Camel Derby is an annual event that is held in Maralal town, Samburu county in August. As the name reveals, it has lots to do with camels, but there is so much more. There are various activities that one can partake in like actually racing atop a camel, to running, bike racing, cultural integration among others. There are also parties that happen during the four day event and you can also take a tour around the place.
Camel Race :
This is the highlight of the festivities and includes both local and international riders. Most of those who take part in it seemed to be amateurs who then had guides to lead the camels. I however noted that most if not all the competitors were foreigners.The other locals like myself seemed content with watching and cheering them on, no way was I going to race atop a camel. We watched as the riders climbed atop the camels while it knelt/sat, then watched the terror on their faces as the camels stood up. Watching a camel rise to its feet is a spectacle. First, the handler talks to it, honest. He informs it that the rider is ready for a “lift off” and slowly the activity begins. The rider is informed to lean back, hold tight and be ready for a bumpy take off. The camel then rocks back and forth in preparation and then lurches forward, allowing its folded legs to stretch out and support it at its full length. Indeed, it is a tall animal and at this time, you will catch the rider trying to catch his breath, adjust to the aerial view and sit comfortably in readiness for the bumpy ride ahead or in this case, bumpy race ahead.
The games also offer bike races for both 10 and 21km. I have great respect for all those who partake in this as the weather here is super hot, the terrain rough yet, they compete.
There are 10km and 21km races and again, I was in awe of all the participants. You need to understand the weather of this place, it is hot, very hot, the terrain dusty and rugged yet they ran.
Visit the cultural village:
This for me was indeed the highlight. I love history and all things culture and this area did not disappoint. At the cultural village, most of the communities living in Samburu county showcased their culture.
The women are dressed up, bedecked in all sorts of jewellery that are all very beautiful. As you move around the various communities, you will notice the difference in design, that distinguishes each community. The Samburu ladies have jewellery, dominated with bright colours like blue, yellow and red that are also accentuated with metal. Their neck pieces lay from the collar bones to the shoulders.The Turkana community have neckpieces that lay along the whole length of the neck and are more of red, black and green colours.
The communities in this area live in homes called manyattas. In their culture, it is the women that actually build the houses, everything from scratch. Due to their nomadic culture, their homes are made from sticks of wood, cowdung and soil.
c)Music and dance:
The communities here showcased their diversity in music and dance. Most of the female dances involve shaking their necks and shoulders and thus rocking their neck pieces while at it. They also have lots of foot work and I can assure you, we had to join in. The men also dance, with their dances dominated by jumping, as if competing on who can jump the highest. Most of their dances were performed by men only or ladies only and in only few instances did we see them dance together.
The ladies as always were dressed to impress and it was great to see the men also standing out. It was great when one of the older gentlemen took time to showcase their culture via dressing Nick appropriately. He also taught him some of their culture including how to hunt and protect the community.
d) Go shopping
The area has beautiful displays of their craftsmanship from their jewellery, clothes to even their tools of trade that were on sale. My highlight was taking “the squad” shoe shopping, and indeed, we all now have designer “nginyera” shoes. These are shoes made out of recycled car tyres and suited best for this area. I highly recommend that everyone should either buy a premade pair or have them “custom made” like mine.
e)Enjoy the Amusement Park
Take time out to also engage in the games at the amusement park. I know, most people associate this with children but no, its fun for all.
The communities in this area are dominantly pastoral, and they keep large heads of cattle. Our stay here was filled with dishes of meat, soups made from goat and cow meat and bones among others.
There was an after party sponsored by a popular radio station that had people dancing and enjoying themselves. The locals also had parties at night where they showcased their music and dance prowess.
There is a wide array of accommodation in Maralal, so feel free to take your pick. In our case, we were staying at a homestay. A friend I had met a year prior at the Marsabit Lake Turkana Festival was gracious enough to host us. We were able to enjoy their local dishes as well as explore more of Maralal, whilst also having a translator and local guide. This went a long way in making the whole experience even more awesome. Thank You Jirte.
I really had an amazing, fun filled time during the Maralal Camel Derby. It was interesting watching people racing camels while riding them. If you have ridden a camel, you know how high one feels, the ride isn’t the most comfortable, so imagine racing while atop it. Learning and engaging with the communities living in the area was also truly amazing. I encourage you all to plan to attend the next Maralal Camel Derby, one of those must attend events/festivals.