Nandi people

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Total population
949,000 (2009)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Christianity, African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Kalenjin and other Nilotes

The Nandi are part of the Kalenjin ethnic group found in East Africa. They traditionally have lived and still form the majority in the highland areas of the former Rift Valley Province of Kenya, in what is today Nandi County. They speak the Nandi dialect of the Kalenjin language.


Main Article: Kalenjin History

According to the Kalenjin narrative of origin, the Nandi section was formed from the separation of what had been a combined group of Kipsigis and Nandi. They had been living at Rongai near Nakuru as a united group for about a century before they were forced to separate due to antagonistic environmental factors, notably droughts and invasion of the Maasai from Uasin Gishu.[2] The Kipsigis moved southwards, settling around Kericho while the Nandi continued west and settled at Aldai.[3]

Radiocarbon dating of archaeological excavations done in Rongai (Deloraine) have ranged in date from around 985 to 1300 A.D and have been associated with the early development phase of the Sirikwa culture. From here the culture radiated outwards toward the western highlands, the Mt. Elgon region and possibly into Uganda.[4]


Settlement of Nandi[edit]

The existence of the Nandi as a tribe dates from about the beginning of the seventeenth century. The traditional Nandi account is that the first settlers in their country came from Elgon during the time of the Maina and formed the Kipoiis clan; a name that possibly means 'the spirits'. They were led by a man named Kakipoch, founder of the Nandi section of the Kalenjin and are said to have settled in the emet (county) of Aldai in south-western Nandi. One of the earliest Bororiet was named after Kakipoch and the site of his grave, still shown on Chepilat hill in Aldai was marked by the stump of an ancient olive tree. The account of his burial is that his body was laid on ox-hide, together with his possessions, and left for the hyenas.

The account of settlement by the various ortinuek (clans) being as follows;

From Elgon -Kipoiis -Kipamwi -Kipkenda -Kipiegen -Kipkokos

From Kipsigis -Tungo -Kipaa -Kipasiso and Kapchemuri (Chemuri) -Elgoni (Kony)

From Elgeyo -Kipsirgio -Moi -Sokom -Kiptopkei -Kamwaikei

From Lo-'sekelae Masai -Kipkoiitim -Talai, the medicine men's clan -Toyoi

Social organization[edit]

The system of social organisation was broadly similar to that of other Kalenjin communities.The Nandi territory was divided into six counties known as emet (pl. emotinwek). These were Wareng, located to the north, Mosop in the North East,Tindiret in the East, Soiin & Pelkut in the South, Aldai & Chesumei in the west and Emgwen in the center.

The emotinwek were divided into districts known as bororiet (borororisiek) and these were divided into villages known as kokwet (kokwotinwek). The Nandi administrative system was unique among the Kalenjin in having the bororiosiek administrative layer.

Within the wider Kalenjin administrative system, the Kokwet was the most significant political and judicial unit in terms of day to day issues. The kokwet elders were the local authority for allocating land for cultivation, they were also the body to whom the ordinary member of the tribe would look for a decision in a dispute or problem which defied solution by direct agreement between the parties. Membership of the kokwet council was acquired by seniority and personality and within it decisions were taken by a small number of elders whose authority derived from their natural powers of leadership.Among the Nandi however, the Bororiet was the most significant institution and the political system revolved around it.

Social institutions[edit]

The Nandi social system divided the male sex into boys, warriors and elders. The female sex is divided into girls and married women. The first stage began at birth and continued till initiation.

All boys who were circumcised together were said to belong to the same (Ibinda)and once the young men of a particular ibinda came of age, they were tasked with protecting the tribal lands and the society, the period when they were in charge of protection of the society was known as the age of that ibinda.Historically, the Nandi had eight cyclical age-sets or ibinwek, however they dropped one for a total of seven. Legend has it that the members of this ibinda were wiped out in war. For fear of a recurrence, the community decided to retire the age-set.

The order of Nandi ibinwek is given below.

