Rendille people

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.

Total population
Regions with significant populations
predominantly Waaq; Islam, Christianity
Related ethnic groups


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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] Chanler additionally remarked that many of the Rendille possessed "fierce" blue eyes,[6] a physical peculiarity that was also later noted by Augustus Henry Keane (1900),[7] John Scott Keltie (1904)[8] and John Henry Patterson (1909).[9]


According to Ethnologue, there were approximately 94,700 Rendille speakers in 2006.[3] Most are concentrated in the Kaisut Desert and Mount Marsabit in the Marsabit District of Kenya's northern Eastern Province.[3][2]


The Rendille people speak the Rendille language as a mother tongue (also known as Rendile or Randile (as referred to mostly by their neighbours samburu)). They belong to the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic family.[3] the rendille language is more closer to the Somali language than the rest of the cushitic languages.

Additionally, some Rendille use English or Swahili as working languages for communication with other populations.[3][2]

The Ariaal sub-group of the Rendille, who are of mixed Nilotic and Cushitic descent, speak the Eastern Nilotic Samburu language of the Samburu people with whom they cohabit.[3][10]


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%).[11]

Autosomal DNAEdit

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 Bayesian clustering analysis, the Rendille generally grouped with other Afroasiatic-speaking populations inhabiting the Great Lakes region, with these lacustrine groups forming a cluster distinct from that of the Afroasiatic-speaking populations in the Horn of Africa, North Africa and the Sahara. This difference was attributed to marked genetic exchanges between the Rendille and neighboring Nilo-Saharan and Bantu communities over the past 5,000 or so years.[12]


In terms of creed, many Rendille practice a traditional religion centered on the worship of Waaq/Wakh.[2] In the related Oromo culture, Waaq denotes the single god of the early pre-Abrahamic, monotheistic faith believed to have been adhered to by Cushitic groups.[13]

Some Rendille have also adopted Islam or Christianity.[3]


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.[10][14] 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").[15]


  1. ^ "2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Volume IV: Distribution of Population by Socio-Economic Characteristics". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  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 978-1598843620.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Ethnologue - Rendille
  4. ^ Hicks, Esther Kremhilde (1986). Infibulation: Status Through Mutilation. Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. p. 45. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1897). "The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland". Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 26: 78. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  7. ^ Keane, Augustus Henry (1901). Ethnology: In two parts. University Press. p. 389.
  8. ^ Keltie, John Scott; Royal Geographical Society (1904). "The Geographical Journal". The Geographical Journal. 23: 227. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  9. ^ Patterson, John Henry (1909). In the Grip of the Nyika: Further Adventures in British East Africa. Macmillan Company. pp. 285.
  10. ^ a b Parris, Ronald G. (1994). Rendille. Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 13. ISBN 978-0823917631.
  11. ^ Castrí (2008). "Kenyan crossroads: migration and gene flow in six ethnic groups from Eastern Africa" (PDF). Journal of Anthropological Sciences. 86: 189–92. PMID 19934476.
  12. ^ Sarah Tishkoff et al. (2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans" (PDF). Science. 324 (5930): 1035–44. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357. PMID 19407144. We incorporated geographic data into a Bayesian clustering analysis, assuming no admixture (TESS software) (25) and distinguished six clusters within continental Africa (Fig. 5A).[...] Another geographically contiguous cluster extends across northern Africa (blue) into Mali (the Dogon), Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. With the exception of the Dogon, these populations speak an Afroasiaticlanguage[...] 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).CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link) Also see Supplementary Data.
  13. ^ Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Publishing Group: 2001), p.65.
  14. ^ 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 March 2012. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  15. ^ Schlee, Günther (1989). Identities on the Move: Clanship and Pastoralism in Northern Kenya. Manchester University Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-0719030109. Retrieved 1 April 2016.


  • Spencer, Paul (1973). Nomads in Alliance. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0197135761.