Umoja Village: The community where women rule and men are banned

Umoja Village: The community where women rule and men are banned

Umoja Village, Samburu County, Kenya — Rosalina Learpoora has always been surrounded by women. At age 18, she lives in an all-women village in nor

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Umoja Village, Samburu County, Kenya — Rosalina Learpoora has always been surrounded by women.

At age 18, she lives in an all-women village in northern Kenya, where she spends her evenings doing homework, fetching firewood or beading colorful jewelry.

Rosalina Learpoora

Learpoora has called Umoja home since she was 3. There, a group of 48 women live with their children in huts protected by thorny brush to keep away intruders.

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When a man trespasses, they notify the local police,who either issue a warning or arrest the culprit — depending on the number of offenses.

The village was started in 1990 by 15 women who became stigmatized in their communities after they were raped by British soldiers from a base at nearby Archer’s Post, a trading center bordering Samburu and Isiolo. Some of the rape survivors say their husbands accused them of bringing dishonor to their families and kicked them out.

They found a piece of land, moved there and named it Umoja — Swahili for unity.It has since grown into a refuge, welcoming women escaping abusive marriages, female genital mutilation, rape and other forms of assault. Even some women whose husbands died have found solace and a home there.

She went to the village at age 3

Learpoora never met her father — she was told he died when she was 3. Terrified that her extended family would force her to undergo female genital mutilation, her mother strapped her to her back and fled to Umoja, where they’ve lived as part of the sisterhood for 15 years.
The women of Umoja are all of the Samburu culture, an extremely patriarchal society that practices female genital mutilation and believes in polygamy.
Umoja women span generations, with the oldest resident at the village aged 98 and the youngest six months old. Women of all ages flee there, some with newborn babies in tow.
When the boys who live there with their mothers reach 18, they have to move out of the village, Learpoora says.

At the village, traditional Samburu huts known as manyattas dot the landscape. The sounds of cackling chicken and giggling children fill the air.
Like the other women in the village, Learpoora lives with her mother in a small manyatta made of wood, twigs and cow dung.

Inside, the only light is from the glowing embers of a fire anchored by three large rocks.

In the evening, the tiny, modular structures are full of life, with chattering women sitting around the fire to talk about their day as beans and corn simmer in large pots.

“I grew up surrounded by so many women,” Learpoora says. “It’s like having different mothers all around you.”

Dancing and beading

Outside the huts, women sit on mats to watch children play. Sometimes, they sing and dance to traditional Samburu songs, their brightly colored ornaments and wraps moving with the beat.

Other times, they quietly make the the round beaded necklaces that are a trademark among Samburu women, which they sell to make money for the community.

“Once they sell the necklaces, they give the money to the village’s matriarch, who then allocates the amount for food to each family based on the number of children per homestead,” Learpoora says. “Some of that money is also set aside to go toward education, especially for the young girls.”


In addition to selling jewelry, the women get income by operating a campsite for tourists going on safari to the nearby Samburu National Reserve. They also receive donations from well-wishers worldwide who’ve read about the village.


Outside the huts, women sit on mats to watch children play. Sometimes, they sing and dance to traditional Samburu songs, their brightly colored ornaments and wraps moving with the beat. Other times, they quietly make the the round beaded necklaces that are a trademark among Samburu women, which they sell to make money for the community.


“Once they sell the necklaces, they give the money to the village’s matriarch, who then allocates the amount for food to each family based on the number of children per homestead,” Learpoora says. “Some of that money is also set aside to go toward education, especially for the young girls.”


In addition to selling jewelry, the women get income by operating a campsite for tourists going on safari to the nearby Samburu National Reserve. They also receive donations from well-wishers worldwide who’ve read about the village.

Source: CNN

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