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


Defeat of the Arabs[edit]

The earliest recorded mention of Arab caravans in Nandi oral tradition date to the 1850s during the time when the Sawe ibinda (age-set) were warriors. The contact was antagonistic with raids on the caravans carried out by Nandi warriors. By 1854, the name Mararma ("to ornament a dress") had been conveyed upon a sub-set of the Sawe possibly as a result of the very successful raiding of Arab caravans or perhaps as a result of the major defeat at Kipsoboi. These were good years for the Nandi.

The Nandi warriors had never encountered a foe armed with firearms before and they had to develop new military tactics to overcome the effectiveness of a large number of firearms. Like the Masai, the warriors drew the enemy's fire by a sudden rush at which time they went "go to ground." Then the warriors charged the caravan porters before the muzzle loading weapons could be recharged. The porters bolted into the reloading riflemen followed closely by the Nandi warriors and in this confusion, the Nandi warriors could spear the panicked men. This tactic would be deployed effectively until the battle of Kimondi in 1895.

Three Nandi warriors, date unknown

Part of the reason for the Nandi success was the limited access. The easiest approach was from the north-east, but a caravan had to travel two or three days before reaching principal Nandi settlements. This evidently was not preferable as the Arab caravans diverted east to Kavirondo and Mumias where food and protection was located.

Due to the casualties to the caravans, direct trade increasingly became difficult. Caravans rarely entered or camped in Nandi and a strange "middle man" system evolved after the 1850s. Trusted Sotik and Dorobo agents were employed to act as "middle men" who would trade ivory and other coastal goods for cattle to the Nandi for a large commission.[5]

"Enterprising Arab traders hoping to circumvent this arrangement often fell victims to a Nandi ploy. A few old Nandi warriors would meet the armed caravan and tell them that a large supply of ivory was only two or three days journey from the caravan. However, the Nandi were only willing to entertain a small Arab party to negotiate a trade. Dutifully, a party of twenty men would be dispatched with cloth, wire, and other trade goods only to be ambushed by the Nandi and massacred." "Another ruse used by the Nandi was to send a small party of warriors to lead the prospective caravan into the depths of Nandi by the wrong road and then conduct a night attack. The Arab traders even attempted a tactic that had worked with other tribes, blood brotherhood. This consisted of sitting opposite one another, cutting the back of each other's hand and sucking the blood from one another's hand. The Nandi held no credence to such a foreign ceremony, and it only became another ploy to easily acquire coastal goods."[6]

Frustrated by failures, the Arab traders attempted one last tactic. They established a series of fortified stations at Kimatke, Kibigori, Chemelil, Kipsoboi, and Kobujoi, and began a campaign of intimidation. Donkeys were let loose to trample the millet fields, Nandi warriors were humilitated, Nandi boys were imprisoned, and Nandi women and girls were compromised. At Kipsoboi four Nandi shields were propped against a tree and the Nandi were offered the chance to shoot arrows into the shields. Once this was accomplished, the Arabs fired musket balls through the shields that had stopped the arrows. The Arabs then poured gruel over the attending Nandi's heads and shaved off their cherished locks.

The Nandi warriors had had enough. They sought permission from the Kaptalam Orkoiyot to kill the Arabs. He gave permission, and the post was stormed. Some accounts credit the Orkoiyot's charms with making the defender's ammunition disappear, while others credit the error of the garrison commander to provide ammunition to the riflemen. Regardless of the reason, the garrison at Kipsoboi was destroyed. The Nandi kiptaiyat (raiding bands) then successfully attacked and slaughtered the garrison at Kobujoi. This was enough to force the Arab traders to withdraw from Nandi and to avoid the area.

