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Kalenjin Tribe Facts: Clans, Culture, Bible & Music

History of the Kalenjin

The Kalenjin are an ethnic group called Nilotes which occupies the vast region of the defunct Kenyan Rift Valley Province. According to the outcome of the national census of 2009 in Kenya, this part of the country had more than 4.9 million people.

The Kalenjin community is divided into about 9 main sub-tribes, including the Terik, Keiyo, Kipsigis, Tugen, Sabaot, Marakwet, Nandi, Dorobo or Ogiek, and Pokots.

Based on the linguistic evidence, the Nilotic speaking people are believed to originate from the eastern part of the Middle Nile Basin. This is a place located in the south of the Abbai River, the southeastern region of Africa in the present-day Khartoum.

The current unity among the Nilotic people dates back to between 3000 and 2000 B.C. However, little is known regarding the reason behind their togetherness.

By the early 2nd Millennium, some communities from this community started to migrate southward and most of them settled in current South Sudan. Others moved further towards present North-eastern Uganda to form the current Southern Nilotes by 1000 B.C.

The so-called Southern Nilotic speaking people further moved south at the beginning of 700 BC into the present Rift Valley region and western highlands in Kenya, shortly before the introduction of the iron to Eat Africa.

According to various historical narratives about the different sub-tribes of the Kalenjin Nilotes in the modern research, the first place they settled was Mount Elgon, traditionally known as Tulup Kony or Tulwetab, in Kenya.

Their way of life was largely influenced by their neighbors, the Southern Cushitic societies whom they settled close to on arrival in Kenya. The nature and extend of the influence is evident from some of the common borrowed loan words, the cyclical age-set system adopted by the organization, and the practice of circumcision. 

Kalenjin Culture & Age Sets

The Kalenjin Culture

The Kalenjins were semi-nomadic pastoralists until the end of the 2nd millennium. They were characterized by pearl millet and sorghum farming and herding goats, sheep, and cattle. A majority of their population settled around Lake Baringo.

They also occupied parts of the Rift Valley and geographical Western Kenya. However, this geographical locality of different Kalenjin Sub-tribes didn’t have the same set of classifications across their tribal lands.

The most judicial and political unit of this geographical set of classifications was the Kokwet group of the Kalenjin community governed by a council of elders.

The Kalenjin Mythology or Folklore

The Kalenjin, just like all oral societies, had a wide range of folklore used to pass the message from one generation to the next. Most of the myths talked about the Nandi Bear or Chemosit, the feared giant animal believed to consume the brains of badly behaved children.

Contemporary Kalenjin literature

In the ancient times, the expression of the Kalenjin literature was purely in folklore. However, the adoption and introduction of the Latin script employed to define the Kalenjin history and lore came into being in the colonial period.

People like Ciarunji Chesaina, Paul Kipchumba, and B. E. Kipkorir are the modern writers popular for documenting the Kalenjin culture and history today.

Kalenjin Sport

The Kalenjin are known for their athletic ability and even sometimes were nicknamed “the running tribe.” This is a sport they have thrived in since Kenya got its independence from the colonialists in the early 1960s.

Many athletes from this community have earned the largest share of international medals in this sport, particularly in marathon races. People like Paul Tergat and Kipchoge Keino among others, are renowned athletes in Kenyan sports history.

The Kalenjin Cookery

The main cuisine, which is also the staple food of the Kalenjin people is beef and sauce served with ugali. The ugali, known as Kimyet in mother tongue languages, is prepared from millet. Another staple food is Mursik and a vegetable relish. These foods were accompanied with roast goat or beef meat and milk, occasionally combined with cow’s blood. Their traditional diet also encompassed fish but was restricted to people in Nyanza region.

Until the last century B.C., they made their traditional dating back, mead using honey.

Language

The mother tongue language of the section that settled in the North Rift is Kalenjin belonging to the Nilo-Saharan family. They also have languages identical to those spoken in the neighboring countries such as Akie of Tanzania and Kupsabiny of Uganda.

However, the tribe’s common use of the term Kalenjin made its linguistic literature and people to be known as the Nandi languages.

Kalenjin Age sets

Also known in local language as Ipinda or Ebendo, the Kalenjin age sets denotes the segregation of their social system. The male sex is divided into elders, warriors, and boys while the female sex was separated into married women and girls.

The life cycle of the Kalenjin started with birth to initiation of boys to make them belong into one Ibinda. Time was recorded using these age sets. Ibinda protected the community land upon coming of age. The period of land protection was called Ibinda as well.

