Identification. The Kalenjin are related East African peoples (Kipsigis, Nandi, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet, Endo, Sabaot, Terik, Okiek) who form one branch of the Highland N ilotes, formerly referred to as "Southern Nilo-Hamites" or sometimes "Nandi-speaking peoples." This description focuses on the Nandi; about one-third of all Kalenjin and second-largest of the Kalenjin subgroups, they are geographically the most centrally located.
Location. The Kalenjin live mainly in the highland of western Kenya, although the Sebei and some Pokot are located in eastern Uganda. Physical environment and ecological adaptation vary throughout Kalenjin country. The Nandi and Kipsigis live primarily on high plateaus with good agricultural potential: average elevation of 1,800 to 2,000 meters, thick topsoil, and 150 to 200 centimeters of rain annually distributed over the entire year. Many of the Kalenjin groups (Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet/Endo) live along escarpments in the Rift Valley system, and the Sabaot on Mount Elgon. In these cases, most cultivation occurs between 1,350 and 2,000 meters, animals are herded in low-lying plains, and some communities may be situated at elevations of over 2,700 meters. The pastoral Pokot, the northernmost Kalenjin, live in arid lowlands where little cultivation is possible. The Okiek, mountain-forest-dwelling Kalenjin speakers, historically are foragers.
Demography. There are probably just over 2 million Kalenjin, at least 95 percent of whom live in Kenya. The Kipsigis were 32 percent of all the Kenya Kalenjin in the 1969 census, followed by the Nandi (27 percent), Pokot (13 percent), Tugen (8.6 percent), Keiyo (8.5 percent), Marakwet (6 percent), Sabaot (42 percent), and Okiek (less than 1 percent by official census figures, but perhaps undercounted). The number of Uganda Sabaot (Sebei) is close to their number in Kenya. In the 1979 census, there were 1,652,243 Kalenjin in Kenya. They were the fifth-largest ethnic group—10.8 percent of the population. The vast majority of Kalenjin are rural, and population density differs greatly throughout Kalenjin country owing to highly varied ecological conditions.
Linguistic Affiliation. Although the Kalenjin are regarded as a unit on the basis of speaking a common language, there are numerous dialects. All of them, it seems, are mutually intelligible with practice, although not necessarily immediately. Nandi and Kipsigis are distinguished by small sound and terminology differences, similar to the difference between English as spoken in Britain and the United States. Speakers of these dialects cannot immediately understand Pokot, Sabaot, and regional variants of Marakwet. Greenberg (1963) classifies Kalenjin as a Southern Nilotic language (Eastern Section, Nilotic Branch, Eastern Sudanic Language Family). Aside from Tatoga, which is spoken by a few small peoples of northern Tanzania, the nearest language to Kalenjin is Maasai.