How Maasai invasion pushed the Luhya

They displaced the Bukusu who in turn displaced the Sabaots

In Summary

• Continuation of narrative on the militarisation of Luhyaland before colonialists arrived

A Maasai points in the distance
A Maasai points in the distance

It is a recent historical phenomenon, the merger of Kalenjin groups into one popular and solid identity.

People like Moi as a senator after Independence helped to forge this larger group identity in the politics of small tribes gathered under Kadu and large ones under Kanu.

Two hundred years ago and farther, these Kalenjin tribes, just like the Luhya ones, worked under their subtribal identities and leadership.

This explains why Bukusu have a native name for each of their Kalenjin neighbours. They don't call them all Kalenjins like we do today. The Sabaots are called Bayobo. The Pokots are called Basuku. The Marakwet and Tugen are called Bakamasia.

I grew up hearing my father and his older relatives, including his mother, calling President Moi "Omukamasia". He calls President Ruto "Omunande". Banande is the name for the Nandis in Lubukusu. The Kipsigis are called Balumbwa. Even today, very old and rural Bukusus do not understand a tribe called Kalenjin. But when you call the subtribes by the names I gave above, you will be understood.


It is fools alone who do not accept change for what it is when they encounter it. The old Bukusus were not foolish. As they dwelt in their war and peace arrangement with their Kalenjin neighbours, a new force arrived from the north. Neither the Bukusu nor their Kalenjin neighbours had ever encountered it before. It came. From the north.

For centuries, the Maasai had lived in the lush valleys of North Rift, having entered the homeland of Kenya from the Ilemi Triangle between South Sudan and Ethiopia. They entered Kenya via the western shores of Lake Turkana. In those old centuries, they were not many. Yet they possessed a passion for cattle common in all descendants of the north. 

As they grew in numbers and herds, the valleys of North Rift became a constraint. This is how they climbed out of the escarpments of Suguta and others and onto the flat lands south of Item. They arrived in successive bands of raiders, whose war techniques and force was like nothing seen before. Both the Kalenjins and Bukusus felt their brunt with tighter regularity.

Their sporadic attacks pushed the Pokots, Nandis and Marakwets south, and Sirikwa became overpopulated and chaotic. The leaders of the large clans of the Bukusu opted for migration. They decided to return to the old lands near Mount Elgon. The pressure of the Maasai had become a fully fledged migration into the Uasin Gishu area by the 18th century. 

The Bukusu arrived back in Mount Elgon region only to find the Sabaots and their kin had occupied the land. The Bok and Bongomek were all over. Bungoma is named after the latter. To evade direct conflict, the Bukusu split into two groups, ne circling Mount Elgon via the north, the other via the south.

This way, they encircled the current Bungoma county and dislodged the Sabaots and their cousins, pushing them up the forested mountain slopes, where they live today. The Bukusu clans then entered the fertile farmlands between the Elgon and Nzoia and turned to cultivation, having lost much of their ancient herds to the Maasai and in migration.

This is how by the 1800s, the Bukusu were firmly established where they live today, and the soil and weather favoured them. They multiplied in number. They used the old contact with Kalenjins in Sirikwa to regiment their lives.

Initiation became the soul of the tribe. Life revolved around it. The initiated were regimented on Kalenjin ageset system for military sake. Eight Nandi agesets were adopted and adapted to the Bukusu life. Each lasted 12 years on average, and they formed a cycle, which repeated itself after each set had produced it's warriors for 12 years or so.

With this came the militarisation of the tribe long before the British arrived. The love for warfare was pegged on initiation and heroic masculinity. Raids became their games. They expanded their lands up towards Cherengany and into the lands of the Tesos in Malaba. Their belligerent nature irked their neighbours to the south. The kingdom of Wanga.


One of the first Europeans to arrive in western Kenya was Joseph Thompson. You know a waterfall named after him in Laikipia county. It is in Nyahururu. You also know the beautiful and goat-like gazzelle named after him. You see them on the roadside between Naivasha and Nakuru or between Sugoi and Moi Barracks on your way to Bungoma or Trans Nzoia counties, travelling from Nairobi.

Thompson was a young doctor from Scotland. He had been inspired by the accounts of Africa of a fellow doctor and Scot called Dr David Livingstone.

The latter had cut an image for himself in the 1860s as the king of African exploration. He died in Zambia. His two slaves cut his heart out. They buried it under a baobab tree in southern Zambia. I have taken tea in that town. It is called Livingstonetown.

They carried his heartless body on their head. One man in front the other behind. All the way from Zambia via Malawi via enormous Tanzania to Dar and on a boat to Zanzibar, where the envoy of UK lived under the Sultan of Oman, who ruled the East African coast as his dominion.

To be continued

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