Nineteenth century East Africa was characterized by small-scale societies with fluid boundaries and highly adaptable populations. Throughout the region these societies were continuously reshaped as necessity or choice dictated. Individuals, families, and groups shifted between a variety of economic modes, adopted new subsistence patterns and social structures to maintain themselves and became economically and linguistically assimilated into new social formations. 2 Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the oral traditions that describe the disasters that swept across East Africa in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The dominant themes in the traditions of the peoples of northern Kenya concerning these years focus upon their struggles to remain within the pastoral economy and the reshaping of their communities as people were dispersed in the wake of this series of disasters. These traditions graphically illustrate the complex networks of social and economic ties that linked individuals across the region, and the period offers an unusual opportunity to examine the strategies governing social relations between individuals and groups.