Did you know: The name Kipsigis means giving birth

The Kipsigis are one of the nilotic groups of Kenya. They are part of the nine sub-ethnic groups of the Kalenjin. They occupy the southern part of the Rift Valley and neighbour the Gusii, Maasai, Luo, and Kikuyu. The name Kipsigis is derived from the term ‘sigiisyeet’ which means giving birth. The first batch of British agents in western Kenya referred to the Kipsigis people as ‘Lumbwa’ and sometimes as ‘Kwavi’ which is the name of Laikipia Maasai.

The Lumbwa are believed to have been a hunter-gatherer people who lived near present-day Londiani. Kipsigis were initially a single group among the Nandi known as ‘Chemwal’ until 1800.

They separated when Maasai drove a wedge between them and their northern neighbours at the Kipchorian River, today called River Nyando. The result was a new community south of Nandi Hills that came to be known as Kipsigis.

Their population grew from a few families near what is today Fort Ternan to the largest Kalenjin sub-tribe today. They acquired military skills to settle in the new land where there was a threat from neighbouring Luos, Kisii in Kabianga Hill, and Maasai to the east. The expansion of the Kipsigis territory was rapid and by 1895, the Orkoiyot institution was established but named Orgoik.

They rose from three brothers; Kipchomber Arap Koilege, Chebochok Arap Boisyo, and Arap Buiygut, sons of the Orkoiyot of Nandi Kimnyole Arap Turgat, who fled to their uncle Arap Kiroisi of Sotik after their father was assassinated. They fled after their younger brother Koitalel Arap Samoei was picked to succeed their father.

Formulation of the clan system is thought to have come about due to the assimilation of other communities. This was for population growth to beef up their numbers and to prevent inbreeding. The Kipsigis have about 42 clans and 200 sub-clans. The major clans are Boguserek of Laikipia Maasai origin, Boswetek of Tugen and Kisii mix, Kap – Barangwek of Terik roots, Kap – Barmusek of Maasai roots, Kap-Echerek from a Keiyo woman and a Kisii man, and Kap-Kerichek who lived around Kericho town, among others. All clans have an animal as a totem and a war division with a different name.

The British first settled in Lumbwa, later named Kipkelion, where the railway passed on its way to Kisumu. The northern part of Kipsigis or what is today Kericho was put in Central Nyanza headquartered in Kisumu. The southern area, later Bomet was in South Nyanza with headquarters in Kisii. Another batch of colonialists went to Tenwek where the African Inland Mission had set up. The British then set up tea farms in Kericho by moving the Kipsigis into reserves to the south. In 1905, after the murder of Koitalel arap Samoei in Nandi, the Kipsigis were devastated but Christianity was taking root. The Kipsigis who had converted to Christianity led a consensus to make peace with the British in what came to be known as The Lumbwa Treaty. On the day of the treaty, the Orgoik brothers and their sons were sent to Kericho Prison. The British later transferred them to Rusinga Island to maintain the peace.

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