Kalenjin people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Christianity, African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, other Nilotic peoples

The Kalenjin are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting the Rift Valley Province in Kenya. They are estimated to number a little over 4.9 million individuals as per the Kenyan 2009 census.[2]


The Kalenjin are believed to have migrated to their present location from the South Sudan-Western[clarification needed] around 2,000 years ago.

Until the early 1950s, the Kenyan peoples now known as the Kalenjin did not have a common name; they were usually referred to as the 'Nandi-speaking tribes' by scholars and colonial administration officials, a practice that ended immediately following the adoption of the collective name 'Kalenjin.'[3]

In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, several "Nandi-speaking" peoples united to assume the name 'Kalenjin', an expression meaning 'I say (to you)'. Due to this effort, the peoples were transformed into a major ethnic group in Kenya. The adoption of the name Kalenjin also involved a standardisation of the dialects (Nandi, Markweta, Tugen Pogot, Keiyo, Kipsigis, and Sabaot/Sabiny) of the Kalenjin language.


According to the Kenya's 2009 census, the Kalenjin has a population of 4,967,328 people, making it the third largest group in Kenya after the Kikuyu and the Luhya.[2]


The Kalenjin speak Kalenjin languages as mother tongues. They belong to the Nilo-Saharan family.

Kalenjin also encompasses languages spoken in Tanzania (e.g., Akie) and Uganda (e.g., Kupsabiny). Due to this even broader use of the term 'Kalenjin', it is common practice in linguistic literature to refer to the languages of the Kenyan Kalenjin peoples as the Nandi languages.


As with some Bantu groups, the Kalenjin and other Nilotes in the Great Lakes region have through interaction adopted many customs and practices from neighbouring Southern Cushitic groups. The latter include the age set system of social organisation, circumcision, and vocabulary.[4][5][6]

In subsistence modes, the Kalenjin have traditionally practised livestock herding.


There are several tribal groupings within the Kalenjin: They include the Keiyo Elgeyo, Endorois, Kipsigis, Marakwet, Nandi, Pokot, Sabaot, Terik, Tugen and Sebei.

Athletic prowess[edit]

The Kalenjin have been called by some "the running tribe." Since the mid-1960s, Kenyan men have earned the largest share of major honours in international athletics (track and field) at distances from 800 meters to the marathon; the vast majority of these Kenyan running stars have been Kalenjin. From 1980 on, about 40% of the top honours available to men in international athletics at these distances (Olympic medals, World Championships medals, and World Cross Country Championships honours) have been earned by Kalenjin. In recent years,[when?] Kenyan women have become a major presence in international athletics at the distances; most of these women are Kalenjin. Amby Burfoot of Runner's World stated that the odds of Kenya achieving the success they did at the 1988 Olympics were below 1:160 billion. Kenya had an even more successful Olympics in 2008, documented in the book More Fire: How to Run the Kenyan Way by Toby Tanser.

A number of theories explaining the unusual athletic prowess among people from the tribe have been proposed. These include many explanations that apply equally well to other Kenyans or people living elsewhere who are not disproportionately successful athletes, such as that they run to school every day, that they live at relatively high altitude, and that the prize money from races is large compared to typical yearly earnings. NPR advanced two explanations that apply more narrowly to the tribe. One is that by common genetic inheritance, many tribe members have unusually thin ankles and calves, significantly improving the physical dynamics of running. The other is that the tribe has historically conducted male and female circumcisions in a ritual where screaming out in pain is taboo, engendering a certain kind of psychological resilience and tolerance of pain which is useful in race discipline.[7]


  1. ^ [Ethnologue]
  2. ^ a b Census: Here are the numbers. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  3. ^ cf. Evans-Pritchard 1965.
  4. ^ Robert O. Collins, The southern Sudan in historical perspective, Transaction Publishers: 2006, p.9-10.
  5. ^ A. Okoth & A. Ndaloh, Peak Revision K.C.P.E. Social Studies, East African Publishers, p.113.
  6. ^ Robert Maxon, East Africa, An Introductory History, Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers, 1994, 32.
  7. ^ Gregory Warner (2013-11-01). "How One Kenyan Tribe Produces the World's Best Runners". NPR. Retrieved 2013-12-28. 

See also[edit]


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