By Biketi Kikechi
It is one of the most enduring legends that have stood the test of time in one community’s culture.
Such is the power of the ancient legend that local political leaders and others from afar still travel to a small village in Nandi and other parts of the North Rift to draw from its perceived power and benefits.
The Orkoiyot, revered leaders among the Kalenjin communities, believed to have divine powers and inherited qualities from a special lineage, are still sought after by political leaders to confer blessings and offer guidance.
"The Orkoiyot had an inherited talent of predicting events affecting the community and conferring blessings," says Kapsisiywo civic leader David Sulo, who comes from the lineage of an Orkoiyot’s clan.
They belonged to the Talai clan, a small community currently spread out in small pockets from Baringo North, Kipsigis and Nandi.
The largest concentration of the Talai is, however, found at Kapsisiywo village near The University of East Africa, Baraton, Nandi Central District.
Legendary Orkoiyot Koitalel arap Samoei was among the last of the great Orkoiyot in living memory. Some of his descendants became Orkoiyot and clan elders and are believed to posses some of their ancestors’ powers.
There are few known Orkoiyot, but elders from their lineage are believed to carry their power.
Sulo, a Talai clan elder, is a forth generation descendant of Samoei.
Recently he presided over the decoration of former Cabinet Minister Nicholas Biwott into a Kalenjin elder.
Numerous leaders from the Rift Valley and elsewhere have been anointed as elders and adorned in a sambut (monkey skin gown) and a colobus monkey skinhead gear by Talai elders at Kapsisiywo village.
The late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was decorated in 1958. Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta received blessings from Orkoiyot Barsiriak Manyei who gave him a sambut at Uhuru Garden grounds during the 1963 Independence celebrations. The former National Assembly Speaker, the late Jean-Marie Seroney was honoured in 1966.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga was honoured by elders in Keiyo ahead of the 2007 presidential election. In 2007 President Kibaki was honoured by Koitalel arap Samoei’s grandsons who decorated him with a sambut and its accompaniments at Nandi Hills. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was handed a walking stick during a blessing by elders while Gichugu MP Martha Karua was given the highest honour reserved for women, a beaded belt known locally as leketiet and a forehead strap.
"The Nandi believed that Orkoiyot ne oo (Senior Orkoiyot) were sacred," said Sulo.
The Talai family tree is contained in a legend that says it started with a woman called Moki Chebo Cheplabot, who gave birth to Kobokoi and Barsabotwo. Koboki brought forth Turgat and Kipsogon and the former fathered Kimnyolei and Bartile arap Bisto.
Kimnyolei was the father of Koitalel arap Samoei, who died in 1905 during the Nandi resistance to British rule.
Koitalel arap Samoei was one of the most respected Orkoiyot, documented to have had a Cabinet whose membership came from as far as Keiyo and Mt Elgon.
Facts collected by Sulo indicate that the Talai used to live among the Laikipia Maasai who fought them, forcing one group to flee to Uasin Gishu.
It is believed that Cheplabot was a wife of a Maasai Laibon who fled during the fighting when she was pregnant.
Legend says she lived with friendly lions in a cave in an area known as Keben until she gave birth to her two children.
Some Nandi warriors later met her sons and accommodated them in the community.
The name Talai means gentle because the lions were gentle and harmless to Cheplabot and her children, the legend says.
Kobogoi started exhibiting supernatural abilities when streams and rivers dried because of drought.
Nandi elders then decided that Kobogoi and his bother be groomed into leaders. The elders convinced a reluctant Kibogoi to accept that he had supernatural powers and could communicate with God.
The tribe then became strong under his leadership, and he became the first Nandi Orkoiyot.
No other tribe could fight the Nandi during his watch and when Turugat took over after his death, the Nandi were a feared tribe.
Kimyolei arap Turugat, the father of Koitalel arap Samoei took over as Orkoiyot after his death.
The Talai were isolated from the main Nandi tribe after the Nandi resistance of the British at the beginning of the last century when 30 of them were detained at Kapsisiywo.