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Kalenjin, Nilotic Tribe of Rift Valley

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Right at the center of the magnificent Rift Valley lays a community that is admirable, the Kalenjin. Kalenjin include the Nandi, Kipsigis, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet, Tirik and Sabei (sabaot)

The Kalenjin arrived in Kenya from the plains of Sudan along the Abbei River. Linguistic evidence links them to Egyptians. They share words like maat which means fire in both languages.

Entering Kenya, the Kalenjin settled off the slopes of Mount Elgon which they name Tulwet Tab Kony. The Pokot dispersed to the north of the mount and settled there, the Marakwet and Keiyo settled in Cherang’any and the Kerio Valley, while the Tugen traveled further to settle in Baringo. The Nandi and Kipsigis travelled south and settled in the fertile highlands of Kericho and Nandi. Some members of the kalenjin community moved to the leeward side of the Mt. Elgon settling in Uganda.

The Kalenjin practice mixed farming. Their staple food includes milk and meat mixed with traditional vegetables. With the introduction of maize by the white settlers ugali was added to their menu.

The Kalenjin are famous for their sour milk known as Mursik. Mursik is sour milk flavored using traditional herbs called Itet.The milk is stored in special gourds called Sotet, and placed in special storage chambers called Lengut.

The Kalenjin practice monotheism, worshiping a god called Asis (the sun god). They prayed to Asis every morning facing the east, believed in spirits, ancestral spirits and when one dies he/she becomes an ancestor which they slowly climb the hierarchical ladder to become a divine being.

They also had prophets who they believed were appointed by god to lead them. One of the most famous Kalenjin prophet is Koitalel Arap Samoei who led the Nandi’s resistance against the British invasion in 1906.

In the community adolescents are initiated into adulthood through circumcision. Boys and girls are both circumcised in separate initiation ceremonies. Boys go through a series of training which ranges from how to make and use bows and arrows, to how to hunt, and rear cattles. Girls are taught how to build houses and maintain their Bomas (families).

The circumcision period runs from the month of November through to January. Circumcised boys will then be allowed to join the warriors who are honored with the job of defending the community.

The Kalenjin have a system that grouped young adults in age sets. There were six age sets namely; Nyongi, Kapkelach, Sawe, Maina, Kipkoimet and Chumo. The age-sets were set depending on the period and time of circumcision. A new age-set is formed after 7 years.

The community allows polygamy and sees the father as the head of the family.

In terms of fashion the kalenjin dress in attires made of animal hide. They accentuate their dressing with beads and cowrie shells. They pierced their ear lops and used sticks to expand the hole so that it can form wide loop over the ear.

You can’t talk about the kalenjin without talking about long distance and mid distance running. For years members of the kalenjin community have dominated the track race. They have set and broken records and have kept flying the Kenyan flag high. Most recently Daniel Kimeto did set a new marathon record of 2hrs and 4 secs in the Berlin marathon.

 

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