Lyle Owerko

The Butterfly People

Lyle Owerko, portraits from "The Samburu"

Living in a remote part of Africa the Samburu tribe has been cut off from most of western civilization up until about 10 years ago when inter-tribal fighting began to subside and the Northern Territory of Kenya was opened up to travelers. Easily one of the most fascinating groups of people I’ve ever encountered, the Samburu are a prideful people who consult the stars for spiritual guidance, all the while maintaining a warrior culture that is equal parts fierce and gentle. Known locally as “The Butterfly People,” the Samburu are rumored to be a lost legion of Roman soldiers and cousins to the Maasai. My project is to document the Samburu as they assimilate into a life increasingly dominated by technology and western values. In conjunction with the mission of the Thorn Tree Project, this is a lifetime commitment for me.

Lyle Owerko's portrait series "The Samburu" is on view at Clic Bookstore and Gallery in Manhattan through April 11.

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Comments [3]
Get inspired, be sure to check out Lyle's images online at,
Michael Costuros

I have read a lot regarding on these tribal people culture and tradition. Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists. Cattle, as well as sheep, goats and camels, are of utmost importance to the Samburu culture and way of life. The Samburu are extremely dependent on their animals for survival. The Samburu usually live in groups of five to ten families. Traditionally men look after the cattle and they are also responsible for the safety of the tribe. As warriors they defend the tribe from attack by both man and animals. They also go on raiding parties to try and take cattle from rival Samburu clans. Samburu boys learn to tend cattle from a young age and are also taught to hunt. An initiation ceremony to mark their entry into manhood is accompanied by circumcision.

Hi there,

My sister Rhodia Mann studied the Samburu for years and made a film called THE BUTTERFLY PEOPLE. Are you perhaps borrowing the title from her? She also wrote a book called "Talk to the Stars" - about their mythology and astrology. Are you familiar with these works?
Kenny Mann

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