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New book offers rich cultural menu and indigenous wisdom

Sunday January 29 2017

Kipsigis Heritage and Origin of Clans. The well-illustrated book which is written by Bill Ruto and Kipng’etich Maritim and published by Spotlight Publishers (EA) Ltd, explores and celebrates the community’s history and diverse socio-cultural aspects since their arrival in Kenya several centuries ago. PHOTO | NATION 

Kipsigis Heritage and Origin of Clans. The well-illustrated book which is written by Bill Ruto and Kipng’etich Maritim and published by Spotlight Publishers (EA) Ltd, explores and celebrates the community’s history and diverse socio-cultural aspects since their arrival in Kenya several centuries ago. PHOTO | NATION  

Title: Kipsigis Heritage & Origin of Clans

Authors: Bill Ruto & Kipng’etich Maritim (with a preface by Simon Sossion)

Year of Publication: Dec 2016

Price: Sh870 (including VAT)

Availability: All key bookshops in Nairobi & South Rift

Many traditional African societies deeply revered their prophets. But not when they persistently made inaccurate predictions and erroneous interpretation of phenomena, mistakes that had far-reaching consequences on the community.

One such prophet, Orgoiyot Arap Kabuos of the Kipsigis people was killed for his false prophesy in the 1860s. Two decades later, in the 1890s, Orgoiyot Kimnyolei Arap Turugat of the Nandi (and father of the famous Koitalel Arap Somoei) met a similar fate for his prophetic blunder.

And whereas literacy is commonly defined as ability to read and write, what do you call a man who can only read but not write? Does the dictionary have a word for a person with one and not the other of those abilities? For, at least according to a new book, there has been such a person, a Kipsigis elder named Kipsambu Arap Barkokwet.

Born in 1901, Mr Barkokwet was a respected sage among the Kipsigis community and his reading prowess confounded many.

The above stories and many other legends are carried in a new book, Kipsigis Heritage and Origin of Clans. The well-illustrated book which is written by Bill Ruto and Kipng’etich Maritim and published by Spotlight Publishers (EA) Ltd, explores and celebrates the community’s history and diverse socio-cultural aspects since their arrival in Kenya several centuries ago. 

Mr Ruto, the author of Death Trap which won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2005 under the English Youth fiction category, is a cultural enthusiast with a keen interest in traditional customs and religion. On his part Mr Kipng’etich Maritim is a retired teacher and has extensive knowledge in the Kipsigis cultural practices.

FORMIDABLE ARMY

According to the book, the Kipsigis people arrived in their present settlement in the south-rift region of Kenya after a long-drawn migration along the River Nile from Egypt. It details their cultural practices and war exploits throughout their migration and spread across the Rift Valley from their dispersal area in Mt Elgon in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Kipsigis is the largest subgroup of the larger Kalenjin speakers that also comprise the Nandi, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet, Pokot, Sengwer, Okiek, Terik and Sabaot, among others.

Politically, the community was divided into four units, namely, Belgut, Sot, Bureti and Waldai with their governance structure comprising religious, civil and military segments.

The Kipsigis had a formidable military force that helped them navigate their way through hostile environment during migration. The military was split into four major regiments each with a specified role to play during war.

Their social structure stemmed from the family unit headed by a father and dovetailed into a well-defined clan system. The community has 77 clans that the book lists with a brief description of their origins, totems and military specialty.

In narrating the community’s first encounter with Europeans, the authors dispute long-held position that the name Lumbwa of the present day Kipkelion area in Kericho County originates from a peace making ritual between the Europeans and the natives.  According to legend, the oath involved the sacrifice of two puppies (mbwa) with the place being later mispronounced as Lumbwa.

The authors, however, claim this nomenclature is not corroborated by earlier historians and could be misleading. They attribute the name to a Maasai characterisation of the Kipsigis and Nandi inhabitants. The latter communities had adopted agriculture to supplement their pastoralist lifestyles and were (derogatorily) named Il-lumbwa by the Maasai meaning people who have “deviated” from the ‘pure’ pastoralist way of life to an agricultural one.

The book is a record of the Kipsigis culture ranging from the community’s traditional artifacts to proverbs, riddles and chants. It also features the contemporary issues surrounding the community and identifies some of its prominent political and cultural leaders during and after the colonial era.

They include politician and scholar Dr Taaita Toweet who also became Cabinet minister in the Kenyatta and Moi governments.

This is a book, not just for Kalenjin  speakers. Scholars of such varied fields as anthropology, commerce and conflict resolution will find it useful.