Pokot people

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A group of Pokot women walk to a meeting

The Pokot people (also spelled Pökoot) live in West Pokot County and Baringo County in Kenya and in the Pokot District of the eastern Karamoja region in Uganda. They form a section of the Kalenjin ethnic group and speak the Pökoot language, which is broadly similar to the related Marakwet, Nandi, Tuken and other members of the Kalenjin language group. Kenya's 2009 census puts the total number of Pokot speakers at about 620,000 in Kenya (roughly 133,000 Pokot in Baringo county and close to 500,000 in West Pokot county). In addition, there are close to 100,000 Pokot speakers in Uganda. A fair estimate thus places the number of Pokot speakers in Kenya and Uganda at 700,000.

Hill & Plains Pokot[edit]

Based on areal and cultural differences, the Pokot people can be divided into two groups; the Hill Pokot and the Plains Pokot.[1] The Hill Pokot live in the rainy highlands in the west and in the central south of the Pokot area and are both farmers and pastoralists. The Plains Pokot live in the dry and infertile plains, herding cows, goats and sheep, thus are pastoralists.

Halfway through the nineteenth century, the Pokot expanded their territory rapidly into the lowlands of the Kenyan Rift Valley, mainly at the expense of the Laikipia Maasai people. This was the formation of the plains Pokot, and is captured in their historical narratives.

In that account, when the Pokot nation was forming on the Elgeyo escarpment, the Kerio Valley was occupied by the Samburu. Whenever the Pokot descended into the valley, they were harassed and raided by the Samburu, "Until there arose a wizard among the [Pokot] who prepared a charm in the form of a stick, which he placed in the Samburu cattle kraals, with the result that all their cattle died". The Samburu are said to have then left the Kerio Valley and moved to En-ginyang where they formed a large settlement.

Once the Pokot saw that the Kerio Valley was no longer occupied, they descended in large numbers and occupied Tiati and the hills as far south as Ka-ruwon.[2]

Many Pokot people from the present eastern part of the Pokot area claim that they come from the hilly areas of northern Cherengani.[3]


Female genital mutilation[edit]

In November 2014 there was public outrage abroad when pictures of circumcision of young Pokot girls were published in the West, despite Kenya's legal ban on the practice.[4]


Verbal art is very important among the Pokot. Proverbs are used with versatility both to teach and to make a point. At a gathering of elders, a person may use proverbs to show what a good speaker he is. They are also used to teach younger people the consequences of straying from the moral path. A popular tale, that of the Louwalan clan, is told to warn against pride. Riddles are mostly used as a way of sharpening children's wits and capturing their attention during story-telling time.

Even with the introduction of Western education, the Pokot still use folklore as a means of teaching.[5]

War with neighbouring Turkana[edit]

Since time immemorial, the Turkana and Pokot ethnic groups have organized cattle raids against each other. Conflict began as a result of livestock theft. The two groups have been through numerous periods of war and peace. The poaching of elephants for ivory, plus the killing of them for no other reason than that they are wild animals, is common place amongst both Pokot and Turkana, which takes a heavy toll on elephants passing through Pokot country, as they have done for millennia.

Notable personalities[edit]

Key personalities of recent times from the community include the late fiery politician, Francis Loile Polisi Lotodo, whose mantle since his death in early 2000 was taken up by the equally-combative former Kacheliba M.P and Kenyan former minister for Information and Communication, Samwel Losuron Poghisio. Others are the renowned athlete Tegla Loroupe, who in 2012 appeared in the African top 100 personalities of the year. Prof. John Krop Lonyangapuo is senator of West Pokot County. Kamama Asman Abongutum is another key personality from Tiaty constituency, because of the positive contribution he has achieved since he captured power, currently[when?] chairman of security countrywide under interior and co-ordination of national security.


  1. ^ Rottland, Franz 1982. Die Südnilotischen Sprachen: Beschreibung, Vergelichung und Rekonstruktion (Kölner Beiträge zur Afrikanistik vol. 7). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer pp.26, 138-139.
  2. ^ Beech M.W.H, The Suk - Their Language and Folklore. The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1911.
  3. ^ Bollig, Michael 1990. 'An outline of pre-colonial Pokot history', Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere, p.23,73&91.
  4. ^ Rahman, Khaleda (13 November 2014). "A study in barbarity: Tearful and terrified, young girls are lined up to undergo a tribal circumcision ceremony in Kenyan village". Mail Online. Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Chesaina, Ciarunji 1994. Pokot, Rosen Publishing Group p.47

Further reading[edit]

  • Baroja, Tomás Herreros 1998. Pökot-English, English-Pökot Dictionary, ed. Kacheliba.
  • Bianco, Barbara 1992. The Historical Anthropology of a Mission Hospital in Northwestern Kenya. A Ph.D. dissertation New York University.
  • Bolling, Michael 1996. Bridewealth and Stockfriendship, the Accumulation of Security through Reciprocal Exchange." In Angewandte Sozialforschung, 1996–1997, Vol. 20: (1-2) 57-72.
  • Cox, P. S. V. 1972. The Disease Pattern of the Karapokot and its Relationship to Their Environment and Culture. A dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Medicine. University of London.
  • Dietz, T. 1987. Pastoralists in Dire Straits; Survival Strategies and External Strategies, Interventions in a Semi-Arid Region at the Kenya/Uganda Border: Western Pokot, 1900-1986. A Ph.D. dissertation University of Amsterdam.
  • Kjartan Jonsson 2006. Pokot Masculinity, The Role of Rituals in Forming Men. A Ph.D. dissertation, Reykjavik: University of Iceland, Faculty of Social Sciences.
  • Meyerhoff, Elisabeth L. 1981. The Socio-Economic and Ritual Roles of Pokot women. A Ph.D. dissertation, Lucy Cavendish Collage, Cambridge.
  • Meyerhoff, Elizabeth L. (January 1982). "The Threatened Ways of Kenya's Pokot People". National Geographic. Vol. 161 no. 1. pp. 120–140. ISSN 0027-9358. OCLC 643483454. 
  • Reckers, Ute 1992). Nomadische Viehalter in Kenya : die Ost-Pokot aus human-ökologischer Sicht (Arbeiten aus dem Institut für Afrika-Kunde vol. 83). Hamburg: Institut für Afrika-Kunde im Verbund der Stiftung Deutsches Übersee-Institut. ISBN 3-928049-12-7
  • Reynolds, John Eric 1982. Community Development, Ethnicity and Stratification in a Rural Destination: Mnagei, Kenya. A Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington.
  • Schladt, Matthias 1997. Kognitive Strukturen von Körperteilvokabularien in Kenianischen Sprachen (Afrikanistische Monographien vol. 8). Köln: Institut für Afrikanistik / Universität zu Köln. (esp. pp. 40–42)
  • Schneider, Harold K. 1953. The Pakot (Suk) of Kenya, with Special Reference to the Role of Livestock in Their Subsistence Economy. PhD Dissertation, Northwestern University.
  • Tully, Dorene R. 1985. Human Ecology and Political Process: The Context of Market Incorporation in West-Pokot District, Kenya. A Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington.
  • Visser, J.J. 1989. Pökoot Religion. Oegstgeest: Hendrik Kraemer Institut.

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