Kipsigis - Orientation

Identification. Kipsigis are the southernmost and most populous of the Kalenjin peoples of Kenya. The term "Kalenjin" (lit. "I say to you") was coined in radio broadcasts and at political rallies during the late colonial period, at a time when political events spurred a growing awareness of the close cultural, historical, and linguistic ties between Kipsigis and neighboring peoples to the north. Within the broader political and cultural context of present-day Kenya, the Kalenjin are recognized as a distinct population that shares a common cultural heritage and common political interests.

Location. The Kipsigis occupy a portion of the highlands in southwestern Kenya that is roughly contiguous with the present boundaries of Kericho District. The terrain is composed of steep ridges, interspersed with numerous rivers and streams, which gradually give way to gently rolling hills and grasslands. Elevations reach nearly 2,100 meters along the eastern extent of Kipsigis country and about 1,450 meters elsewhere. Rain falls most abundantly during two rainy seasons, ranging from 180 to 190 centimeters a year in the high country to 100 centimeters a year in the grasslands. Temperature does not vary markedly by season, but it does fluctuate between daytime highs averaging about 30° C and nighttime lows of about 9° C.

Demography. A precise population figure for the Kipsigis is unavailable because the most recent Kenyan census data do not distinguish the Kipsigis as a separate population group. Informed sources estimate a population of no less than 600,000, which is at least a threefold increase since 1962. The vast majority of this population lives within Kericho District, an area of 4,909 square kilometers. Few Kipsigis elect to live in the market towns and administrative centers throughout the district, although it is not uncommon for young men and, with increasing frequency, young women, to leave the district to take advantage of educational and employment opportunities in other parts of Kenya. Population density within the countryside falls in the range of 80 to 150 per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. Kipsigis is a tonal language. Classified as Nilotic, it is grouped within the Eastern Sudanic Branch of the Nilo-Saharan Language Family.

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