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POLITICAL RITUALS

Ruto coronation: Who are the Talai clan elders?

The clan is loved and feared on equal measures among the Kalenjin and neighbouring communities.

In Summary

• Politicians flock Kapsisywo for blessings by the elders whenever they face challenges.

•  Critics have branded them sorcerers practicing high-level witchcraft. This, however, originated from the Europeans who wanted them ostracised, isolated and made outcasts.

Deputy President William Ruto after receiving blessings fro Talai elders at Kipsirwo village in Kapsisywo
Deputy President William Ruto after receiving blessings fro Talai elders at Kipsirwo village in Kapsisywo
Image: COURTESY

Kapsisywo village in Nandi had never attracted national prominence until Deputy President William Ruto visited.

He attended a traditional coronation ceremony from the Talai clan at Kipsirwo in Kapsisywo to make his “political ride” smooth.

Talai clan is made up of five known families — the Kapturgat, the Kapsogon, the Kapchesang, the Kapmararsoi and the Kapsonet. It is believed to posses mystic powers and whatever they handle and bless or curse always come to pass.

The clan is loved and feared on equal measures among the Kalenjin and neighbouring communities. In many occasions, individuals seeking leadership positions stream to their villages for 'blessings'

Any argument or competition against them is handled with the fragility and care it deserves. They are spoken of in low tones. 

Most of the things we hear are legends, passed from generations to generations and sometimes we wonder how they used to happen
Moses Saina

DUMPED BY COLONIALISTS

The fear dates back to the colonial administration that got them out of their homes in Nandi and in Kericho district and took them to parts of Nyanza for opposing their rule.

Moses Saina, the clan council secretary and spokesperson, says they have nothing strange other than inborn gifts of blessings people and foretelling events.

“We are not super human but all the negative issues about the Talai have been spread by those who don’t understand our clan role in the bigger society,” Saina says.

He is a retired manager with Agricultural Finance Corporation and brother to William Saina, a former MP.

Saina belongs to one of the Talai family or subclan, Kapsogon, whose great grandfather was the twin brother of the first Nandi Laibon, Orkoiyot.

“Most of the things we hear are legends, passed from generations to generations and sometimes we wonder how they used to happen,” Saina says.

However, local Kalenjin clans still treat the Talai with contempt and fear, and talk of incidences that make them feared.

Daniel Songok, a member of Kaptumois clan, remembers with nostalgia an incident in the late 1990’s, when a calf belonging to a Talai farmer was stolen minutes after it was calved.

“A known village thieve suspected to have stolen the calf was struck to death by lightning as he went to find out the status of the animal at the hideout at night,” Songok says.

The Talai clan possessed so much influence among the Nandi and the Kipsigis that whatever direction they were asked to take was final.

The members are believed to have originated from one of the Maasai-Lota family clans of the Oloibon, and dates back to the mid-1800 during the Nandi-Maasai wars. They have same ancestry with Olonana (Lenana), Mpatian and Senteu (Sendayo).

It’s a common to find Talai people sharing names with the Maasai. Names such as Loiyoki, Nasieku, Nganai, Naigaba, Cheticho, Koitaba and Nanaibu, among others are found in both communities.

It is the clan that the chief medicine man Orkoiyot hailed from and through him, dictated and directed the family lives of the community. He decided how and when the community could raid neighbours for cattle, and dictate the rain pattern.

It is through this that Orkoiyot Koitalel arap Samoei was able to lead the Nandi into a 10-year resistance against the British between 1895-1905 when he was killed.

Samoei blessed the warriors having seen in a vision the arrival of the British and dispossession of their land.

After Samoei’s death in October 19, 1905, his clan members, the Talai, were forcefully removed out of their ancestral homes in various parts of Nandi and deposed in Gwasi, Mbita, and Mfangano Island in South Nyanza.

This was after the 1934 Laibon's removal ordinance, which gave powers to colonial district commissioners to identify them wherever they lived and forced them out lest they spread the anti-European activities.

Those who remained were rounded up and sent to Kapsisywo, the land between rivers Kiutany and Birei, then infested with tsetse flies and mosquitoes.

The colonialists hoped they would  all die of diseases. A similar operation was carried out in Kericho and Bomet and those who remained were put in camps in Kipchimchim and Nyakacho.

