Rungus and Congas

Hard to believe it has been almost 2 weeks since our last post.  Daily life has a way of sneaking up on us.  We still have several more posts about our trip. Here is the next one:

March 13


Rungus and Congas – Another Alternative Income Project

Because it was pouring, we skipped the early morning walk and lazed around in bed until 8am.  What a treat!  We love the morning walks with Wilson or Jackson, but it felt good to be lazy, if only briefly.


We had breakfast at 8:30 and then returned to Mama Jane’s community of Emori Joi to see another one of Free the Children’s Alternative Income Projects.  They have a group making Rungus and Congas. It is quite an extensive process that takes about two weeks to complete.


Congas are a traditional Maasai weapon, best described as a “club.” They are are also called “Rungus” The Maasai use them to fend off wild animals when protecting their livestock, and of course, their homestead.  They can also be used to help kill a lion if necessary!

A Rungu is also a beaded wooden baton used by respected village elders in community gatherings and meetings. Representing status and authority, only the person holding the Rungu is given a voice.

To make a Conga or Rungu, first the men search for the perfect piece of wood, either white bush or red olive. Then the form is carved out of the wood with a machete. This job is only done by men. It takes a lot of skill and is quite dangerous.  All other steps can be done by men or women.

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It is then passed to the next group who file it down, further developing its shape.

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In the past, all of these steps would only be done by men, but with recent changes in attitude, women and men are working together as part of alternative income projects.

Once the form is determined, it goes though two other smoothing stages. First a piece of broken glass, usually from broken pop bottles, is used to make the wood smooth.

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Next, the wood is further smoothed with leaves from a sandpaper bush.

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Petroleum jelly is rubbed into the finished product to prevent cracking. Of course, with the drastic weather changes here, some of our rungus cracked after we got home. Next time we will regularly oil them when we get them home as well – lesson learned!


We were able to try each of the stages except for the machete stage. When the Rungus and Congas are finished, they are sent to one of the beading communities for embellishment. The finished products are beautiful.

Me to We purchases all of the Rungus and Congas made in Emori Joi and they are sold online and in their stores throughout the world. It has made a huge difference to the quality of life in the community.

The boys decided Koren needed a Rungu to help run the house.  Will they listen any better? Doubtful, but she was honoured to have it nonetheless. Even if the boys don’t always listen to the Rungu, we are helping support a wonderful community of hard working people.

While we were watching the process of Rungu Making and trying it out, the Elders of the Community also told us about men’s groups that were started in the community.  A program called VSLA (Village Savings And Loans Association) had been started.

Members of the community contribute to a central pot from which loans are given out.  Everyone buys as many shares as they can afford, and then each take turns borrowing money and then paying back with interest. The rates are set by each individual community to fit their unique financial situation.

At the end of the year, all the interest that accumulates over the course of the year is divided between community members, according to the number of shares held. This microfinancing, coming from the community itself, has gone a long way to help stabilize the community, and improve their overall quality of life.  VSLAs have been used all over the developing world with much success.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Emori Joi, and were so impressed by the difference Free the Children is making in their community on so many different levels.

Here are a few more pics of Emori Joi:

Traditional medical treatment for cuts

Traditional medical treatment for cuts

Use of local plants to treat cuts

Use of local plants to treat cuts

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posted by Aubrey and Koren


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