As the adage goes, man’s best friend is a dog. But in Kajiado County, a donkey remains a woman’s best friend. It is bestowed a lot of respect even in death.
In the vast county, the hardy beast remains a respected animal, with almost every homestead owning several if not dozens.
The beast of burden comes in handy in fetching firewood and water.
It's the responsibility of a woman to ensure that each homestead has the two all-important commodities. And to these women, donkeys never disappoint.
When families in the pastoral community relocate with their livestock in search of pasture, the animal bears the burden of ferrying luggage. Its adaptability makes it the most admired animal by most pastoralists, especially women.
At the Magadi communal water borehole, women queue as early as 5am. They first take a bath in the communal bathroom before they fetch water in turns.
Each donkey usually carries six 20-litre jerrycans on its back.
"I own 10 donkeys that I use to fetch water and firewood. The animals usually bray at 4am to wake me up. We have adopted a way of communication and they understand me. I spend most of my time with them. They never disappoint," said Jane Purei, a resident of Magadi.
A recent survey by local NGOs indicates that the donkey population in Kajiado, especially in the semi-arid Magadi region, has increased by 50 percent to about one million.
However, the animal is associated with several myths that make it a taboo for locals to eat its meat. To them, a donkey is almost a "sacred" animal.
That is not all. In the past 10 years, a peculiar habit has emerged in the Oletepesi urban centre on the Kiserian-Magadi road.
Here, mysteriously, dozens of donkeys meet and spend the night, especially during dry seasons.
According to locals, donkeys from far-off villages "congregate" for a period of two to three months annually in what locals refer to as a "donkey conference", attracting tourists. Some locals say they come to this dusty town for a holiday.
"We began noticing the peculiar habit in 2010. Donkeys began arriving in the shopping centres in large numbers. They would spend the night and leave the following morning. It has been a spectacular adventure now attracting tourists," said Mark Porunkei, elaborating that the donkeys are owned by individuals but the owners have no control over them during the period.
Local children are not supposed to see donkey carcasses nor allowed to watch when donkeys give birth.
To them, a donkey is a special animal that ought to be highly respected.
"The way we cannot allow children to visit their mothers in manyattas (traditional huts) when giving birth is the same way we don't allow our children to watch donkeys giving birth," he added.
When a donkey dies, women take part in burying the animal a distance from the homestead and dirges envelop the air. Women are said to sing and wail uncontrollably.
Most of these dirges are composed by women to praise the dead animal.
The local community discourages the selling of donkeys but instead prefers barter trade with other animals, though the selling of donkeys still takes place.