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.


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.[1]

Many Pokot people from the present eastern part of the Pokot area claim that they come from the hilly areas of northern Cherengani.[2]

War with neighbouring Turkana[edit]

The Turkana and Pokot ethnic groups have organized cattle raids against each other. The two groups have been through numerous periods of war and peace.


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.[3] 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.[citation needed] The Plains Pokot live in the dry and infertile plains, herding cows, goats and sheep, thus are pastoralists.[citation needed]



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 Louwialan clan, is told to warn against pride. Another common tale is that of the blind girl who returns from death[4] . Riddles are mostly used as a way of sharpening children's wits and capturing their attention during story-telling time.[5]

The Pokot have various, descriptive terms for different classes of speech that man engages in. These are as follows;

Lökoi: News of other places

Chiran: News of going on's in the neighborhood

Kokwö: Serious conversations of a business-like nature

Kiruok: Conversations of legal nature (from this stems, kiruokot, a legal specialist)

Ng'öliontoköny: Talk of olden times[6]

Even with the introduction of Western education, the Pokot still use folklore as a means of teaching.[7]

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.[8]

Notable personalities[edit]

Key personalities of recent times from the community include the renowned athlete Tegla Loroupe, who in 2012 appeared in the African top 100 personalities of the year. Stephen Cheptai Lomeri the first elected Pokot Member of Parliament in the Tugen dominated Baringo 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 parliamentary select committee on security under the Ministry of interior and co-ordination of national security.


  1. ^ Beech M.W.H, The Suk - Their Language and Folklore. The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1911.
  2. ^ Bollig, Michael 1990. 'An outline of pre-colonial Pokot history', Afrikanistische Arbeitspapiere, p.23,73&91.
  3. ^ Rottland, Franz 1982. Die Südnilotischen Sprachen: Beschreibung, Vergelichung und Rekonstruktion (Kölner Beiträge zur Afrikanistik vol. 7). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer pp.26, 138-139.
  4. ^ H. K. Schneider Journal of the Folklore Institute Vol. 4, No. 2/3, [Special Issue: African Folklore] (Jun. - Dec., 1967), pp. 265-318
  5. ^ Chesaina, Ciarunji 1994. Pokot, Rosen Publishing Group p.47
  6. ^ H. K. Schneider Journal of the Folklore Institute Vol. 4, No. 2/3, [Special Issue: African Folklore] (Jun. - Dec., 1967), pp. 265-318
  7. ^ Chesaina, Ciarunji 1994. Pokot, Rosen Publishing Group p.47
  8. ^ 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. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Baroja, Tomás Herreros 1998. Pökot-English, English-Pökot Dictionary, ed. Kacheliba.
  • Beech, M. W. H. (1911). The Suk. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • 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 College, 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.

External links[edit]