Profiles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home

People Profile
The Sakuye of Kenya

Population:  14,000
Religion: Islam and Traditional



Location: The Sakuye live in northeastern Kenya, near the Ethiopian border.  Dabel is their traditional ceremonial site.  Their name comes from an old name for Marsabit, Saaku.  The group of Rendille who moved north from Marsabit were called Saakuye by the Borana.

History:  The Sakuye are a small, semi-nomadic group of pastoralists.  They were a group of the proto-Somali peoples who separated from the Rendille.  One group called the Sakuye Miigo came from the Garre people.  One group of the related Gabbra are also called Miigo.  The Sakuye now speak the Borana Oromo language and share same Oromo clan identities with other Borana-speaking peoples.

Following Kenya's independence, nearly all of their livestock died due to the Shifta war in 1963 between the Somalis and the Kenya government.  The Sakuye were caught in the middle and most Sakuye became destitute.  Some were able to rebuild their herds but many remain poor.  They survived by taking up agriculture.  Their culture is undergoing basic changes as they strive to maintain their identity.  In some areas, traditional Sakuye rituals have been replaced by Islamic prayers.

Identity:  Tradition says that before the Sakuye attached themselves to the Borana, they lived with the Rendille in the Mt. Marsabit area.  The Sakuye and the Rendille are said to have broken away in the 1500's from the early Somali group from which the Garre also developed.  Tradition also says that the Gabbra Miigo, the Sakuye Miigo and the Gabbra of Kenya's Eastern Province later originated directly from the Garre Somali.

Today there are two sections of the Sakuye people, living in two areas.  The northern group are semi-permanent at Dabel and the southern group is in Isiolo District.  Clan structure and raditions are no longer as important as in the past.

The majority can't read and speak only Borana.  Even the Muslim teachers can't read although they want to learn.  However, the school children are learning to read.  Most families exist on famine relief but the fortunate ones are those who still have camels or cattle and fare better.

Language:  The Sakuye speak Borana, an Eastern Cushite language adopted from their Borana Oromo patrons.

Customs:  The Sakuye live among the Borana and they are ritually allied to them for political purposes in their history.  Many identify themselves as Borana.  However, the Sakuye herd camels primarily, whereas the Boran are mostly a cattle people.

They have also adopted the pre-Islamic religious institution of the priest-diviner called Qallu.  The Sakuye have much social interaction with the neighboring Somali peoples, and when asked, will sometimes identify themselves as Somali.

Since the re-establishment of the social structures in 1965, the Sakuye do not allow Sakuye girls to marry outside the Sakuye group.

Religion: Traditionally the Sakuye worshipped one God, Waaq, by putting sacrifices in special trees.  Over the last century, aspects of Islam has come into their culture, largely due to their association with the Somali. Most Sakuye, however, still hold on to their traditional beliefs and practices.

Dabel is the center of the Ayaana, a strong Oromo Satan appeasement and worship cult.  Ayaana followers believe it is necessary to appease Satan, because he brings harm to them, while it not necessary to appease God, since he does not harm people.

Christianity: There is little Christian influence among the Sakuye.  Less than .1% of the Sakuye people are professing Christians. There are three or four known churches.  Their geographical, as well as social, isolation is largely responsible for their lack of exposure to Christianity as an option.

Related People Profiles on this Site
The Afar People
The Digil-Rahawiin People of Somalia
The Gosha People
The Rendille People
The Somali People
The Somali Bantu Peoples
The Somali of Kenya

Other Related Articles on this Site
Colour, Race and Genetics in the Horn of Africa
The Sabeans and Other Ancient Genetics and Tongues: Distinguishing Fact from Legend and Modern from Ancient
The Kore of Kenya Maasai or Somali?
Models of Assimilation: Evaluating Ethnic Characteristics
Race and Ethnicity in the Horn of Africa


Schlee, Günther.  Identities on The Move:  Clanship and Pastoralism in Northern Kenya.  Nairobi, Kenya:  Gideon S. Were Press, 1994.

-----.  "Interethnic Clan Identities Among Cushitic-Speaking Pastoralists," Africa, 55 (1), 1985.

Orville Boyd Jenkins
Francis Omondi
An Anonymous Contributor
June 1996
Last updated 15 August 2014

Copyright © 1996, 2003 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.
Profiles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home
Investigate the Peoples and Cultures of the World on VRC