By Amos Kareithi
Scared of a major uprising and aware of the influence a tiny community had over the residents of Kericho and Nandi, the colonial government in 1934 crafted a law to confine about 700 members of the Talai clan in an open-air jail.
The ordinance, which has been likened by historians to Adolf Hitler’s policy of isolating the Jews before herding them into the gas chambers was consented by King George V and was implemented on in September 1934.
The Passing of the law was hastened by the attack of a European settler couple, Alex and Stella Semini of Kinangop, whose home was burgled, the owners assaulted and guns stolen triggering widespread fears after the man died.
Police investigations determined that the attack had been perpetrated by eight Kipsigis, which made the settlers more hostile towards the community.
Historian, David M Anderson, in his work, Black Mischief: Crime, Protest and Resistance in Colonial Kenya, explains the attack followed a wave of increased insecurity in Nandi and Kipsigis lands where theft of guns ammunition had spiraled as more and more settlers were targeted.
In 1934, Kericho District Commissioner Douglas Brumage conducted investigations, which showed systematic organisation of the Kipsigis communities under the spiritual guidance of their Laibons in readiness for a major showdown with the colonialists.
Brumage’s final report uncovered the extent of “organised crime” sanctioned by the Laibons and recommended the removal of the entire Talai clan from the Kipsigis reserve as, “they had evil influence on the whole population.”
Consequently in May 1934, the Attorney General William Harrigan drafted legislation ‘The Laibons Removal Ordinance’ (no. 32 of 1934) to provide for the mass deportation of the Talai clan, and forwarded it to London for approval.
After heated deliberations during which 39 affidavits allegedly signed by some members of the Talai, attesting to the alleged “evil powers of the Laibons” were tabled in the Legislative Council, as the Bill was unanimously passed into law.
It ultimately became law on September 25, 1934 after it was operationalised by the then acting Colonial Secretary, Juxton Barton proclaiming: “In exercise of the powers conferred upon me by section 1 of the Laibons Removal Ordinance,1934, I do hereby appoint the 25th day of September 1934 as the date upon which the said ordinance shall come into operation. God save the King.”
The ordinance which was divided into 20 sections, defined a Laibon as an Orkoiyot, who to the colonial authorities meant, “an adult male member of Talai clan? resident in the South Lumbwa or Nandi district.”