• Elders from warring Tugen, Pokot, Ilchamus and Marakwet pastoral communities
• More than 300 people killed, several injured and thousands of livestock stolen since 2005.
Agitated elders have resorted to tough and bloody rituals as a final solution to perennial banditry and cattle rustling in the North Rift.
There was bull-slaughter, sacred milk, banditry victims tying themselves together with weapons, innocent children jumping back and forth over weapons and tossing away bloody flesh.
And honey to remind everyone of the sweetness of peace.
The historic day-long spiritual, cultural ceremony was held in the remote Katuwit village at the northeastern edge of Lake Baringo on Sunday.
It brought together elders, children, widows and widowers, victims of bandits attack from the warring Tugen, Pokot, Ilchamus and Marakwet pastoral communities from Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.
But will it work?
“Today marks the end of a century-long banditry menace among these communities. Whoever now breaches the voice of our gods to attack a neighbour again will have himself to blame,” Nandi elder from Kapsisiywo Talai clan Jeff Ronoh said.
Rono, a member of the Kalenjin Myoot Council of Elders, further said the intensive ritual seeks to end cross-border banditry and boundary conflicts among the warring communities in Baringo, Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot and Laikipia counties.
“Historically the pastoral communities in Rift Valley, especially the Kalenjins, used to be one before being split by the enmity of banditry and cattle rustling,” he said.
A similar oath-taking ceasefire ceremony was held back in 1906 between the Tugen and Keiyo somewhere in Cheploch Gorge along Kerio Valley.
“Unfortunately, the reconciliation ritual was held after a whole Tugen age group called Maina had been wiped out by the brazen Keiyo bandits,” Ronoh said.
He said since then the two communities, the Keiyos and Tugens, are coexisting peacefully, “and now the other clashing communities should follow suit,” he said.
The ceremony started around 6am with the slaughtering of a castrated pure black bull. Then chosen elders bowed down to scrutinise the intestines to foresee the future.
Then illicit weapons—guns, spears, bows and arrows—were assembled from warring communities.
Then the bull's horns were placed atop them to mark them as an abomination.
The bull’s hide was sliced into thin strips and dissected into thin pieces and tired on the tips of lethal weapons before being laid on the open floor inside a traditional grass-thatched hut.
Other paraphernalia were female animal hide belts, wooden elders stools and a bunch of grass.
Innocent children, both boys and girls aged five and eight, were ordered to hop back and forth over the weapons several times while the elders spit saliva on the weapons to curse them.
“From today, these weapons have been rendered useless, they can’t be used to kill people again unless by a mad person or an outcast,” Mzee Ronoh said.
After being cursed the weapons were tied tightly together with the bull's hide ropes and handed back to the owners, then ordered to keep them safe for future generation history lessons.
Some small hair-covered pieces of bull's hide were tied on children's left fingers. The children were ordered to climb a tree and throw the pieces of hide towards flooded Lake Baringo to symbolise the banditry culture is finally over.
The ritual participants, including children drawn from the warring communities. were then served with roasted liver, traditional wine and a handful of honey after their feet were sprayed with pure cow’s milk.
Elders further blessed the children, saying the warring communities can now intermarry, bear their children and coexist peacefully.
Miraculously after the ceremony, heavy rain immediately fell on the drought-covered scorched semi-arid land, shocking the residents.
Col (Rtd) Moses Kwonyike from the Tugen community and Pastor Peter Chemaswet from Mt Elgon backed the elders, saying history has already been written.
“Let anyone from now dare plan any attack and see what will happen,” Kwonyike said.
SERIES OF ATTACKS
The ritual follows a recent bandit attack in Elgeyo Marakwet in which an entire family—a mother and her three children were murdered by armed bandits.
They are attributed to land disputes, disputes over pasture and water and many are financed by politicians inciting politicians and leaders to take back ancestral land.
A breastfeeding mother of a two-day-old child was shot dead last year in Yatya, Baringo North subcounty.
Since 2005, more than 300 innocent people were killed, thousands displaced and many livestock stolen by bandits.
“Therefore this ceremony marks our last resort as Kalenjin elders, from today to eternity we are saying enough of this demonic bloodshed,” Chemaswet said.
The event was attended by a section of security personnel with the blessings of the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya.
Natembeya had earlier suggested that elders from the warring communities should intervene to end banditry through re-conciliation peace forums.
But will it work?
(Edited by V. Graham)