The defeat of the Arabs created the "Nandi legend." The Nandi were undefeatable. Porters could not be hired and expeditions could not be launched into Nandi for nearly forty years. The Nandi warriors stood proudly aloof from the events that were swirling around them confident to defend their independence.[7]

Resistance to British rule[edit]

Koitalel Arap Samoei Mausoleum and Museum in Nandi Hills, Kenya

By the later decades of the 19th century, at the time when the early European explorers started advancing into the interior of Kenya, Nandi territory was a closed country Thompson in 1883 was warned to avoid the country of the Nandi, who were known for attacks on strangers and caravans that would attempt to scale the great massif of the Mau.[8]

Matson, in his account of the resistance, shows 'how the irresponsible actions of two British traders, Dick and West, quickly upset the precarious modus vivendi between the Nandi and incoming British'.[9] This would cause more than a decade of conflict led on the Nandi side by Koitalel Arap Samoei, the Nandi Orkoiyot at the time.

The conflict would end on 19 October 1905, when Col Richard Meinertzhagen called for a peace meeting. Instead, Meinertzhagen killed Koitalel and his entourage in cold blood on the grounds of what is now Nandi Bears Club.

Sosten Saina, grand-nephew of one of Arap Samoei's bodyguards notes that "There were about 22 of them who went for a meeting with the ‘mzungu’ that day. Koitalel Arap Samoei had been advised not to shake hands because if he did, that would give him away as the leader. But he extended his hand and was shot immediately". Shortly after this event, the Nandi Resistance ended and Nandi was incorporated into the British East Africa Protectorate.[10]

Colonial period[edit]

Nandi Protest of 1923[edit]

A number of factors taking place in the early 1920s led to what has come to be termed the Nandi Protest[11] or Uprisings of 1923. It was the first expression of organized resistance by the Nandi since the wars of 1905-06.

Primary contributing factors were the land alienation of 1920 and a steep increase in taxation, taxation tripled between 1909 and 1920 and because of a change in collection date, two taxes were collected in 1921. The Kipsigis and Nandi refused to pay and this amount was deferred to 1922. Further, due to fears of a spread of rinderpest following an outbreak, a stock quarantine was imposed on the Nandi Reserve between 1921 and 1923. The Nandi, prevented from selling stock outside the Reserve, had no cash, and taxes had to go unpaid. Normally, grain shortages in Nandi were met by selling stock and buying grain. The quarantine made this impossible. The labor conscription that took place under the Northey Circulars only added to the bitterness against the colonial government.

All these things contributed to a buildup of antagonism and unrest toward the government between 1920 and 1923. In 1923, the saget ab eito (sacrifice of the ox), a historically significant ceremony where leadership of the community was transferred between generations, was to take place. This ceremony had always been followed by an increased rate of cattle raiding as the now formally recognized warrior age-set sought to prove its prowess. The approach to a saget ab eito thus witnessed expressions of military fervour and for the ceremony all Nandi males would gather in one place.

Alarmed at the prospect and as there was also organized protest among the Kikuyu and Luo at that time, the colonial government came to believe that the Orkoiyot was planning to use the occasion of the Saget ab eito of 1923 as a cover under which to gather forces for a massive military uprising. On October 16, 1923, several days before the scheduled date for the saget ab eito, The Orkoiyot Barsirian Arap Manyei and four other elders were arrested and deported to Meru. Permission to hold the ceremony was withdrawn and it did not take place, nor has it ever taken place since.[12] The Orkoiyot Barsirian Arap Manyei would spend the next forty years in political detention, becoming Kenya's, and possibly Africa's, longest serving political prisoner.[13]

Recent history[edit]



Julius Yego is from Nandi County and is an alumnus of Kapsabet Boys High School

Like other Kalenjin, the Nandi have produced a number of notable Kenyan athletes. These include great distance athletes like the legendary Kipchoge Keino (Kip Keino), a gold medalist at Mexico (1968) and Munich (1972) Olympic games and Prof. Mike Boit, a Bronze medalist at Munich 1972 Olympics. Others include Peter Koech, Bernard Kipchirchir Lagat who represents the USA and Wilson Kipketer who ran for his adopted home of Denmark. Current world beating athletes like Pamela Jelimo, Richard Mateelong, Wilfred Bungei, Janeth Chepkosgei and Super Henry Rono, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Peter Rono, Tecla Chemabwai, Kenya Paralympian Henry Kirwa among others are Nandi. The father of Kenyan Steeplechasers Amos Kipwambok Biwott comes from the community.


