Rendille people

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Total population
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Waaq, Islam, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
BoranaGabraSakuye and other Cushitic peoples.

The Rendille (also known as Rendille, Reendile, Rendili, Randali, Randile, and Randille[2]) are a Cushitic-speaking ethnic group inhabiting the northern Eastern Province of Kenya.


The ethnonym Rendille translates as "Holders of the Stick of God".[2]


The Rendille are believed to have originally migrated down into the Great Lakes area from Ethiopia in the more northerly Horn region, following southward population expansions by the Oromo and later the Somali.[2]

Traditionally, they are nomadic pastoralists, tending camels, sheep, goats and cattle.[1] The camels are generally kept in the northern part of their territory and the cattle in the southern section.[2] Additionally, the Rendille traditionally practice infibulation.[3] According to Grassivaro-Gallo and Viviani (1992), the custom was first brought to the Horn region from the Arabian peninsula during antiquity, and was originally intended to protect shepherd girls from attacks by wild animals during menstruation. The tradition subsequently dispersed from there.[4]

The first ethnological study of the Rendille was published at the turn of the 20th century by William A. Chanler. It described the unmixed Rendille that his party encountered as tall, slender and reddish-brown in complexion, with soft, straight hair and narrow facial features.[5] Chanler additionally remarked that many of the Rendille possessed "fierce" blue eyes,[5] a physical peculiarity that was also later noted by Augustus Henry Keane (1900),[6] John Scott Keltie (1904)[7] and John Henry Patterson (1909).[8]


According to Ethnologue, there were approximately 34,700 Rendille speakers in 2006.[1] Most are concentrated in the Kaisut Desert and Mount Marsabit in the Marsabit District of Kenya's northern Eastern Province.[1][2]


The Rendille speak the Rendille language as a mother tongue (also known as Rendile or Randile). It belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.[1]

Additionally, some Rendille use English or Swahili as working languages for communication with other populations.[1][2]

The Ariaal sub-group of the Rendille, who are of mixed Nilotic and Cushitic descent, speak the Nilo-Saharan Samburu language of the Samburu Nilotes with whom they cohabit.[1][9]


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the Rendille people. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern Rendille.


According to an mtDNA study by Castri et al. (2008), the maternal ancestry of the contemporary Rendille consists of a mixture of Afro-Asiatic-associated lineages and Sub-Saharan haplogroups, reflecting substantial female gene flow from neighboring Sub-Saharan populations. About 30% of the Rendille belonged to the West Eurasian haplogroups I (15%), N1a (8%), M1a (3%) and R0/pre-HV (3%). The remaining samples carried various Sub-Saharan macro-haplogroup L sub-clades, mainly consisting of L0a (22%) and L2a (8%).[10]

Autosomal DNA[edit]

The Rendille's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to the researchers, the Rendille showed significant Afro-Asiatic affinities. They also shared some ties with neighboring Nilo-Saharan and Bantu speakers in the Great Lakes region due to considerable genetic exchanges with these communities over the past 5000 or so years.[11]


In terms of creed, many Rendille practice a traditional religion centered on the worship of Waaq/Wakh/Ngai.[2] In the related Oromo culture, Waaq denotes the single god of the early pre-Abrahamic, montheistic faith believed to have been adhered to by Cushitic groups.[12]

Some Rendille have also adopted Islam or Christianity.[1]


According to Spencer (1973), the Rendille are organized into an age grade system of patrilineal lineage groups (keiya), which are subsumed under fifteen clans (group). Of those, only nine are considered authentic Rendille. These Northern Rendille or Rendille proper are consequently the only ones that are included in the traditional Rendille moiety (belesi). The remaining six clans that are excluded from the moiety consist of mixed individuals. Five of those clans are of Rendille (Cushitic) and Samburu (Nilotic) descent. Collectively, the latter hybrid groups are referred to as the Ariaal or Southern Rendille.[9][13] The Somalis draw a distinction between the "original" or "good" ethnic Rendille (known as asil), and the "bad" or assimilated Rendille ("those who speak Samburu").[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Ethnologue - Rendille
  2. ^ a b c d e f g John A., Shoup (2011). Ethnic Groups of Africa and the Middle East: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 249–250. ISBN 1598843621. 
  3. ^ Hicks, Esther Kremhilde (1986). Infibulation: Status Through Mutilation. Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. p. 45. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Pia Grassivaro Gallo, Franco Viviani (July 1992). "The origin of infibulation in Somalia: An ethological hypothesis". Evolution & Human Behavior. 13 (4): 253–265. doi:10.1016/0162-3095(92)90025-Y. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1897). Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 26: 78 Retrieved 4 July 2012.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Keane, Augustus Henry (1901). Ethnology: In two parts. University Press. p. 389. 
  7. ^ Keltie, John Scott; Royal Geographical Society (1904). The Geographical Journal. 23: 227 Retrieved 6 July 2012.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ Patterson, John Henry (1909). In the Grip of the Nyika: Further Adventures in British East Africa. Macmillan Company. p. 285. 
  9. ^ a b Parris, Ronald G. (1994). Rendille. Rosen Publishing Group. p. 13. ISBN 0823917630. 
  10. ^ Castrí (2008). "Kenyan crossroads: migration and gene flow in six ethnic groups from Eastern Africa." (PDF). 86: 189–92. PMID 19934476. 
  11. ^ Tishkoff; et al. (2009), "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans", the American Association for the Advancement of Science: 17 ; Also see Supplementary Data: "Nilo-Saharan and Cushitic speakers from the Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as some of the Bantu speakers from Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda (Hutu/Tutsi), constitute another cluster (purple), reflecting linguistic evidence for gene flow among these populations over the past ~5000 years (28, 29)."
  12. ^ Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Publishing Group: 2001), p.65.
  13. ^ Sato, Shun (1980). "Pastoral Movements and the Subsistence Unit of the Rendille of Northern Kenya: with Special Reference to Camel Ecology" (PDF). Senri Ethnological Studies. 6. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Schlee, Günther (1989). Identities on the Move: Clanship and Pastoralism in Northern Kenya. Manchester University Press. p. 210. ISBN 0719030102. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 


  • Spencer, Paul (1973). Nomads in Alliance. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0197135765.