lived together, sharing the Samburu manyattas (a traditional circle of huts, with a thorn wall around it and a place for livestock in the centre). The women and the elephants used to work together doing the daily chores in-and-around the home, with the elephant helping the women to fetch water and firewood.

 Early one morning, while the village was asleep, an elephant decided to be helpful and set out to collect firewood. He returned with the biggest log he could carry. The women became angry when they saw the size of the log and shouted at the elephant, “what do you think we can cook with a log this big? The only thing we can cook with this log is an elephant.”

Where elephants came from

Wanting to appease the women, the elephant tried again but this time he collected the smallest twigs he could find and took them back to the manyatta. But when he returned the women once again became angry, “you are a very stupid animal, the sticks are so small that we will only be able to cook insects with them.”

The elephant became very upset and angry with the women for their ingratitude, so he began storming all around the manyatta trying to break everything. He then ran into one of the huts picked up a cowhide and threw it over his head. However, the cowhide suddenly turned into big, flapping ears. Being very embarrassed, the elephant stormed off into the bush.

Where elephants came from

Since this happened, the Samburu and the elephants have lived apart. 
The elephants still help the Samburu women, by making paths leading to water by breaking branches, making it easier for the women to collect firewood.

*The Samburu are a Nilotic people of north-central Kenya that are related to but distinct from the Maasai. The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels. (Source: Wikipedia)


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