Nandi and Other Kalenjin Peoples - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Rotating age sets formerly existed among all Kalenjin, with the same or nearly the same names in all groups. There were eight sets among the Tugen, Marakwet, and Sabaot and seven among the Keiyo, Nandi, and Kipsigis (with some evidence that there may have been eight formerly). The Marakwet, Tugen, and Sabaot have formalized age sets for women, and other Kalenjin probably once had them. Members of younger age sets defer to members of older age sets. Men initiated together have a very high level of solidarity: they spend much time together, form work teams, try to live in the same neighborhood and marry sisters (wife's sister's husband is an important reciprocal kin type), and may not marry each other's daughters. Aside from territorial units and clans, there were no other formai associations.

Political Organization. Most political action took place in the kokwet, or council of the locality (today, sublocation council). Theoretically, any married man could be an active participant; in fact, a small group of influential elders formed the core. Women could observe—but not speak unless invited. Local councils sent representatives to occasional meetings of pororiet councils. Such councils continue to be important under the leadership of a government-appointed sublocation chief.

Traditionally, there were no central authorities, although the Nandi and Kipsigis came close to having chiefs in the head orkoiyot. All the Kalenjin had men called orkoiyot, believed to have power to control weather and foretell events. The nineteenth-century Nandi and Kipsigis came to rely on one central authority to coordinate warfare (through representatives on pororiet councils) and predict the success of raids. The orkoiyot was rewarded with a share of the booty of successful raids, and his family became wealthy and powerful. For its short existence, this office was passed from father to son.

Social Control. Internal conflicts and norm violations are brought before neighborhood elders' courts. In modern Kenya, serious offenses are automatically matters for the police and government courts; other disputes can become police matters if someone files charges, but the elders' court is still the main arena for litigation. Offending parties would normally comply with fines imposed by elders; elders could also order punishments (e.g., beating) to be administered by offenders' age sets. People convicted of witchcraft were ordered to be put to death by their own kin. Traditionally, local groups of women could sanction men deemed guilty of "crimes against women."

Conflict. Cattle raiding was extremely important in the social life of the pastoral Kalenjin. The warrior age grade (youngest initiated age set) was responsible for defending cattle, and acquiring their own fortunes in captured cattle. War was not specifically for territory, but the Nandi and the Kipsigis did expand territorially at the expense of the Maasai. Whereas the Nandi and the Kipsigis did not raid each other, they did at times raid other Kalenjin.


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