Kin of Chesegon tragedy victims seek closure in culture

Wednesday May 13 2020
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Friends and relatives console Mr William Kimutai Rutto (right) - who lost a child in a landslide - at his Kipchumwa home in Elgeyo-Marakwet County on May 6, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JEREMIAH KIPLANG'AT
By EVANS KIPKURA

The government abandoned them. The politicians flew in, parked their helicopters, promised freebies, and left.

The families of the 23 people who are still missing after flash floods and landslides in Chesegon - at the border of Elgeyo-Marakwet and West Pokot counties - have now been left to their own fate.

The government stopped the search two weeks ago after failing to locate the bodies during a four-day operation that covered 15 kilometres.

Desperate for closure, the families must now get a white goat for elders to slaughter and perform traditional rites to seek forgiveness from the missing persons for failing to locate their bodies and cleanse their families from similar tragedies in the future.

On Wednesday, the Nation found a team of elders smearing goat’s entrails on William Kimutai Rutto and his wife, Nelly, at their home in Kobil village, Kipchumwa location in Embobut, Marakwet East.

Mr Rutto’s 15-year-old daughter, Jepchirchir Kimutai, a Standard Eight pupil at Mungwa Primary School, has never been seen since the landslides hit the region on April 18.

On May 6, Mr Rutto and his wife sat on stools, resigned to fate. The elders held a fresh skin of a white goat behind them.

RIVER OVERFLOWS

The community’s respected elders had just smeared the entrails on their foreheads and legs after a long session of traditional chants meant to cast away evil spirits from their homestead.

“We are just trying to find peace and comfort in our hearts. This is something I never imagined would happen to me. I never thought my daughter would die this way. It hurts even more not to find her body and bury it the way we, Marakwets, do,” said Mr Rutto.

His daughter was among the best-performing candidates in the school. She was expected to sit and pass this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Examinations.

“After the cleansing ceremony, we can now move on with our lives. It has been three weeks of psychological trouble and torture. She remains in our hearts; may she travel well wherever she has gone,” added the father of seven, his face drooping as he fights back tears.

One of the elders, Mr Chemutut Lokungwa, said they must slaughter a white goat after such tragedies, where people’s bodies are not found.

“The goat sampled must correspond with the age of the departed. If it’s a young man or woman, you get a young goat; if it is an old man or woman, you must slaughter an old one; if it’s a male you get a buck; if it’s a female, you get a doe,” he told the Nation.

PRESUMED DEAD

Kobil village was the hardest hit by the tragedy. Villagers linked the destruction to River Chewara, which burst its banks, sweeping away anything on its path as it charged downhill.

Kobil is missing 16 people, Kakisoo (6), Katilit (1), Sewes (1) and Kamasia (1).

Mr John Kemboi, from Kobil has closed his business in Eldoret town to search for his son, Bernard Kemboi, a Form Two student at Tot High School.

His third-born son is yet to be seen since the tragedy. “He was fond of wearing a cap. We found that cap kilometres away from our home. We also found a part of a leg we suspect is his. This is not something I want to talk about. It is painful. Now I cannot find him; I cannot bury his body,” said Mr Kemboi.

“I have spoken to the river to return my son, but it does not want to listen to me. I have now found a white goat for the elders to come and cleanse my family. Although this will give us some consolation, I still wish I could bury my son,” he said.

Mr Abiud Kirotich lost his son, Philemon, who was also set to sit his KCPE exams this year at Cheptany Primary School.

PAYOUT

Ms Terry Biwott’s mother, Jennifer Biwott, is also yet to be found and is now presumed dead.

“No one has even bothered to speak to us or even counsel us. Maybe because we come from remote areas and they feel we might not feel much pain. But we lost our loved ones, we wished they were still living with us,” said Mr Biwott.

The government promised Sh50,000 for each family that lost a member.

Politicians also sent personal financial support to the residents. Deputy President William Ruto sent Sh1 million, which was delivered by area Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who topped it with another Sh100,000.

But they have not received the money. “We have not received anything. We just hear that money was given,” said Mr William Kaino, who lost a daughter, Chemwetich, a Class Five pupil at Mungwa Primary.

Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya said the search was called off because it was no longer possible to locate the bodies.