The Marakwet Community of Kenya

Explore the lifestyle of the Marakwet people

By National Museums of Kenya

KangaNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating our shared past, present, and future

Dating back centuries, the stories and traditions of the peoples of Kenya are some of the most fascinating in the world. They have enriched the country through social, economic, political and cultural activities, each with their own unique stories. Today, 44 communities are officially recognized by the government, and are classified into three linguistic groups: the Bantu, the Nilotic and the Cushitic speakers. The National Museums of Kenya holds objects telling the stories of the communities, which represent the country's ethnic diversity and vibrant cultures. Many of the cultural practices are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. This exhibit celebrates the country’s rich heritage through the Marakwet community.

Waist BeltNational Museums of Kenya

A look into the history and culture of the Marakwet community

The Marakwet are a sub-community of the Kalenjin, who are highland Nilotes. They speak the Markweta language and mainly lived in Elgeyo-Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, and Uasin Gishu counties. Notable personalities from this community include the Kenyan-American runner Edward Cheserek. 

Waist BeltNational Museums of Kenya

Religion and belief

The Marakwet traditionally believed in a number of supernatural beings. The most important one was 'Asis' (the sun), referred to as 'Chebetip chemataw', who was associated with blessings and good will. Another god was 'Ilat' (god of thunder), who causesd misfortunes like lightning and drought.

Magic FluteNational Museums of Kenya

Magic flute

This magic flute (ses) is made of bamboo from tekan by a special group of old men. The magic flute would be blown only after a misfortune.

The Diviner (Kipseon) would blow the flute during sunset to blow away curses of misfortune, believed to be brought about by hyenas and owls.

HerdingNational Museums of Kenya

Farming, cattle keeping, and honey harvesting

The Marakwet were known for growing sorghum, millet, maize, cassava, beans and vegetables in the highlands. They kept small herds of cattle and sheep, and also reared chicken.

Fire stickNational Museums of Kenya

Bee keeping and honey harvesting

These sticks, about two feet long, are tied together with a rope obtained from the bark of the Ses plant. They were used by men when extracting honey from beehives.

The sticks would be lit to produce smoke, which chased the bees away so the honey could be extracted.

Honey BarrelNational Museums of Kenya

Honey barrel for honey storage

This honey barrel tundi with a lid was made and used by men for storing honey after harvesting.

Leather SandalsNational Museums of Kenya

Social and political organisation

In the Marakwet community, all male adults traditionally belonged to an assembly called Asiswo. It had the highest control over political and administrative matters, and every clan had one. The Marakwet also participated in significant ceremonies such as child naming, marriage and circumcision ceremonies.

CloakNational Museums of Kenya

The Marakwet clan system

The Marakwet community is composed of seven clans. Members of the community identify themselves with the name of their clan first, then their personal name follows.

Leather apronNational Museums of Kenya

The Moi ceremony

This is a leather apron (siramoi) made of goat skin, softened by smearing it with goat fat. It is decorated with reeds, beetle wing (chebosal) and siran (dik dik) hooves.

This apron would have been used specially for a ceremony called Moi, undertaken by girls who were about to be circumcised. The aprons were made by grown women who had already undergone the moi ceremony. They were handed down from mother to daughter.

In Kenya today, female circumcision is illegal and the communities are encouraged to adopt alternative initiation rites.

Hand Ring (1952)National Museums of Kenya

Ceremonial marriage ring

This is a hand ring (mukurio) made by a blacksmith from steel iron at Kabelio village (Marakwet).

The iron was heated red hot and beaten on a metal with a hammer. These would be made on request, and given to women at marriage ceremonies. They would wear them on the hand as a ceremonial ring.

ShieldNational Museums of Kenya

Shield

In Marakwet, the people particularly used shields like this one for protection in times of war.

They were also used during marriage traditions, where the bridegroom would carry the shield from the bride's father back to his home. The well dressed bridegroom would lead the way, holding the shield in his right hand while the bride would follow him.

Ritual Calabash (1930)National Museums of Kenya

Child naming ceremony

This is a ritual calabash (sotob kot kotoa) made from a gourd plant. The calabash is cut and water is poured into it. The water is left for one week, after which the contents are removed and cleaned before use.

It was traditionally used during children's naming ceremonies. The calabash would be placed on top of a big awl or burning iron (kolomei), which was used by the whole clan to name their children.

Once it was balanced, names would be called out. If the calabash stood balanced on the awl, the child would be named. If not, the names continued to be called out until the calabash stood balanced, responding to the real name of the child.

Traditional MedicineNational Museums of Kenya

Health matters and local brew

The Marakwet traditionally had witch doctors who treated the ailing community members using several methods, including sacrificing animals. Preventive charms were used to protect against witches and people with 'evil eyes'. Disease-causing pollutants were treated by herbalists. 

MedicineNational Museums of Kenya

Leketetwa

This is a medicinal root of the Leketetwa tree, said to be effective for treating infertility in women. It was administered together with other medicine by a Kipses (Diviner).

Strainer (1930)National Museums of Kenya

Local brew

This is a strainer used to filter local brew. It was made by women by splitting and interweaving the fibres of the Tega (bamboo).

The Marakwet elders customarily drank the brew, made of honey, during wedding and child naming ceremonies.

Fruits of kigelia treeNational Museums of Kenya

These are fruits of the kigelia tree, used for fermenting beer.

Turkana DanceNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating Kenya's communities today

Many of the cultural practices of the Marakwet are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. The heritage and culture of the Marakwet community, along with the more than 44 communities in Kenya, continues to fascinate and inspire. The National Museums of Kenya invites everyone to celebrate the intangible cultural heritage of all communities which makes up this great nation.

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curator: Philemon Nyamanga, Cultural Heritage Department. pnyamanga@museums.or.ke

Bibliography and research
1. Fedders A, Salvadori C. Peoples and cultures of Kenya. Nairobi: Transafrica and London: Rex Collings, 1980.

Photography and Creative Direction: Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini. Gibs Photography

Exhibit Layout: Barnabas Ngei, Brian Maina Kamau and Quinter Anduto.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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