William Ruto at the 54th Regular Session of the IAEA General Conference.

The Nandi people have had remarkable political figures like Jean-Marie Seroney, the first MP for Nandi and Tindiret. Seroney was arrested and detained without trial for three and a half years for defending the independence of Parliament at a time when it was becoming an arm of the Executive. He worked hard to introduce Bills that would remove or at least check the excessive powers vested in the President as a result of the numerous amendments to the Kenya Constitution. He also brought in the first Private Member's Bill to help ensure that Kenya's elections were free, fair and inclusive. As well the Nandi have had leaders such as Henry Kosgey, one of Kenya's longest serving Member of Parliament, Kimayo arap Sego, Joseph arap Leting who first served as Head of public service then MP. Samwel Ngeny, Kipruto Kirwa, Stanley Metto and Ezekiel Barng'etuny, Dr Joseph Misoy and William Morogo Saina. Gerald Nathaniel Kalya who was the first and long serving Mosop mp,Tamason Barmalel who was chepalungu MP and William Samoei Ruto who is currently the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya.

The Nandi people have also had formidable female leaders such as Philomena Chelagat Mutai who cut her teeth as a university student in the 1970s and who remains one of the most celebrated of Nandi female political leaders as well as Dr Sally Kosgei, former MP for Aldai.


The Nandi have also produced great scientists and academics like Dr.rer.nat.habil. Dr Seronei arap Chelulei Cheison (Matelong), a top protein chemist at Mars Inc, Prof. David Kimutai Some of Moi University, Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Paul Ndalut(deceased) of Chemistry and Biochemistry department at Moi University, Dr Fredrick Sawe(Director Walterreed, Owner-Nursing home Kericho), Dr Saisi Mayo(Dean College of Engineering, Moi University), Dr Noah Kiptoo Tenai (a distinguished Researcher of note, based in Cape Town, South Africa), Dr Cosmas Kipkurgat Ronno of department of Education Science University of Eldoret and Prof. Chelagat Lelei and Prof. Isaack Kosgey, the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Egerton University among others. Prof Mengich(Moi Referral Hospital) Dr Cheruiyot S Lagat of Masinde Muliro University, Dr. Felix K Ngetich, Agriculturalist, Kenyatta University, Dr. John R. Busienei, Ph.D (Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nairobi). Among the leading lawyers from the community are Lawyer Paul Birech of Eldoret, Lawyer Paul Lilan of Nairobi, Lawyer Julius Kipkosgey Kemboy of Nairobi and retired judge Barabara Tanui, Dr. John Rugutt,Statistic,in the Faculty of Education, (Illinois State University, USA), Professor Bernard Kipsang Rop, Geology, (Jomo Kenyatta university of science and Technology). Among the leading medics from Nandi are Elly Kibet Cherwon of Heidelberg, Germany. Elly also deputises the head of the hospital. Dr Vincent Komugor Kiprotich (Makerere university) There is also Dr. Kirongo (Psychiatrist Moi Referral Hospital),Dr Geoffrey Kiprotich Yebei Ngeny MD (Geriatric Medicine-Internal Medicine) of Pittsburg University, Dr Mark Kiplagat Rotich (Internal Medicine, Geriatrics medicine and Emergency Medicine) of Marion Illinois. Dr Andrew Kibet Cheruiyot (Consultant Trauma KNH), Dr Franklin Rono,Dr Eliud Kireger, Managing Director, Tea Research Foundation of Kenya and former Dean School of Natural Resource and Environmental Management, Kabianga University.Dr slyvester Kimaiyo ( MTHRH). Dr Lawrence Tanui.Dr.Kipchirchir Murgor,Educationa planning, Dr Kipyego Amos(Renewable energy physics)


