Kalenjin “The running tribe of Kenya “ : Native to East Africa, the Kalenjin are a collection of tribes that primarily inhabit what was previously the Rift Valley Province in Kenya and the eastern slopes of Mount Elgon in Uganda. According to the 2019 census in Kenya, they number 6,358,113 people, and the 2014 census there found an estimated 273,839 people, mostly in the districts of Kapchorwa, Kween, and Bukwo.

There are 11 tribes that make up the Kalenjin, each with a distinct culture and language: the Kipsigis (1.9 million), Nandi, Pokots, Sebei , Sabaot, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet, Ogiek, Terik, and Sengwer. Languages spoken by the Kalenjin are their native tongues. The group of languages is a member of the Nilotic family. Kenya is home to the majority of Kalenjin speakers, with lesser groups in Tanzania (such as Akie) and Uganda (such as Kupsabiny).

Most Kalenjin speakers speak English and Kiswahili as their second and third languages, while a small percentage of Kalenjin also speak them as their first and second languages. Those who speak the Kalenjin language, such as the Sebei of Uganda and the Akie of Tanzania, as well as the Kalenjin people of Kenya, are the main users of Kalenjin names. The patronym Arap was sometimes acquired later in life, as in the cases of Alfred Kirwa Yego and Daniel Toroitch arap Moi. The Kalenjin traditionally had two primary names for the individual, but in modern times a Christian or Arabic name is also given at birth.

Kalenjin Culture


A crucial aspect of Kalenjin identity is the initiation process. Male circumcision (yatitaet) and initiation (tumdo) rituals are particularly important affairs since they mark a man’s passage from childhood to manhood. Overall, the process still takes place during a boy’s pre-teen/early teenage years, albeit there are now clear changes in practise. The ancient ritual of initiation still involves a lot of esotericism, and in 2013, when some components of the tradition were openly questioned at the International Court, there was a huge uproar among Kalenjin elders. On the other hand, many modern Kalenjin have the circumcision operation performed in hospitals as a normal surgical procedure, and several learning process models have arisen to support the modern practise.

Kalenjin Marriage process

The young man who wishes to get married tells his parents about it during the first ceremony, and they in turn tell their relatives as part of discussing whether the couple is a good match (kaayaaet’ap koito).They will visit the girl’s family for a show-up and to ask for the girl’s hand in marriage if they give their approval. The request is frequently made in the presence of aunts, uncles, or even grandparents, and it is frequently disguised as an apology to the parents of the intended bride for wanting to separate their daughter from them. A date for a formal engagement is set if her family consents to letting them have their daughter. The intended husband and future bride do not participate in this ceremony beyond starting it.

The bridegroom’s family visits the bride’s home during the second ceremony, the formal engagement (koito), to meet her family in person. Extensive introductions and dowry discussions take place in a chamber with members of the groom’s family, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, and others. Following the discussions, there is a ceremony where senior family members from both sides give the bridegroom and bride advice on how to raise a family. During this ritual, the couple is frequently given presents and symbolic items. Given that the kaayaaet’ap koito is occasionally combined with it and the tunisiet is occasionally skipped in favour of it, the koito is frequently highly colourful and occasionally resembles a wedding ceremony. As a result, it is actually assuming more importance as the main event.

The third ceremony is a large wedding (tunisiet) where many family members, neighbours, friends, and business partners are invited. In its contemporary forms, this ceremony frequently adopts the format of a typical Western wedding; it is typically held in a church, during which rings are exchanged, officiated by a priest, and followed by a celebration.



The Kalenjin created a robust body of folklore, just like all oral societies. The purpose of folktales was to convey a message, and many of them included the Chemosit, also known as Chebokeri in Marakwet, the fearsome monster that ate the brains of rebellious youngsters.

Among the Kipsigis and Nandi, the Legend of Cheptalel is quite well-known, and the term was borrowed from Kalenjin mythology and incorporated into contemporary culture. Another well-known tale that is based on a genuine event is the fall of the Long’ole Clan, which is given as a caution against arrogance. According to the legend, the Long’ole warriors provoked their distant adversaries, the Maasai, into battle because they believed they were the strongest in the land. Despite their initial reluctance, the Maasai eventually struck, eradicating the Long’ole clan.

Kalenjin art and craft

The Kalenjin culture includes the use of arts and crafts, with elaborate beadwork being the most sophisticated visual art. Despite the fact that women do produce and sell beautiful calabashes made from gourds locally, the Kalenjin are not well recognised for their handicrafts. These sotet calabashes, which are made of gourds and are used for storing mursik, are decorated with little coloured beads and oil-rubbed calabashes.

Kalenjin cuisine

The basics of the Kalenjin cuisine include ugali, or kimnyet in Kalenjin, served with vegetables that have been cooked such isageek (African cabbage) or sochot (African nightshade), and milk. Roast meat is occasionally served with ugali, rice, or chapati and is often made of beef or goat. Psong’iot is the name of the traditional millet and sorghum ugali. It has experienced a comeback in popularity in line with worldwide trends towards better eating because it is thought to be healthier than ugali made of maize flour (similar to brown bread/white bread). The crust left behind after cooking ugali can be used to make the traditional snack moriot, which is still very popular. In a same vein, honey and the traditional drink mursik, both long regarded as delicacy (karise/kariseyuek), continue to enjoy considerable popularity.

Dairy products are used extensively in both traditional dishes like socheek (a vegetable relish made with greens, milk, and cream) and modern dishes like mcheleng (rice with milk, a creamy smooth dish made as a delicacy for children but usually enjoyed by the entire family) and bean stew with milk and cream. In more cosmopolitan places, combination foods and combinations are common, while not being considered historically Kalenjin. The most popular of these is kwankwaniek, a githeri-like blend of boiling maize and beans. Children and adults can both enjoy milk or tea with any meal or snack. In general, tea is heavily sweetened and contains 40% milk by volume on average. Even though drinking tea without milk is considered a true hardship, it can nonetheless be sipped black with sugar if no milk is available.


The Kalenjin are sometimes referred to as “the running tribe.” Since the middle of the 1960s, Kenyan men have won a disproportionate amount of major awards in international athletics at distances ranging from 800 metres to the marathon; the vast majority of these Kenyan running heroes have been Kalenjin. In terms of Olympic medals, World Championship medals, and World Cross Country Championship honours for men over these distances since 1980, Kalenjin has amassed roughly 40% of the top awards. These include other arguments that are equally valid for other Kenyans or people residing elsewhere who are not disproportionately great athletes, such as the fact that they run to school every day, that they reside in a relatively high altitude, and that the prize money from races is substantial in comparison to other countries.

book a trip