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The Donkey Meetings of Ole Tepesi

Emmanuel loves researching Kenyan culture and history. He is also an artist and likes to share what he knows with others.

"It is still too early for the meeting," the lead donkey seems to say as the pack grazes its way to Ole Tepesi

"It is still too early for the meeting," the lead donkey seems to say as the pack grazes its way to Ole Tepesi

Ole Tepesi in Kajiado County

During the wet season, domestic donkeys of the Ole Tepesi area have a meeting everyday on the main road. The meeting starts at around 5 pm in the evening and ends at 5 pm in the morning.

Ole Tepesi is a small urban centre in Kajiado County on the Nairobi Magadi road in Kenya. This county is populated by ethnic Maasai whose main occupation is pastoralism – the keeping of cattle, sheep and goats. Other Kenyan ethnic groups are found in urban centres where they provide services such as shop-keeping, transport, hotel and bar services. To the Maasai, cattle are for real men while sheep and goats are taken care of by women and children.

A donkey and its offspring prepare to nap for the night

A donkey and its offspring prepare to nap for the night

Grazing cycle

During the rainy season and immediately after when there is a lot of water, the Maasai graze their animals near their settlements. However, as the dry season sets in, they move their cattle further and further away leaving the sheep and goats to browse on shrubs around the home. When the going gets really tough, the men spend nights out in distant pastures, usually on higher ground where vegetation is better nourished by a montane climate.

A scenic river gorge in the Kajiado County

A scenic river gorge in the Kajiado County

Donkey's work in dry season

Now it happens that during the dry season, the women who have remained behind with sheep and goats have to fetch water from a stream or spring. The nearest water source may be several kilometers away which makes the donkey a most necessary pack animal. Maasai treat their donkeys well and do not overload them. This is in sharp contrast to donkeys owned by the Kikuyu which are thrashed with a cane every few minutes besides having to pull overloaded carts. Apart from branding with a family mark for easy identification, you are unlikely to find bruises on a Maasai donkey.

Let the Donkey meeting begin, there's enough quorum

Let the Donkey meeting begin, there's enough quorum

The donkey holiday season

When the rainy season sets in, there is an abundance of water near settlements and therefore no need to travel long distances to fetch. With so much water everywhere, the donkey is given a holiday. The women can are able to fetch water close by without a donkey’s help. The longer the rainy season, the longer the donkey holiday. Maasais do not keep animals on a leash. The donkey is freed to roam the plains freely until the next dry season when its services will be in great demand.

Road Sign indicating that Ole Tepesi is 70 kilometers from Nairobi on the Magadi road.

Road Sign indicating that Ole Tepesi is 70 kilometers from Nairobi on the Magadi road.

Why meet at Ole Tepesi and nowhere else?

When the donkeys of the Ole Tepesi area have had their fill, they all start trekking to the meeting place – Ole Tepesi Township. Nobody seems to know why and when all the donkeys in the surrounding districts chose to meet at Ole Tepesi and not anywhere else. The Donkeys come in pairs, in threes and even larger numbers. When they get to the center of the town they greet each other in donkey language, hug and then proceed to select the spot where they will ‘stand’ for the entire night.

By 5pm in the morning, there is not a donkey in sight. They have all gone to look for pasture. They break into small units which are led by the lead donkey into a direction of his choice.

"Now who do I have a chat with tonight," this donkey seems to be wondering

"Now who do I have a chat with tonight," this donkey seems to be wondering

All holidays come to an end

The rainy season may last for several months, during which time this Ole Tepesi center will continue to be the meeting place of choice for the donkeys. When eventually the dry spell sets in, the Maasai pastoralists will want the services of their donkeys. How will owners and donkeys get together again?

The Maasai are very patient and even more so with their donkeys. The owners know that the donkeys will still rendezvous at Ole Tepesi leaving no better place for a reunion. If the Mountain won’t come to you, you must go to the mountain. And so the owners go to the small town in the evening after all the donkeys have gathered. They go through the tedious task of inspecting the donkeys one by one, looking for the family symbol that had been branded with a hot iron several seasons earlier. There is only about an hour of daylight to perform this task. Between 6pm and 6.30pm, the sun will have gone down completely and the donkey owners who will not have identified their donkeys will have to try their luck the following day. Maasai donkeys are gentle and do not kick a fuss during the identification exercise. Those that have been identified meekly follow their owner’s home to mark the end of a well deserved holiday.

Do donkeys have predators?

Maasai cattle, sheep and goats are kept safe in a thorn enclosure for the night to deter predators. The donkeys that roam freely in the wet season expose themselves to predators, but lions and other carnivals prefer wild game like zebra and antelopes. The Maasai drink lots of milk from cattle and goats. Besides meat from cattle sheep and goats, the Maasai also get blood from cattle by darting the jugular vein in a procedure that does not harm the animal. This blood is mixed with milk and consumed. Maasai do not eat game meat and most certainly will not touch donkey meat. Maasai's donkeys therefore have no predators.

Then Donkeys of Lamu Island

In Lamu island, the donkeys have no holiday because there are no vehicles or trucks - only bicycles and donkeys. Donkeys are the main means of transport with some support from handcarts. They are however given very good care. They even have a sanctuary that acts as a 'donkey hospital.' Take a look at the video below for details on the Donkeys of Lamu Island in Kenya.