In general, there were 8 ages between one age-set to the other. They had female age-sets that corresponded with male ones, particularly among the Marakwet subtribe. For instance, the Marakwet had male age-set called Kaberur that match up with female age-set known as Chemeri Kipchesum.

To date, girls are still circumcised among the Marakwet alongside boys. But, they name the age-sets according to prevailing events. That means that the name keeps on changing depending on the occasions.

Kalenjin Sub tribes & Clans

Like said earlier, the Kalenjin tribe have 8 linguistically and culturally linked tribes or groups such as the Terik, Pokot, Marakwet, Sabaot, Tugen, Kipsigis, Keiyo, and Nandi. They speak languages like the Kipsikis for the Kipsigis sub-tribe, Keiyo among the Keyo people, and the Nandi, Tugen, and Cherangany languages.

Kalenjin Songs & Music & Artists

Kalenjins are known for many popular songs and artists for their appealing music. Most of their lyrics and tunes are borrowed from the Local South African beats.

Here is a table with some of the common songs and artists from this region or tribe:

Artist Song(s)
Junior Kotestes Muchuria, Sagaldit, Tenyun Seroi, Yori, My Cousin, Chepnandindet, Tomotet, Selele, Arap Tii Sirwai, Kerichekab Moita!, Ibindap Korobis, Chebuchechet (Kitogostaiyat)!, Ikaikai Lakwet
Makiche Rotich Chepile, Rutoi kamaora, Safari ya Magarini, Ocampo Six (6), Kongoi Sigikchuk
Diana Chelele Musila Shilingi, Mashabik, Binti Osama
Paul Subembe Welding, Zedy Chepkoech, Wasiwasi, Purity, Piriton, Joseph, Mureret
Tumbala Arap Sang Kitoos Kobaran

Kalenjin Comedy

Kalenjins have some of the hilarious comedies and comedians you have ever come across. These are some of the most popular comedians from the kalenjin communities:

Ken, a talented man who can perfectly imitate a feminine voice in the comedy, THE HOUSE HELP. Obot Anderson stands out as one of queen of Kalenjin comedy as well.

There are Nakuru comedians, PROPESA whose work is found online have made it big on the social media platforms with their funny comedies.

Kalenjin Gospel Hymns

Most of the Kalenjin gospel hymns are played in the churches and any religious functions as well as on the mass media. Although some of them are not translated into English versions, they still sound good.

However, most of the collection of Kalenjin hymns are from the Book known as Tienwogik che Kilosune Jehovah. The hymns in this book include:

  • Jesus loves me, this I know
  • The great physician
  • Come thou fount
  • ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus
  • Blessed Assurance
  • More about Jesus
  • Rock of ages cleft for me
  • Standing on the promises
  • Am standing on a higher ground
  • There is a fountain filled with blood

Other common hymns are:

  1. Atieni ak alosu Jesu             – MY SONG SHALL BE OF JESUS
  2. Ee sobondanyu eb it             – HARK MY SOUL! IT IS THE LOARD
  3. Ongetien agobo Jesu             – I WILL SING THE WONDROUS STORY
  4. Abaibai bet ak kemol – I’M REJOICING NIGHT AND DAY
  5. Mitei tunguk alak che chang’ – WHAT VARIOUS HINDRANCES WE MEET (THE WORTH OF PRAYER)
  6. Kristo, tonone kwenunyon – JESUS STAND AMONG US

Kalenjin Greetings

Some of the common Kalenjin greetings include Tokorieche Rae, Ochamegei? Roboni olobo gaa?, Une bandek?, Omune gaa?, Kichut ko nebo Ezekiel?, and Amunee lagok?.

Kalenjin Dictionary & Bible

The Kalenjin dictionary has more than two thousand words written in the local dialect with its equivalent in English language. Some of the words written in the Kalenjin are somehow synonyms its words are arranged in an alphabetical order.

The Bible Society of Kenya first published the Kalenjin Holy Bible in 1969. It covers topics Kalenjin Genesis Translation, kln and was contributed to and sponsored in English language by The Long Now Foundation.

FURTHER READING: Maasai Tribe Facts, Jumping, and culture

Bibliography on the Kalenjin Ethnic Group

  1. http://www.kenya-information-guide.com/kalenjin-tribe.html
  2. https://www.flickr.com/photos/71360867@N07/20150140679

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