What is the Difference Between Maasai and Samburu

The main difference between Maasai and Samburu is that Maasai is an indigenous tribe of semi-nomadic pastoralists settled in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, whereas Samburu is an indigenous tribe of semi-nomadic pastoralists who inhabit north-central Kenya.

Both Maasai and Samburu belong to the Maa family of languages. In addition, Just like Maasai, the Samburu also mainly survive on pastoralist cattle herding. Though Maasai and Samburu are interrelated in many ways, they are distinct in their traditions, customs and lifestyles.

Key Areas Covered

1. Who are Maasai 
   – Definition, People, Lifestyle
2. Who are the Samburu
     – Definition, People, Lifestyle
3. Similarities Between Maasai and Samburu
     – Outline of Common Characteristics
4. Difference Between Maasai and Samburu
    – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Maasai, Samburu, TribeDifference Between Maasai and Samburu - Comparison Summary

Who are the Maasai?

The Maasai are an indigenous African group of semi-nomadic people settled in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Traditional Maasai livelihood is based on cattle herding. It is their key source of food.

Maasai vs Samburu

The Maasai are typically a tribe that moves regularly from one place to another. Therefore their “Inkajijik” houses are very impermanent in nature. The “Inkajijiks” mainly have a loaf or circular shape. Maasai women usually build the hut while the Maasai men build a thorny circular fence around their settlements to avoid threats to their cattle at night. In a Maasai community, a man wealthy if he has lots of children and cattle. However, The Maasai society stands on patriarchal grounds and most often the elderly Maasai men make all the significant decisions related to the tribe.

Who are the Samburu?

The Samburu live in Northern Kenya. They are closely related to the Maasai tribe who also live in Kenya. The spoken language of Samburu is quite similar to the Maasai language as both the languages originate from Maa family of languages. The Samburu are also a tribe of semi-nomadic people.  However, compared to the Maasai, Samburu people are still very traditional and are still attached to their long-established customs.

Samburu livestock includes cattle, goats, sheep and camels. Their diet mainly consists of milk, vegetables, tubers and roots. Unlike Maasai, the Samburu rarely consume meat and occasionally drink cattle blood. Samburu people reside mostly in dry desert lands.  Just like the Maasai, they often shift from one location to another to make sure that their cattle have enough food. “Manyattas” is the traditional name for these Samburu settlements. Their huts are constructed with mud, hide, and grass mats which are hung over poles. Similar to the Maasai villages, they also build a fence around these mud huts for protection from wild animals.

Compare Maasai and Samburu

In comparison to the Maasai, the Samburu are more gerontocratic and traditional. The Samburu men look after their cattle and act as the safeguards of the tribe. The daily chores of the Samburu women include gathering vegetables, roots and water and nurturing their children.

 Similarities Between Maasai and Samburu

  • Both Maasai and Samburu speak a language belonging to the Maa family of languages. Consequently, they share a significantly common vocabulary.
  • Both the tribes inhabit Kenya.
  • The traditional livelihood of Maasai and Samburu is pastoralist herding.
  • Both Maasai and Samburu move from one place to another in search of fresh grazing lands and water for their cattle, goats, sheep and camels.
  • Samburu clothing is quite similar to Maasai clothing. Both Samburu and Maasai men and women wrap brightly coloured shukas, loosely around their bodies.
  • Both Maasai and Samburu enjoy music and dancing. The Samburu dancing is similar to that of the Maasai people, where men dance in a circle while jumping high from a standing position.

Difference Between Maasai and Samburu


Maasai is a semi-nomadic tribe of pastoralists who inhabit southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, whereas Samburu is another indigenous tribe of semi-nomadic pastoralists who inhabit north-central Kenya.


Maasai traditional diet mainly contains milk, meat, and cattle blood, whereas the traditional Samburu diet mainly consists of cow’s milk, cattle blood, roots and vegetables. Unlike the Maasai, Samburu people rarely consume meat, particularly during special ceremonial occasions that involve animal sacrifice.


Traditional Maasai livelihood is cattle herding while the Samburu herd cattle, goats, sheep and camels,


The walls of Maasai huts, “Inkajijik”, are constructed using cow dung, mud, grass, sticks, ash and human urine. The roof is usually built with sticks, tin or reeds. The Samburu huts, “Manyattas” are built of mud, hide, and grass mats hung over poles. 


Compared with the Maasai, the Samburu are still very conventional and are attached to their old traditions and customs. However, the Maasai people have moved away from the traditional ways of nomadic life with the influence of modernization.

Social Hierarchy

Samburu practice gerontocracy more severely in comparison to Maasai. In Samburu culture, the most elderly are responsible for making all the significant decisions in all matters.


Both Maasai and Samburu share a similar dialect derived from Maa family of languages. However, when it comes to their culture, traditions and lifestyle, they have unique practices which make each tribe stand out to the world outside for their authenticity. The main difference between Maasai and Samburu is that Samburu is more traditional than Massai.


1. Shilabukha, Khamati. “Caught between Tradition and Modernization, Kenya’s Samburu Lay out a Plan for Their Future.” CGTN.
2. “The Samburu Tribe of Kenya and East Africa.” Siyabona.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Maasai-jump” By Javic (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Samburu fire” By User:Moongateclimber – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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