Female-female marriages within the Nandi culture have been reported,[14] although it is unclear if they are still practiced, and only about three percent of Nandi marriages are female-female. Female-female marriages are a socially-approved way for a woman to take over the social and economic roles of a husband and father. They were allowed only in cases where a woman either had no children of her own, had daughters only (one of them could be "retained" at home) or her daughter(s) had married off. The system was practiced "to keep the fire"—in other words, to sustain the family lineage, or patriline, and was a way to work around the problem of infertility or a lack of male heirs. A woman who married another woman for this purpose had to undergo an "inversion" ceremony to "change" into a man. This biological woman, now socially male, became a "husband" to a younger female and a "father" to the younger woman's children, and had to provide a bride price to her wife's family. She was expected to renounce her female duties (such as housework), and take on the obligations of a husband; additionally, she was allowed the social privileges accorded to men, such as attending the private male circumcision ceremonies. No sexual relations were permitted between the female husband and her new wife (nor between the female husband and her old husband); rather, the female husband chose a male consort for the new wife so she will be able to bear children. The wife's children considered the female husband to be their father, not the biological father, because she (or "he") was the socially designated father. Marriage. A man was usually in his middle twenties when he married.As males were circumcised only at twelve to fifteen year intervals,the youngest age for circumcision of boys being about thirteen years.Occasionally a boy was married in his teens where his father was wealthy or old and had no other sons who could inherit his property. Similarly, a girl was never married until she had been circumcised.Female initiations ceremonies took place every year from about a month after rains(iwot kot)march until(kipsunde) September so that there will be plenty of food for them.A bride would usually be in her middle or later teens and would have been circumcised within the previous two to three years having spent the intervening period in strict seclusion. Arrangement of marriage The first marriage of a man and a girl was arranged by their parents or guardians accordingly to the prospective bridegroom; a man with a marriageable daughter was obliged to wait until approached with an offer of marriage.On the other hand, a young man could ask his father to procure a wife for him he could name the particular girl of his choice. Polygamy was of course practiced by the tribe. Bride-wealth. The bride's father stated the bride-price(kanyiok) which varied slightly in amount from clan to clan but not within a particular clan.It would be in the region of two herd of cattle(one heifer and one ox)and three sheep and or goats.


  1. ^ Ethnologue
  2. ^ Chesaina, C. Oral Literature of the Kalenjin. Heinmann Kenya Ltd, 1991, p. 1
  3. ^ Chesaina, C. Oral Literature of the Kalenjin. Heinmann Kenya Ltd, 1991, p. 30
  4. ^ Kyule, David M., 1989, Economy and subsistence of iron age Sirikwa Culture at Hyrax Hill, Nakuru: a zooarcheaological approach p.211
  5. ^ Bishop, D. Warriors in the Heart of Darkness: The Nandi Resistance 1850 to 1897, Prologue
  6. ^ Bishop, D. Warriors in the Heart of Darkness: The Nandi Resistance 1850 to 1897, Prologue
  7. ^ Bishop, D. Warriors in the Heart of Darkness: The Nandi Resistance 1850 to 1897, Prologue
  8. ^ Pavitt, N. Kenya: The First Explorers, Aurum Press, 1989, p. 121
  9. ^ Nandi Resistance to British Rule 1890–1906. By A. T. Matson. Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1972. Pp. vii+391
  10. ^ "Murder that shaped the future of Kenya". EastAfrican. 5 December 2008. 
  11. ^ Ellis, D. The Nandi Protest of 1923 in the Context of African Resistance to Colonial Rule in Kenya, The Journal of African History, Vol. 17, No 4 (1976)
  12. ^ Oboler, R.S, online, Stanford University Press, 1985
  13. ^ EastAfrican, December 5, 2008: Murder that shaped the future of Kenya
  14. ^ Oboler, Regine Smith (Jan 1980). "Is the Female Husband a Man? Woman/Woman Marriage among the Nandi of Kenya". Ethnology. 19 (1): 69–88. doi:10.2307/3773320. JSTOR 3773320. 


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