This gourd is now the centerpiece at my apartment.
What: Milk Gourd
Where: Lake Baringo, Kenya
I bought this gourd four years ago from Diana Ross’ cousin, 30 times removed. At least that is what he claimed. The story I was told is that Diana got into that whole genetic testing craze a few years back and went on a search for her roots.
She learned that she originated from the Pokot Tribe in Kenya’s Rift Valley—specifically the Pokot who live on the north shore of Lake Baringo. According to everyone in the tribe and the owners of the nearby Samatian Island Resort —a laid back, private island and resort in the middle of the hippo and croc-filled lake—Diana came, she met the tribe, and apparently she was spit on by the chief of her tribe—the very same gentleman who sold me this milk gourd.
The chief of the Pokot tribe.
According to Caro Withey, the owner of the Samatian Island Resort, it was a sign of respect. Unfortunately, Diana didn’t remember that old family custom and left immediately after the incident (can’t say I blame her). Some customs just don’t translate. Thankfully, the chief had stopped spitting on non-locals by the time I met him because that would not have ended well. Trust.
The chief had other gourds for sale but they weren’t as nice as the one inside his home.
I hung out with the chief, his family, and tribe for the day. They took a break from fighting with the neighboring Njemp tribe to dance and sing. Then I ended up haggling for an hour over the gourd from his house I’d had my eye on all day. He’d tried to sell me some newer ones made for the few tourists who stop by every year, but the one in his house was just so… beautiful. It has this burnished patina, and the beading and handiwork is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It now sits in a position of honor in my apartment. That’s probably the last time the chief ever took a tourist in his house.
Below is a video I took of the Pokots dancing around their chief… and an extra bonus shot of a lung fish - which illustrates that, even if there hadn’t been crocodiles or hippos in Lake Baringo, there’s no way in heck I would have ever gone in that water.
Paula Froelich and Caro Withey, owner of the Samarina Island Resort, pose with a lung fish.