Samburu Woman Giving Birth

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The Samburu are sexually permissive toward young people. It is expected that girls and Imurran will be sexually active, and a mother will sometimes formally sanction a relationship between her daughter and an Imurran, who will give the girl a large gift of beads (Spencer, 1965; Straight, 2002). Lmurran and their beaded girlfriends are from the same exogomous clan, and thus cannot later marry. Lmurran and girls avoid pregnancy through the withdrawal method, as it is considered an abomination for an uninitiated girl to give birth. However, should a girl become pregnant, the women in her family will usually assist her in aborting, or else initiate her quickly. These days it is a common precaution to initiate girls early if they are attending boarding school.

Samburu view sex after marriage as oriented predominantly toward procreation. Sex is considered pleasurable for both partners, but it is considered a strenuous job for men (who are "bulls") but little work for women. These attitudes begin in the relationships between lmurran and their girlfriends—girls sing mocking songs about other's boyfriends, saying they are too unhealthy and weak to perform long enough or with enough strength. Married women also complain to one another about sexually inadequate husbands, and this is a common rationale for engaging in extramarital affairs. While Samburu elders individually abhor their own wives' affairs, collectively they accept female infidelity as a fact of life (and they themselves engage in affairs). To a great extent Samburu elders encourage turning a blind eye in order to mitigate the violence and conflict that can result from discovered affairs (Holtzman, 1996).

Samburu overwhelmingly deny that homosexuality exists. Cross-gender behavior—including cross-sex dressing—occurs rarely, and is reluctantly tolerated. Usually these individuals assume their culturally appropriate role before reaching adulthood, though even when they do not, they are to some extent accepted in the gender of their choice.

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