Okiek - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Okiek have a long history of hunting wild game and collecting honey. Whereas most Okiek groups continue these activities, they have diversified their economy to include farming and herding (see "History and Cultural Relations"). Hunting weapons consist of bows and arrows, spears, and clubs, along with traps. Animals hunted include bushbuck, buffalo, duikers, hyraxes, bongo, and giant forest hogs (probably the most common quarries); in the past, Okiek also hunted elephants with poison spears and arrows. Maize is the staple crop, supplemented by millet, beans, greens, pumpkins, and other vegetables. Some Kipchornwonek Okiek plant pyrethrum as a cash crop; Okiek of other areas (e.g., Piik aap Oom), have smallholdings of tea and sell milk from crossbreed cattle.

Industrial Arts. Okiek crafts include the making of pottery, baskets, leather bags and clothing, and beaded personal ornaments by women. Men produce their weapons (bows, clubs, and various kinds of spears and arrows) and fashion snuff and tobacco containers from horn, ivory, and wood. Okiek do not smelt the iron for arrows, swords, and spears, but obtain it from blacksmiths among the Maasai. They do, however, file them to shape.

Trade. Okiek have long traded a variety of products with their neighbors, honey being the most important trade item. Honey is important as food, but is especially sought for brewing into honey wine for ceremonial uses and drinking. With Maasai, Okiek men exchanged buffalo hides for shields and hyrax hides for ritual capes; Okiek also could offer herbal medicines from the forest and various finished articles such as sheaths, necklaces, and tobacco containers of ivory or buffalo horn in trade. Okiek would get livestock from Maasai; before they were keeping herds, they ate the animals received. Early in the twentieth century, the price for a large container of honey was a cow, but money later became the medium of exchange. Okiek also performed certain services for Maasai in exchange for livestock, including circumcising boys and, sometimes, herding cattle.

Trade with Kipsigis brought hunting dogs and grain to Okiek, also in exchange for forest products. Okiek women also made and traded pottery with Kipsigis. Before prices began to be reckoned in monetary terms, a pot would fetch the amount of grain that it could hold. More recently Okiek men have begun to participate in other small-scale commerce, opening small shops and teahouses in village centers, managing public transportation vehicles, or participating in long-range cattle trade. Okiek women now also sell agricultural produce, shop goods, tobacco, beads, or secondhand clothing in markets and at home.


Division of Labor. Gender is the major principle of Okiek labor division, although age is also relevant. Women's work includes processing and cooking food, keeping the household supplied with water and firewood, most child care, and making animal hides into leather bags, straps, and, formerly, into clothing. Hunting, making hives, and gathering honey are all forest-based work that is done by men. Agricultural work is shared by men and women, with men responsible for heavy garden clearing. Households vary in how farmwork is divided between husband and wife. Women are responsible for milking livestock, and herding is often done by children. Men are considered managers of the herd and might take them grazing when children are not available. Children are also expected to help with farmwork, and girls assist in housework (e.g., getting water and firewood, cooking).


Land Tenure. Until recent land reforms, Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek divided land into lineage-owned tracts that stretched along the slope of the escarpment. Each crossed four or five of the escarpment's altitudinally defined ecological zones, giving every family access to each zone during each honey season throughout the year. Each lineage tract was subdivided into named places. Some lineages allocated honey rights by place to particular families; others used the entire tract cooperatively.

Legislation for general land demarcation was passed in Kenya in 1969. Prior to that, a group-owned-ranch division policy was developed for two Maasai-dominated districts (Narok and Kajiado). Although their high- or mediumpotential highlands are very different from semiarid Maasai savanna country, Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek land was included because they live in Narok District. Group-ranch demarcation began in the mid-1970s, consolidating and crossing previous lineage land boundaries, incorporating non-Okiek neighbors into some groups, and registering some Okiek land to influential individuals who had never lived there. The highest Okiek forests were declared forest reserve. These changes initially had little effect on Okiek land use, although they were extremely consequential and became the basis for later developments. Beginning in the 1980s, Okiek began to subdivide their joint group ranches into individually held plots. Accordingly, families moved to claim and live on their own land, perhaps settling with a few close relatives. Subdivision also gave individuals the right to sell or lease land; almost all have done so, resulting in a large influx of settlers from other parts of Kenya (see "Settlements").


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