Akin to the Masai Oloiboni, the Nandi Orkoiyot (plural Orkoiik) also occupied a very sacred and special place among his people as their chief medicineman, prophet and foreteller of future events.
The role of the Orkoiyot was the premise of the Talai clan just as the role of the Oloiboni was the reserve of the il-aiser clan of the Maasai. In fact many historians state that the Talai clan traces its lineage to the Ilwuasinkishu Maasai who were absorbed into the Nandi tribe following the Maasai civil wars that led to the destruction of whole Maasai sections including the Ilwuasinkishu section. It is even said that the Nandi and Kipsigis Orkoiyot had a direct lineage to the Maasai Laibonok.
Also similar to the Masaai Laibonok, at any single point in time there was more than one Orkoiyot. However, the influence, power and prominence of some Orkoiik was greater, leading them to occupy the office of senior or Chief Orkoiyot. (which is the case of the famous Orkoiik we encounter today in the history books)
Nandi Orkiik Lineage by Hollis with some English disambiguation of names
There is very scant historical writings about the office of the Orkoiyot (referred to as Orkoinotet) preceding Kimnyolei. However, there is historical accounts of a joint Orkoinotet shared between Kopokoii and Kipsogun (also referred to as Kipsokon in some history books) around the 1860s as supported by Huntingford and Hollis in their books. Huntington also writes of a second joint Orkoinotet between Turugat and Kinekat in the 1880s but Hollis only writes about Turugat. Interestingly, Huntingford also talks of an Orkoiyot named Kipketer preceding Kimnyolei, but he is not mentioned by Hollis.
ORKOIYOT KIMNYOLEI ARAP TURUGAT
Kimnyolei Arap Turugat presided as Orkoiyot in the 1870s and 1880s during a time when the Ilwuasinkishu Maasai had already been mostly disbanded by the Purko and Kisongo Maasai. Additionally, following the battle of Kipkarren, (Nandi for “place of spears”) where the Nandi were able to finally dispatch the remaining Ilwuasinkishu Maasai leaving the rich pastures of Uasin Gishu to the Nandi.
Just like Oloiboni Mbatiany Ole Supeet had foretold of the coming of the White man and the great snake (railway) that would divide Maasai country into two, Orkoiyot Kimnyolei foretold of the coming of the white man who would attack the Nandi people, rule them with an iron fist and take their cattle and land. He also foretold the coming of a strange serpent that would crawl on the ground (railway).
Sadly, in 1890, Kimnyolei died at the hands of his own people who blamed him for not preventing calamities that befell them during his reign as Orkoiyot including a series of human and animal epidemics and a battle with the Kavirondo that killed all but two of 500 Nandi warriors allied to him.
Disillusioned, the Nandi people did away with the office of the Orkoiyot for a time, although it was revived shortly thereafter in 1895.
Additionally, towards the end of his life, Kimnoylei had a premonition of the fate that would befall his four sons with the arrival of the white settler. He therefore summoned and warned them not to follow in his footsteps. To protect them he dispatched three of his sons to live among the Kipsisigis and and one to live among the Tugen (Koitalel).
But this was not to be the case. Around 1895, the Nandi people came looking for Kimonyolei’s son, Koitalel Arap Samoei in a bid to convince him to succeed his father and take up the office of the Orkoiyot, which Samoei reluctantly accepted.
In an eerily similar manner to the Oloiboni succession dispute among the Maasai occurring around the same period between Olonana and his brother Sendeu, Koitalel’s older brother, Kipchomber Arap Koilegei (in some cases referred to as Koilegen) also laid claim to being his father’s legitimate successor.
This led to small skirmishes between warriors allied to the two brothers. (even though nothing near the full-blown Maasai civil war that erupted between Lenana and Sendeu.)
The succession struggle ended shortly thereafter with Kipchomber fleeing to live with the Kipsigis people.*
ORKOIYOT KIPCHOMBER ARAP KOILEGEN (KIPSIGIS)
Kipchomber therefore became the first Orkoiyot of the Kipsigis people in 1895. His influence rivaled that of his brother, extending beyond the Kipsigis to other neighboring tribes. Kipchomber’s successful resistance to British rule is also well documented which led to his 1914 exile to Nyeri accompanied by fellow Orkoiik Arap Singoe and Arap Boisio. The resistance however continued even with their exile and even their death in exile. As a matter of fact, the resistance had simmered to the point that the British decided to exile a grand total of six-hundred-ninety-eight Kipsigis Orkoiik (pretty much the whole Talai clan!) to South Kavirondo District in 1934.
ORKOIYOT KOITALEL ARAP SAMOEI (NANDI)
People are most familiar with the story of Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei and deservedly so. The legend of Samoei’s great valor and courage as the leader of the Nandi revolt against the British settlers is well documented in history books and taught in our primary schools.
He was shot and assassinated in 1905 at close range by a King’s African Rifles (KAR) Captain, Richard Meinertzhagen during an ambush that Samoei thought would be a parley to negotiate a peace settlement.
During our course of research, we were however saddened to see that the Wikipedia page for such a great colonial resistance hero as Koitalel Arap Samoei would be more brief and scant as the one belonging to a lowly and sadistic colonial officer in whose hands the Orkoiyot would suffer his brutal death. The same applies to historical writings giving Meinertzhagen’s actions more credence.
But it is great to see that this Kenyan hero is honored and part of our national conversation through the many newspaper and web articles written about him. A national heritage site celebrating Samoei has also been erected in Nandi Hills. In addition, construction of a University bearing his name is underway.
Following in his footsteps, Samoei’s son Barsirian arap Manyei had the distinction of spending 40 years in and out of Colonial detention between 1922 and 1962 at various locations including Meru, then Kapsabet detention camp, and finally at Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria, this time with fellow members of the Talai Clan.
* Some members of the Talai Clan dispute the historical accounts of a power struggle between Koitalel and Kipchomber to succeed their father Kimnyolei and say it was more of a difference of opinion between the Orkoiyot’s family that caused Kipchomber to go and live with the Kipsigis as narrated by Hollis and Huntingford.
This article is an expansion of a FACEBOOK article that we posted on January 12th 2018. We pride ourselves on doing thorough research for our articles but the accuracy of our articles is limited to the accuracy of historical books or oral accounts given to us. As we all know, Kenyan history written from a colonial point of view was sometimes skewed to project certain colonial biases and hence inaccurate in some cases. But sometimes it is all that we have to go by when recounting history. It is a balancing act, since if we do not recount history as it is, future generations will never know of this history. We welcome our readers input and robust discussion in making sure we provide the most accurate of history to future generations.
- A History of Africa: African societies and the establishment of colonial rule. By Assa Okoth. Google Books
- Nandi: Their Language and Folk-Lore By Sir Alfred Claud Hollis
- The Nandi of Kenya, By G. W. B. Huntingford
- Web article titled Talai Family and Koitalel Arap Samoei.
- Web article titled “Arap Koilegen, Kipchomber.”