Fear of extinction as the El Molo numbers drop - Daily Nation

Fear of extinction as the El Molo numbers drop

Friday March 12 2010

El Molo villagers stand outside their shelters at Loiyangalani village in north-eastern Kenya, some 567km from the capital Nairobi. El Molo is Kenya's smallest tribe. REUTERS

El Molo villagers stand outside their shelters at Loiyangalani village in north-eastern Kenya, some 567km from the capital Nairobi. El Molo is Kenya's smallest tribe. REUTERS 

By MUCHEMI WACHIRA

There is a big riddle about the total population of the El Molo community. While some websites estimate the total population of the El Molo at 200, some observers believe the number could be 300. It is the smallest and certainly one of the smallest tribes in Kenya.

A strange thing about the El Molo people is that none of them will disclose the population of their community. They believe that disclosing their number endangers them more since they have over the years been assimilated by their neighbours – the Samburu, Rendille and the Turkana from intermarriage.

Whatever the case, El Molo is one of the country’s communities threatened with extinction.

They have lost their language and most of their culture through assimilation to influential neighbours, mostly the Samburus. They speak Samburu language and most of their culture is borrowed from the same community.

There are no official records to show the population of this dying community.

In the 1979 census, the El Molos were found to be scattered in Coast, Central, North Eastern and Rift Valley provinces.

Their total number then was 289.

The El Molo live in what is known as El Molo Bay on the south eastern shores of Lake Turkana.

They live 10 kilometres from Loiyangalani township, which is inhabited by the Turkana, Samburu and Rendille people.

El Molo Bay, which is in Marsabit South District, is a very small area comprising of two villages — Layeni and Komote.

Here, the El Molos, who are hunters and gatherers, survive almost entirely on fishing using nets made from the doum palm fibre.

It is the same fibre or dried woods that they use to build their round grass-thatch huts.

The El Molo are known to hunt the giant Nile Perch. They also hunt animals like hippos and crocodiles in Lake Turkana.

The name El Molo, according to linguistics experts, is a Samburu name referring to people who do not use livestock as their source of income.

There is one theory advanced by people in Marsabit on why there are very few El Molos.

They believe the El Molo die early because of drinking the alkaline waters of the lake. It is difficult to find an El Molo man older than 60 years.

At the height of last year’s drought in the country, the Saturday Nation visited El Molo Bay village.

And when we sought an interview with a man the villagers referred to as a local elder we asked him his age.

“I’m 25 years old and a father of three,” the man said.

“Do you then qualify to be an elder?” we asked and the man confidently responded affirmatively.

This is because most of his age mates are in the category of the aged in the community.

And the man only agreed to talk to us on assurance of a local Catholic priest and other church workers that our team had no bad intentions for the El Molo.

According to historians the El Molo’s originated from Somalia or Ethiopia and settled along the shores of Lake Turkana.

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