The Sirikwa were a people inhabiting the Great Lakes region of East Africa, in an area that is believed to have extended from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Eyasi in the south. Most prominent from the 12th to 15th centuries, they are credited with having built many of the historic stone ruins and irrigation systems that are found locally.
The vanished Sirikwa are referred to by various names by the Nilotic and Bantu peoples who today inhabit the vast majority of the eastern Great Lakes region. The Dorobo refer to them as the Mokwan, the Meru as the Mwoko, the Kikuyu as the Enjoe, and the Maasai as the Eboratta.
The Sirikwa have traditionally been viewed as descendants of the Neolithic Afro-Asiatic peoples who introduced domesticated plants and animals to the Great Lakes region – a succession of societies collectively known as the Stone Bowl cultural complex. Most of these early northern migrants are believed to have been absorbed by later movements of Nilotic and Bantu peoples. In the Kerio Valley of Kenya, among other neighbouring areas, there are vestiges of the Neolithic tillers' civilisation in the form of elaborate irrigation systems. Although these particular structures are today maintained by the Marakwet subgroup of the Nandi Kalenjin Nilotes, the latter aver that they were the work of a northern people of peculiar language called the Sirikwa, who were later decimated by pestilence. According to the Marakwet, the Sirikwa "built the furrows, but they did not teach us how to build them; we only know how to keep them as they are."
Local tribesmen who for a period occupied the Uasin Gishu plateau also assert that the Sirikwa, who lived in the area prior to themselves, had constructed the numerous circular stone kraals that are today found in the region. According to the Akiek (Dorobo), among others, these earlier inhabitants were long-haired, with general traditional evidence further describing them physically as tall, bearded and "red" in complexion. These northern agro-pastoralists were also in some accounts said to have possessed very large herds of cattle, specifically of the Egyptian long-horned variety.
The Sirikwa are often associated with the modern Iraqw, a Cushitic-speaking people residing in the Mbulu Highlands of northern Tanzania. The Iraqw's ancestors have traditionally been credited with having constructed the sprawling Engaruka complex. According to the Maasai Nilotes, the Iraqw already inhabited the site when their own ancestors first entered the region during the 18th century.
Sirikwa-inhabited territory is believed to have extended from Lake Turkana in the northern part of the Great Lakes region to Lake Eyasi in the south. Its cross-section stretched from the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley to the foot of Mount Elgon. Some of the localities include Cherengany, Kapcherop, Sabwani, Sirende, Wehoya, Moi's Bridge, Hyrax Hill, Lanet, Deloraine (Rongai), Tambach, Moiben, Soy, Turbo, Ainabkoi, Timboroa, Kabyoyon, Namgoi and Chemangel (Sotik).
Based on their reported cultural and physical affinities as well as traditional accounts alluding to their strange language, the Sirikwa are believed to have been members of the Stone Bowl cultures. The latter complex is typically associated with speakers of languages belonging to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.
The Sirikwa practiced pastoralism. They herded goats, sheep, and cattle. There is also evidence that they raised donkeys, as well as domesticated dogs. The cattle kept by the Sirikwa were most likely Zebu cattle. The Sirikwa focused on milk production, which is shown by the lack of lactating age cows in archaeological assemblages. Large herds of sheep and goats were kept for meat, and made up a large proportion or the Sirikwa diet.
Key aspects of the Sirikwa culture persist in the form of Sirikwa Holes: round depressions having a diameter 10–20 metres and average depth of 2.4 metres that were built atop hillsides. They were surrounded by stone walls or wooden fences. Sirikwa holes occur as clusters, with usually 5 to 50 holes at a site, but sometimes over 100. Nowadays, these holes are often covered by grass and bushes. The Sirikwa kept their cattle inside these fenced enclosures, but constructed their houses outside them. The holes themselves were reportedly built for guarding purposes. Sirikwa holes were semi-permanent; after several years, they were abandoned and the communities moved on to construct new pens elsewhere.
In addition, excavation of the Sirikwa holes has yielded pottery and rare lithic assemblages that are typologically very similar to those found in archaeological sites of the larger Stone Bowl complex, such as Hyrax Hill. The recovered stone implements also reportedly fit well into those belonging to the Upper Kenya Capsian culture.
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