Okiek - Orientation

Identification. "Okiek" is the name of a Kenyan people who formerly lived by hunting game, making beehives, and gathering and trading honey; it is also the name of their language. The collective name "Okiek" includes over two dozen local groups, each with more specific names (e.g., Kapchepkendi, Piik aap Oom, Kaplelach). Okiek are usually called "Il Torobbo" by Maasai speakers, a derogatory reference they apply to all hunters—and even to impoverished Maasai who have no cattle; other names for the Okiek—"Athi," "Dorobo," "Ndorobo," "Torobbo," and "Wandorobo"—are derived from the Maasai term. These names have long been a source of confusion because they refer to more peoples than the Okiek. For example, the term "Torobbo" combines Okiek together with Maa-speaking hunting peoples living in northern Kenya around the Mathews Range, Mount Ny'iru, the Ndoto Mountains, and the Leroghi plateau. There is no clear historical relation between these Torobbo and Okiek living in highlands farther west and south. Other Torobbo-based names have the same ambiguity. Okiek call themselves Okiek" in their own language.

Location. With the exception of the Akie, who live in the Maasai Steppe region of Tanzania, most Okiek groups live in the highlands of west-central Kenya (e.g., the Mau Escarpment, the Tindiret forest area, and the highlands north of Nakuru). The majority of these areas are located within Rift Valley Province. Digiri and Omotik Okiek groups live on savanna plains rather than in areas of highland forest. Until the late 1800s, Kalenjin-speaking hunters (who may have been Okiek and who were known to Kikuyu speakers as "Athi") lived around Mount Kenya and the Aberdares as well; they were largely absorbed or displaced by Kikuyu adoption, intermarriage, and "land sales."

Demography. The Okiek are one of Kenya's smaller ethnic groups. Because they live in dispersed groups, it is difficult to estimate accurately the total number of Okiek living in Kenya today. This uncertainty is magnified because of the use of the term "Dorobo," rather than Okiek," in the national census. The Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek Okiek groups include approximately 600 people each. If other groups are roughly the same size, the total Okiek population in Kenya would be around 15,000. Including the Tanzanian Akie group would increase this estimate slightly. Okiek settlement patterns and population density in Okiek areas have changed significantly since about the mid-twentieth century (see "Land Tenure," "Settlements," and "Subsistence and Commercial Activities").

Linguistic Affiliation. Okiek is part of the Kalenjin Branch of Southern Nilotic languages. In addition to Okiek, the Kalenjin ethnolinguistic group (formerly called "Nandi-speaking tribes") also includes Kipsigis, Nandi, Marakwet, Pokot (Suk), Sebei, Keiyo, and Tugen. Kalenjin languages are more distantly related to Eastern Nilotic languages (e.g., Maa, Teso, Turkana, Karamojong) and Western Nilotic languages (e.g., Luo, Nuer, Dinka). The Okiek spoken by different groups can vary lexically, morphologically, and tonally, but Okiek dialects are mutually understandable. Okiek are usually multilingual, speaking the language of their nearest neighbors in addition to Okiek. Many contemporary Okiek also speak Kiswahili, a national language in Kenya and Tanzania alike; those who have attended school know some English as well.

User Contributions:

Palesa Ngwenya
What is the relationship between the Okie of Tanzania and Okiek Kenya?

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