Nandi and Other Kalenjin Peoples - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The statistical majority of Kalenjin are nominally Christian, but many still follow traditional beliefs and practices. They believed in one god, with many names, identified with the sun and now believed to be identical to the Christian God. Prayers were addressed primarily to God. The oiik (sing. olindet ), or spirits of dead ancestors, were also believed able to intervene in human life. They were occasionally, but not systematically, propitiated. Thunder was another named supernatural being. Inchoate evil spirits were believed to lurk on pathways, especially at night, and cause harm.

Religious Practitioners. Every neighborhood has elders who serve as ritual experts. Diviners foretell events by patterns of pebbles poured from a calabash. The Kalenjin also believe in an array of different named types of sorcerers and witches.

Ceremonies. Formerly, there was an important communitywide festival, kipsunde, after the harvest. The major ceremonies now are the life-cycle rituals, many (e.g., those for for newborns) restricted to the family. The most important larger ritual is initiation.

Arts. The most highly developed visual art is decorative beadwork. Expressive culture and leisure activities include storytelling, singing and dancing, beer drinking (for men), and games of strategy. A lyrelike stringed instrument traditionally accompanied singing but is now becoming rare.

Medicine. Traditionally, "doctors" (male), with primarily supernaturally based skills, could ascertain the cause of bad luck or illness and treat it. These practitioners still treat patients, particularly for mental illness. Female herbalists' and midwives' skills are more technical than supernatural.

Death and Afterlife. Death customs varied. The Nandi buried only infants and elders. Corpses of adults were left to be consumed by hyenas. In some Kalenjin groups (e.g., Marakwet), only barren people were left for scavengers. Death was polluting, and corpse handlers (sons or other close kin) had to be ritually purified and compensated from the estate. Many stories refer to an afterlife that is an idealized version of precolonial Kalenjin life. In a family ceremony, elders decided which ancestral spirit has been reincarnated in a newborn infant.


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