Okiek - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. Okiek believe in one god, called Torooret or Asiista, who is thought to be beneficent and is invoked in blessings. Ancestor spirits, on the other hand, can cause illness and misfortune for the living if they are forgotten or in retribution for wrongs committed among their relatives (see "Medicine" and "Death and Afterlife"). Okiek visit a variety of healing specialists and diviners who can identify ancestor spirits responsible for such difficulties (see "Medicine"). Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek Okiek know about Christian churches, but Christian missionary activity is relatively recent in their areas, taking hold only after 1980 and largely in conjunction with the settlers who have moved in (see "Land Tenure"). Other Okiek groups, such as Maresionik, have a longer history of involvement with Christian churches.

Ceremonies. Life-cycle ceremonies marking stages of maturation are the major rites celebrated by Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek Okiek. The first is a one-day ceremony that includes shaving the heads of child and mother and giving the child a new name. In the second, rarely practiced now, the ear lobes are pierced; this takes place when a child is 12 to 14 years old. The final and most important ceremony is initiation into adulthood. Performed at about age 15, initiation itself consists of four ceremonies. During a seclusion period, children are taught about gender-appropriate adult behavior and rights and learn sex-specific ritual secrets from a pair of ritual leaders. Girls and boys both go through this ceremonial sequence. Other Okiek ceremonies have to do with marriage, peacemaking, and pouring libations to ancestor spirits.

Arts. Okiek artistry has material expression in a range of products, including tightly woven baskets, a range of rouletted ceramic forms, and other material culture. Beaded personal ornaments, worn in various combinations, are one of the most aesthetically striking Okiek creations. Okiek also decorate Containers and other objects with beads or incised patterns and in the late twentieth century have begun to paint houses with designs for special occasions. Okiek verbal art is rich and varied as well, including many genres of song, skilled oratory, proverbs, and stories.

Medicine. Okiek use a variety of treatments for health problems, which can have physical and social causes alike. They have substantial knowledge of herbal medicines made from forest plants and trees and also consult a range of traditional healers. For Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek Okiek, these include Okiek diviners (who use the fruit of the lowisto tree), Maasai diviners, and Kipsigis or Nandi diviners. Other Okiek groups probably avail themselves of healing specialists from other neighboring ethnic groups. Health clinics and hospitals make biomedical treatments available, although they may not be nearby or well provided.

Death and Afterlife. Death is not an occasion for elaborate ritual observance among Okiek. For several days, mourning families observe certain restrictions in dress, on visiting other houses, and on sharing food. In the past, corpses were laid to rest in the forest or bush; now they are buried. Upon death, adults become ancestor spirits and can continue to affect the living in some ways. If angered, for instance, they can bring disease or bad luck to their living relatives.

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