The Kipsigis Talai Tragedy, Tribulations and Triumph of a community in Kenya by David Ng’asura Tuei mixes myths, legends, folklores and personal innuendos to weave together events of almost two centuries in order to explain the origin of the Talai or Laibon community among the Kipsigis.
With the help of Godfrey K. Sang, another historian, Ng’asura traces the Talai origin to Maasai, Rendille, Galla and Oromo in northern Kenya, where family quarrels made them to keep moving until they settled among the Nandi and later on the Kipsigis in Kericho. The Talai flourished among the Kipsigis in Kericho until the signing of the Laibon Removal Ordinance of 1934, which enabled the British colonialists to forcefully remove them from their homes to Gwassi in Nyanza.
Attributing his sources to legend, the author traces the Talai origin to two boys, Kobogoi and Barsabotwo, who were born and reared in a cave during the Nandi-Maasai wars. The twin boys were protected by two lions before they were released and groomed for leadership among the Nandis. Kobogoi took over as the first supreme Orgoiyot of the Nandi. On the demise of Kobogoi, Orgoiyot Kimnyole took over and presided over successful reign and Nandi prospered politically and economically until they put him to death following his failure to protect them from natural calamities and secure their cattle raids against the Luo, Luhyia and Pokot.
Before his death by public execution, however, Orgoiyot Kimnyole ordered his sons Kipchomber araap Koilegen, Kipngetich araap Boisio and Kibuigut to move to Kipsigis while Koitalel araap Samoei was to go and live among the Keiyo and Tugen. Koitalel was enticed by the Nandis who were keen to benefit from his mystic powers only to be executed by Meinertzhagen, a British colonialist, in 1905.
Once he settled among the Kipsigis, Koilegen asserted himself as supreme leader until the colonialists disrupted his seat of power. The author gives an account of a large black bull bearing the royal tag which ended up at Orgoiyoot Kipchomber arrap Koilegen's home at Cherire in Kericho in 1909. Since none of the white settlers in Kenya and Rhodesia and Nyasaland could lay claim to it, the brand number was sent to Britain and it was alleged that the number belonged to King Edward VII's cows. When the King was informed about it, he allowed the native chief to keep it. After all, the Orgoiyot had not stolen it. The women composed a song in praise of Koilegen and his bull.
From the book, it comes out clearly that the Talai suffered immensely during the colonial times and even after Kenya attained independence in 1963. Their leaders such as Koilegen, Boisio and Kibuigut were deported to Fort Hall (Kiambu), Nyeri and Meru. When the colonialists were done with the three Talai leaders, they forcibly removed the entire community from Kericho to Gwassi in Nyanza under the Laibon Removal Ordinance of 1934. All these are not only historical injustices but crimes against humanity, which the county governments of Kericho and Bomet are jointly exploring to seek compensation.
But the author downplays the position of the Kipsigis spiritual leaders such as Barngetuny arap Koskei, popularly known as Mugeni, Koilegen's brother-in-law, who is said to have also made several fulfilled prophesies.
Reading through the book, one comes to conclusion that the Talai were the black masters of the Kipsigis people within the larger Kericho and Bomet areas after leaving their ancestral home in Nandi. He also brings out a people who loved an extravagant lifestyle, polygamous lives, endless drinking parties and feasting irrespective of the season. Quarrels among the senior Talai leaders were common occurrences as recorded in the book.
The book requires professional editing to give it a quality touch of an historical recording. The author loses objectivity expected of an historian and delves into his own personal experience and that of his family. This is understandable because the leading Talai are grandparents to the author.
On page 150, the author narrates as follows: “On Jan. 2013, I applied to be nominated by URP party as a County Representative (MCA) from the minority Kipsigis Talai community Kipkelion East Constituency Chepseon Ward to represent the Marginalised groups among the Kipsigis Talai. His name, and another candidate’s, … the list was sent to the IEBC, but his name did not appear in the list …” These are some of the instances where the third and first person narrations are competing to tell the same within the same context. Reproducing the purported text message from the United Republican Party (URP) does not add much to the story. County Representative is not abbreviated as MCA and URP cannot necessarily be known by anybody reading the book. For the benefit of the reader, URP means United Republican Party; a political led by Deputy President William Ruto in the run-up to 2013 general elections.
Chapter 19 and 20 are unnecessary additions to the history of the Talai. But if the author feels they are important, then the same should be rewritten and placed within the continuum of the injustice to the Talai. Otherwise, it’s a unique book that outlines the history of a people who are on the verge of extinction.
Kap Telwa is a lecturer of Journalism and Media Law at Multimedia University of Kenya, Nairobi. [email protected]