The domestic donkey

The domestic donkey is a mammal in the same order as rhinocerous and tapirs. Their family name Equidae included horses and zebras. Finally, the genus in which all donkeys fall is equus. The Maasai donkey, like all domestic donkeys belongs to the species Equus asinus. Skeletons of this species have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs dating back 5000 years. Several images in Egyptian tombs depict assess and sometimes people with headdresses that have long ears to imitate Donkey ears. Evidence of Wild ass fossils has been found at Olduvai Gorge in Kenya dating back 1.7 million years.

After the donkeys have left, there is evidence everywhere

After the donkeys have left, there is evidence everywhere

The Aftermath - Every morning the grounds around the town look are a dung minefield. This opportunity for the export of Donkey manure

The Aftermath - Every morning the grounds around the town look are a dung minefield. This opportunity for the export of Donkey manure

The only guest house in Ole Tepesi - Ksh. 500 a night without meals.

The only guest house in Ole Tepesi - Ksh. 500 a night without meals.

You can expect other guests to join you in the hut, what with all that light from a kerosene lamp

You can expect other guests to join you in the hut, what with all that light from a kerosene lamp

Some archeological objects displayed at the Olorgesailie site

Some archeological objects displayed at the Olorgesailie site

Where to spend the night

There are not to many options for spending a night out in the Ole Tepesi. If you want an out-of-Africa aura to your excursion, you can spend a night at the National Museum archaeological site of Olorgesailie. Here they have individual huts with openings for windows with no glass except for chicken wire. The beds have mosquito nets otherwise you would wake up looking like a chicken pox case. Each hut has a kerosene lamp and the toilets are huts some feet away. Guests make their own meals by buying some of the plentiful fire wood.

You might prefer to have a meal at Ole Tepesi town before you sleep, but even then you must buy all the ingredients for the cook to prepare it just for you. Tea is also made when you order. The only ready drinks are mineral water, beers and sodas. For a semblance of night in a hotel, the Digital house is your only choice. They have electricity and the luxury of a modern bar with a television set for you to follow the news. Interestingly, the beds have no pillows.

A hut (banda) at Olorgesailie for those who want an Out-of-Africa experience - no electricity, no flush toilet

A hut (banda) at Olorgesailie for those who want an Out-of-Africa experience - no electricity, no flush toilet

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Emmanuel Kariuki

Comments

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on May 08, 2020:

Hi Patrick.

It's good to hear from you after a while.

You did a noble thing to help the hapless man. Now, did he learn a lesson? He probably didn't and continued to mistreat his donkeys. He was lucky the donkey did not turn to kick and bite him. I was in Wajir last year and noticed that the Somalis are also very kind to their donkeys. They wrap a lot of fabric to cushion the donkey against the ropes. Some of them even use pillows to do the cushioning. To take it further, some people there carry fodder so that during loading and unloading, the donkey can nimble something.

Patrick Kamau from Nairobi, Kenya on May 02, 2020:

Interesting to know about this donkey meeting of Ole Tepesi. I agree with you that some communities especially the Kikuyu mistreat these beasts of burden. But it is not good to thrash them the way they do it. When I was young, there was this man transporting milk from the village to the main road. He was beating them so much that one day they decided enough was enough. They started kicking the cart and in the process one donkey freed itself. Immediately, the cart lost balance and tipped backward in the process hanging the other donkey. The guy could not bring the front of the cart down by himself.

He started screaming and together with my younger brother, we rushed to help him. Together, we brought the front part of the cart down and he was able to release the donkey. Some milk was spilled but he was grateful the donkey was not choked to death.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on July 16, 2015:

@ JoanCA

I think they are not stubborn because they have been given large "democratic" space by their Maasai owners. They take humans as just colleagues in nation building. Glad you liked the story.

JoanCA on July 15, 2015:

Fascinating article! These donkeys aren't like the stubborn ones I encountered when I was a child.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on July 14, 2015:

Hello DrMark1961 , Suhail and my dog and grand old lady .

I am glad you all liked the article. I intend to post some pictures of how other cultures in Kenya mistreat donkeys. The Maasai have a very sustainable practice that should be adopted elsewhere especially if there is enough land.

I did not know that Donkeys can keep coyotes away so that's a lesson for me.

For the donkeys being let lose in Brasil, that could be a serious problem in the long term due to diminishing free-range. There will soon be conflict.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 12, 2015:

What a very interesting article. It shows that donkeys have so much personality. I love how the Maasi donkeys are very gentle compared to other donkeys. Thank you very much for such an enjoyable piece.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on July 11, 2015:

Very informative and interesting hub indeed! I never knew of this great event taking place. I love donkeys and they need to be treated with respect. After all they provide us with valuable services.

Your hub was great also because you included some travel and tourism information in it.

Here in North America, donkeys are used as livestock guardian animals. One or two donkeys along a herd of sheep will keep coyotes and feral dogs away.

Voted up and shared!

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 10, 2015:

Thanks for that interesting article!Here in Brasil we are having a problem with donkeys that are being let loose in the northeast as they are replaced by motorcycles. It sounds like the Masaai have a much better system--use them when needed, let them loose other times of the year.

Shared and pinned.

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