The British feared their presence in the areas they eyed to  grow cash crops would be curtailed by the Talai Laibons. They argued that the clan posses “evil powers” that make the communities rebel against them.

Saina says, “During the colonial administration, Europeans did not trust even children of the Talai who had converted to Christianity and became priests or pastors".

“They could appoint spies to keep an eye on our brothers on how they conducted prayers and a report was made daily to the district commissioner or district officers”.

It is the vision of “seeing European” occupation  in Nandi and Kericho that has made Talai highly sort by people seeking to know what lay ahead of them

TALAI ON DP RUTO

Ruto, according to Talai Council of Elders, had in the past resisted attempts to have him coroneted and blessed to ensure “no other person” crosses his political line, especially among the Kalenjin.

However, as Jubilee Party politics turned against him, it became obvious that what the Talai had foreseen was coming to pass, hence the need to address it.

Ruto was coronated at the home of the Rev Canon James Basy, a retired Anglican priest by a section of council of elders.

However, the ceremony received scathing criticism from Christopher Koiyoki, one of the elders, who declined to attend on grounds that it should have been carried out by the Kapturgat family.

Canon Basy belongs to Kapsonet family, a linage of Christian priests that he says gives them an upper hand in culture and Christianity.

Elder Koiyoki, who had been a vice chairman of the council, has since been fired and replaced by his cousin, Lawrence Nganai, for opposing Ruto's coronation.

Former President Jomo Kenyatta, whom the clan treated with high regard claiming he had their genes, underwent a ritual at State House in Nakuru  administered  by Barsirian arap Manyei in 1964.

Manyei was a son to Koitalel Samoei. His family lives in Lorien, Ng’arua in Laikipia county together with a large group of Nandis.

President Daniel Moi also met the  clan in 1962 at Kapkatet Stadium in Kericho under the then Kalenjin Political Alliance, a lobby group for the community on land.

President Mwai Kibaki received his blessings in October 19, 2017 in Nandi Hills, and Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 on the same grounds.

Nandi Hills town has great significance for the Nandis as it was the scene where Samoei was killed and his headless body buried.

It was claimed that the repeat 2017 general elections could not have taken place had it not been for an incident at a function at Kimondi, when the security detail blocked a Talai elder from handing over some leadership instruments to Uhuru.

The incident infuriated the elders so much that they stormed out of the venue, cursing the day.

However, after the Supreme Court ordered for a repeat election, Uhuru handlers reportedly made sure he went back to Nandi Hills to receive the instruments and blessings. They claim this is the reason Raila Odinga bolted out.

They credit themselves with the powers to calm political waves.

It is also claimed that the elders re-routed a heavy downpour from a burial attended by Raila at Kapsisywo in 2008.

It is after Raila left that it rained. 

Moi is said to have frequented Lorien in Laikipia for consultation with the elders.

It is widely said, some of the Kalenjin ICC suspects consulted with the Laikipia Talai over their cases and underwent some rituals before they left for The Hague.

Former Kerio South MP and powerful Cabinet minister in Kanu regime Nicholas Biwott was a big admirer of the Talai and occasionally made impromptu visit to Kapsisywo.

He was made a Talai elder soon after he lost his parliamentary seat in 2002. He flew to Kapsisywo for a ritual, “to give him peace after he lost his seat to Jackson Kiptanui”.

Talai elder Moses Saina speaking at Kapsisywo chief's camp on June 16, 2020
Talai elder Moses Saina speaking at Kapsisywo chief's camp on June 16, 2020
Image: BARRY SALIL

BRANDED SORCERERS

Critics have branded them sorcerers practicing high-level witchcraft. This, however, originated from the Europeans who wanted them ostracised, isolated and made outcasts.

They blocked other Nandi/Kipsigis community members not to intermarry with the Talai lest they turn rebellious.

RIt is this clan that has produced leading politicians  such as Former Agriculture assistant ministerlate William Morogo Saina, late Philomena Chelagat Mutai and Judy Koskei .

Others are former Chesumei MP and 2004 Berlin marathon champion Elijah Lagat.

Several international athletes among them world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge,  Seoul Olympics steeplechase silver medalist Patrick Sang, Nairobi AK chairman Baranaba Korir and his brother Amos Korir.