The Kalenjin tribe belongs to the Nilotic ethnic group. These highland Nilotes include eight culturally and linguistically related groups or tribes, namely Kipsigis, Nandi, Tugen, Marakwet, Keiyo, Pokot, Sabaot and Terik.
The Kalenjin languages spoken by these groups include the Keyo (Keiyo), Cherangany, Tugen, Nandi and Kipsigis (Kipsikiis, Kipsikis) languages.
The Kalenjin are renowned on a national and international level for their athletic prowess and they are sometimes referred to as Kenya’s running tribe. They are Kenya’s forth largest ethnic group, with the Kipsigis being the largest of the Kalenjin group.
Many legendary Kenyan long distance runners are Kalenjins, including world-renowned athlete Kipchoge Keino, who was the first African to clinch a gold medal in the 1500m race in 1968. Though retired, Kipchoge Keino remains a Kenyan legend and sports icon.
Most of Kenya’s earliest running heroes were of Nandi descent. Kipchoge Keino and Mike Boit were both Nandi, as are latter-day stars Wilson Kipketer and Moses Tanui. Tegla Loroupe, who holds the course record for the Quad-City Times Bix 7, as well as the world record in the women’s marathon, is of Pokot descent. Five-time world cross-country champion and world 10,000-meter record holder Paul Tergat is Tugen. Helen Kimaiyo, winner of the 1996 Bix 7, is Keiyo, and three-time world steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui is Marakwet.
Though other Kenyan tribes have produced world-class athletes, the Kalenjins continue to dominate the marathon scene.
Religion of the Kalenjins
Today, nearly every Kalenjin is a member of an organized religion, specifically Christianity or Islam. Major Christian sects popular within the Kalenjin tribe include the Africa Inland Church (AIC), the Church of the Province of Kenya (CPK) and the Roman Catholic Church. In comparison, Muslims are relatively few in number among the Kalenjin.
Traditional Kalenjin religion is based upon a belief in a supreme god, Asis or Cheptalel, who is represented in the form of the sun, although the sun is not God himself. Beneath Asis is Elat, who is believed to control thunder and lightning.
Spirits of the dead, oyik, are believed to intervene in the affairs of humans and can be placated with sacrifices of meat or beer, called koros. Diviners, called orkoik, are also believed to have magical powers which can assist in appeals for rain or to end floods. Only the older generation can recall the details of the traditional religious beliefs, as they are no longer commonly practiced.
Kalenjin dress and clothing
Customary Kalenjin clothing was made of the skins of either domesticated or wild animals. Both male and female Kalenjin wore earrings made of heavy brass coils that stretched the earlobe down to shoulder level. Today, Kalenjins have adopted a modern style of dressing.
Kalenjin and politics
The Kalenjin tribe has been synonymous with Kenyan politics since the country attained independence.
Kenya’s retired second president, Hon. Daniel Torotich Arap Moi, is Kalenjin. He ruled Kenya for 24 years. Currently, many of Kenya’s most prominent leaders are of Kalenjin descent, serving in top political, government and private positions.
Ugali, a meal made from cornmeal, millet or sorghum, is the Kalenjins’ staple food. Like many other Kenyan tribes, Kalenjins often use their bare hands to eat the ugali meal, which may be served with cooked green vegetables such as suchaa or kale.
The Kalenjins’ favorite meat includes roasted goat meat, beef, or chicken. A popular Kalenjin beverage is mursik, a fermented whole milk that is stored in a special gourd and cleansed by using a burning stick.