Elgeyo people

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Regions with significant populations
Elgeyo Marakwet County and Uasin Gishu
Predominantly Christianity, Islam & African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Kipsigis people, Tugen people, Marakwet people, Pokot people, Nandi people, Sebeii
Elgeyo may also refer to Keiyo, a district in Kenya, or Elgeyo escarpment

The Elgeyo (also known as Keiyo) are an ethnic group that is part the larger Kalenjin ethnic group of nilotic origin. They live near Eldoret, Kenya in the highlands of the former Keiyo District now part of the larger Elgeyo Marakwet County. The Elgeyo together with Kipsigis, Marakwet, Pokot, Sabaot, Tugen and Nandi are in some literature referred to as Highland Nilotes.[1] The Elgeyo like other Highland Nilotes, subsist mainly on grain, milk, blood and meat provided by their cattle, sheep and goats. The name Keiyo or Elgeyo has been used interchangeably to describe the Keiyo people. The latter name being disputed as a corruption of the former true name, which resulted from the Uasin Gishu Maasai who were the neighbours of the Keiyo in the mid 19th century at the western side of Eldoret, being a word coined by them.[citation needed]


The Keiyo like the rest of the Kalenjin originated from a country in the north known as Emetab Burgei, which means, the hot country. The people are said to have traveled southwards passing through Mount Elgon or Tulwetab Kony in Kalenjin. The Sebeii settled around the slopes of the mountain while the others travelled on in search of better land. The Keiyo and Marakwet settled in present Uasin Gishu plateau, Kerio Valley and Cherangani Hills.[2] The arrival of Warring Uasin Gishu Maasai in the present day Uasin Gishu plateau forced the Elgeyo to move away into the present day Kerio Valley during the expansion of the tribe. The loss of much of their grazing lands forced them to reduce their herds and rely more on agriculture.


Elgeiyo People divided their land into 16-east-west stretches to control inntermarriage and displacement of a clan by other clans and a system of totems were acquired. The land was divided so that each group had access to the banks of Kerio River and thus the totems ran perpendicular to the river. From the south to the north the clans are Metkei, Kapkwoni, Maoi,Tumeiyo, Kowochi, Mwen, Sego, Chebior, Chang'ach, Rokocho, Mutei, Maam, Irong', Kaptany and Kapchemutwa.[3] The land was sub-divided to members of the same clan marked by a series of stones referred to as Koiwek.

Age-set (Ebenda)[edit]

The Elgeiyo social organisation centres on the age-set, or ebendo. There are eight age-sets (ebenwek) which are rotational, meaning after the end of one age set (after approximately 120 years), new members of age-set are born. Unlike the Nandi and the Tugen who have only seven age-sets (due to loss of an entire age-set in battle), the Keiyo retained all the eight age sets. The order is given below. Ebendo was given out during initiation. The age set system is organized in such a way that a father and a son cannot be of the same or sequential age sets. That is, there ought to be one ebendo between a father and a son. For example, a Kipkoimet cannot beget a Kaplelach. The Elgeiyo don't consider a woman to have an ageset, hence she can marry any ageset except that in which her father belongs.

  • Maina
  • Chumo
  • Sawe
  • Kipkoimet
  • Korongoro
  • Kaplelach
  • Kipnyigei
  • Nyongi

A member of an age set for example kipyigei, will identify himself in Keiyo as

"...A'ii Kipyigei..."

Meaning he is of Kipnyigei age-set. On the other hand, a married woman will identify herself using the age-set of her husband. For example, a woman married to a kipnyigei will identity herself as

"...Aabo Kipyigeii..."

Meaning she is of a kipyigeei.

Sub Dialects[edit]

There are three predominant sub dialects of Keiyo dialect. These are Irong, Mutei and Metkei.

Due to population growth over time, the Keiyo community gradually moved and settled in urban areas to do business in major urban centers including Eldoret town where they are now actively engaged in businesses alongside the Marakwets, Nandis and other non-Kalenjins.

Renowned Keiyo individuals[edit]

  • Nicholas Biwott a high-profile politician and a notable business and economic genius who served as a minister of trade in the Former president Moi's government.
  • Ednah Kiplagat a renown long distance athlete who has won various races all over the world.She is the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Champion in the marathon.[1] She established herself as an elite marathon runner with wins at the Los Angeles and New York City Marathons in 2010. Her personal best for the distance is 2:19:50 hours, set at the London Marathon in 2012.


  1. ^ Odhiambo Makoloo, Maurice; Ghai, Yash (2005). Kenya: Minorities, Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Diversity (PDF). Minority Rights Group International. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  2. ^ Chesaina, C. Oral Literature of the Kalenjin. Heinmann Kenya Ltd, 1991, p. 29
  3. ^ Chebet,, S; Dietz, A.J. Climbing the cliff : a history of the Keiyo. Eldoret: Moi University Press. p. 12. ISBN 9966-85415-0. 

External links[edit]