El Molo people

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El Molo
Total population
Regions with significant populations
El Molo
Waaq, Christianity
Related ethnic groups

The El Molo are an ethnic group mainly inhabiting the northern Eastern Province of Kenya. They historically spoke the El Molo language as a mother tongue, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Cushitic branch. The modern El Molo are believed to be nearly extinct, with only a handful of unmixed members left.


The El Molo are believed to have originally migrated down into the Great Lakes area around 1000 BC from Ethiopia in the more northerly Horn region. Owing to the arid environment in which they entered, they are held to have then abandoned agricultural activities in favor of lakeside fishing.[2]

Historically, the El Molo erected tomb structures in which they placed their dead. A 1962 archaeological survey in the Northern Frontier District led by S. Brodribb Pughe observed hieroglyphics on a number of these constructions. They were mainly found near springs or wells of water.[3]


The El Molo today primarily inhabit the northern Eastern Province of Kenya. They are concentrated in Marsabit District, the southeast shore of Lake Turkana, and El Molo bay.[1] In the past, they also dwelled in parts of the Northern Frontier District.[3]

As of 2007, there were an estimated 700 El Molo representatives.[1] However, historians have noted that there are few pure El Molo left. Most group members are today admixed with adjacent Nilotic populations, with only a handful of unmixed El Molo believed to exist. Many El Molo have also adopted cultural customs from these communities.[4]


The El Molo historically spoke the El Molo language as a mother tongue. It belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.[1]

According to Ethnologue, the El Molo language is nearly extinct and there may already be no remaining speakers of it. Most group members have now adopted the Nilo-Saharan languages of their neighbours.[1]


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the El Molo people. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern El Molo.


According to an mtDNA study by Castri et al. (2008), the maternal ancestry of the contemporary El Molo consists of a mixture of Afro-Asiatic-associated lineages and Sub-Saharan haplogroups, reflecting substantial female gene flow from neighboring Sub-Saharan populations. A little over 30% of the El Molo belonged to the West Eurasian haplogroups I (23%) and HV1 (8%). Their frequencies of the rare I clade, which is believed to have originated in the Middle East, constitute a world high. The remaining El Molo samples carried various Sub-Saharan macro-haplogroup L sub-clades, mainly consisting of L3* (26%), L0a2 (17%) and L0f (17%).[5]

Autosomal DNA[edit]

The El Molo's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to the researchers, the El Molo showed significant Afro-Asiatic affinities. They also shared some ties with neighboring Nilo-Saharan and Bantu speakers in the Great Lakes region due to considerable genetic exchanges with these communities over the past 5000 or so years.[6]


In terms of creed, many El Molo practice a traditional religion centered on the worship of Waaq/Wakh.[1] In the related Oromo culture, Waaq denotes the single god of the early pre-Abrahamic, montheistic faith believed to have been adhered to by Cushitic groups.[7]

Some El Molo have also adopted Christianity.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "El Molo". Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Newman, James L. (1997). The Peopling of Africa: A Geographic Interpretation. Yale University Press. p. 166. ISBN 0300072805. 
  3. ^ a b Pughe, S. Brodribb. A Preliminary Report Concerning Problems on the Origins and Ages of Certain of the Man-made Structures in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and Certain Regions of the Eastern Horn of Africa. p. 24. 
  4. ^ Safari, Volume 4. News Publications. 1973. p. 14. 
  5. ^ Castrí (2008). "Kenyan crossroads: migration and gene flow in six ethnic groups from Eastern Africa." 86. pp. 189–92. PMID 19934476. 
  6. ^ Tishkoff et al. (2009), "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans", the American Association for the Advancement of Science: 17 ; Also see Supplementary Data
  7. ^ Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Publishing Group: 2001), p.65.