The Kalenjin form the majority of the population in the central part of the Rift Valley. Their name, actually a recent adoption by a number of peoples speaking dialects of Nandi, means “I tell you”. The principal Kalenjin are the Nandi, Terik, Tugen, Elgeyo, Elkony, Sabaot, Marakwet and Kipsigis, and, more contentiously, the Pokot. They were some of the earliest inhabitants of Kenya and probably absorbed the early bushmen or pygmy peoples who had already been here for 200–300,000 years.

Primarily farmers, the Kalenjin have often adapted their economies to local circumstances. The first Kalenjin were probably herdsmen. The pastoral Pokot group still spurn all kinds of cultivation and despise peoples who rely on anything but livestock, calling the Marakwet, living against the western Rift escarpment, Cheblong (“The Poor”), for their lack of cattle. The Okiek provide another interesting clue to the past. Hunter-gatherers, they live in scattered groups in the forests of the high slopes flanking the Rift and traditionally regard wild fruits and vegetables as barely palatable, though maize and gardening have been introduced and they now keep some domestic animals too. The Okiek and other groups in Kenya who live mostly by hunting have often been called Ndorobo or Wandorobo, deriving from the Maasai term “Il Torobbo”, again meaning “poor people without cattle” – though today this is considered a highly derogatory term.

Many Kalenjin played key roles in the founding of the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU, now disbanded), but the most famous of Kalenjin in recent years was Kenya’s second president, Daniel Arap Moi, a Tugen from Baringo District. As he was from a small ethnic group, his presidency at first avoided the accusations of tribalism levelled so bitterly against Kenyatta. But Moi’s firm grip on the reins of power was increasingly exercised through the Kalenjin-dominated civil service, rather than the more ethnically mixed cabinet. In 1992, when democratic elections first took place, there were tribal clashes, often coordinated from behind the scenes, with the “ethnic cleansing” of non-Kalenjin (usually Kikuyu incomers) from the Rift Valley by groups of surprisingly well-organized young men. Similar incidents were repeated at election time in 1997 and 2002, while in 2007 post-election tensions resulted in retaliatory violence by Kikuyu groups against supporters of Raila Odinga, which included the Kalenjin, especially around Nakuru and Naivasha.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Kenya features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Saving the elephants: on the poaching frontline in Kenya

Saving the elephants: on the poaching frontline in Kenya

The African elephant is under constant threat from poachers, and numbers have fallen by one third in seven years. Joe Minihane journeyed to the Samburu reserv…

26 Dec 2017 • Joe Minihane local_activity Special feature
23 incredible pictures of Kenya

23 incredible pictures of Kenya

Rough Guides photographer Tim Draper took an intrepid trip through Kenya to visit remote tribes and see stunning landscapes. Here, he shares his favourite pictu…

29 Nov 2017 • Tim Draper insert_drive_file Article
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs