Europeans help themselves to Nandi and Kipsigis land

NandiWarriorsNandi warriors (date unknown)

The stiffest resistance to European encroachment on African land in Kenya came from the Nandi on the Mau plateau west of the Rift Valley. In the 1890s, and in the first part of the Twentieth Century, they harassed European caravans and railway workers, forcing some early settlers to retreat. The defeat of the Nandi, therefore, was regarded as a prerequisite for European settlement in the western highlands.

RiftValleyRift Valley, in orange, until 2013 a province of Kenya

Farmland at Rift Valley’s edge (click on picture)
Source: Wallaroo Images

In 1905, the defeat was accomplished, and the peace settlement of that year provided for the removal of part of the Nandi people from areas adjacent to the railway. After their removal, some 3200 square kilometres of “evacuated Nandi country” was made available for European settlement. The Nandi were left with a reserve of about 1800 square kilometres.

Despite the fact that the reserve boundaries had been defined, they were changed in the next few years. The Kenya Land Commission claimed that the changes were made “after the agreement of… Nandi chiefs had been obtained” and that they resulted in a net gain of some 180 square kilometres to the Nandi. M.P.K. Sorrenson, whom we previously encountered here, found evidence to show that there was strong dissatisfaction among the Nandi over the changes.

But there was more to come. In 1912, the colonial authorities began to alienate land within the Nandi reserve for European settlers. “For some reason which is not fully explained,” the Kenya Land Commission noted, the colonial authorities “overlooked” the fact that the land was in the Nandi reserve and alienated some 155 square kilometres in the Kaimosi and Kipkarren area. The Kenya Land Commission placed its stamp of approval on this arrangement, maintaining it was in the best interest of all concerned.

In 1905, the year the colonial authorities were at war with the Nandi, another successful campaign was being waged directly to the south against people who today are called the Kipsigis. During the next few years, some 520 square kilometres of Kipsigis grazing land in an area known as Sotik were alienated to Europeans.

In 1933 , the Kenya Land Commission approved the alienations, but expressed sympathy for the Kipsigis, who, it was noted, “have an excellent war record and merit generous treatment.” In compensation for the Kipsigis claim to Sotik, the commission recommended that the colonial authorities refrain from alienating Chepalungu, an area of about 390 square kilometres that local Europeans had wanted as an addition to the White Highlands.

The idea of refraining from one alienation in order to compensate for another was perhaps the most novel concept the commission invented in its feeble defence of African land rights, but it stands as a succinct characterization of the climate of thought prevailing at the time. The historical and legal claims of Africans to their land meant little in the face of European economic and military power.

The commission had been given the task, among other things, of considering the needs of the native  population, and a reading of the report leaves the impression that the commissioners were making some effort to resist settler pressures. But those efforts did not have much effect. Africans were in a subject position and were left no choice but to accept what was offered and relinquish what was taken.

They did not forget their grievances, however, and eventually their lost land became a central preoccupation of Kenya politics, contributing first to the Land Freedom Army’s guerrilla war against colonial oppression and then to the nationalist ascendence that led to Kenya’s independence. In the end it took the land settlement at independence to settle the land claims the Kenya Land Commission’s recommendations had supposedly settled three decades earlier.

This post, like others about Kenya’s colonial history, was originally published in my book, Land and Class in Kenya (Toronto, 1984, and Harare, 1989). Other sources are:

M.P.K. Sorrenson, Land reform in the Kikuyu country. Nairobi, Oxford University Press, 1967.

Kenya Land Commission. Report. Cmd. 4556. 1934.

10 responses to “Europeans help themselves to Nandi and Kipsigis land

  1. Pingback: Kenya history (cont’d) : Resistance to colonial rule grows and the government cracks down | Christopher Leo

  2. Jennifer Riggs

    You seem to have overlooked the fact that the Kalenjin had nothing to do with the Mau Mau insurgency and have not fared particularly well since Uhuru.

    • The Land Freedom Army was Kikuyu, as I think my post makes clear, as Land and Class in Kenya also does. Daniel arap Moi, Kenyatta’s vice president, who later succeeded him as president, was Kalenjin. I don’t know if that counts as faring well or not. Life hasn’t been easy anywhere in Africa, but Kenya has been relatively well governed and prosperous.

      • Jennifer Riggs

        I love the word ‘relatively’ ! Better than the Congo, certainly. And there’s a reason for that. Arap Moi may have done OK as the politicians do, at the expense of others. If you are current in your knowledge of Kenya, you must know that petty corruption is the rule and funding intended for roads goes into private airstrips, etc, that tourist buses and taxis are regularly held up by road blocks seeking pay-offs … Are you familiar with the Elkins book? Packed full of glaring errors. Do you want examples?

  3. I can’t claim to be all that current. My book was published in 1984. It started off as a book about politics, but now it’s a history book!

    So tell me about the Elkins book.

    • Careful about history – Elkins avers that the anti Mau Mau ‘security forces’ would swing the Kikuyu women round by the hair. BUT Kikuyu women all had shaven heads at that time, as any photo or painting or drawing or memory will testify. It seems almost funny now that one of the complaints with the Nandi was that they harvested lovely copper wire for adornment from the new telegraph wires! You may also know that the old ‘divide and rule’ policy was one of the reasons why European settlement was where it was, keeping warring tribes apart. Kalenjin are recently being harassed by incoming gangs out for a bit of lovely violence.

  4. I’ve never taken the story about “keeping warring tribes apart” as anything but a thin rationalization for European land grabs. It’s abundantly clear that the most warlike people in what was to become Kenya were some of the Europeans.
    I find your comments very interesting, and obviously well informed. Thanks for your contributions.

  5. (…..In 1933 , the Kenya Land Commission approved the alienations, but expressed sympathy for the Kipsigis, who, it was noted, “have an excellent war record and merit generous treatment.”) – my self i am from that tribe and from Sotik, i sympathize with our fore-fathers who helplessly saw their territory they bought by blood being taken, but anyway the Tea plantations created employment for both the kipsigis and other kenyans. My grandfather usually tell me of stories about the white settlers that they collaborated with them and even hunted together and worked in their farms milking cows. let me not forget about 25,000 hectors of land in kericho where the kipsigis were forced out of there homes and their welfare ignored. anyway, we have been praised of being cool, welcoming, and loyal but that should not be a lee way for scammers.

  6. Joel K. Kimetto

    5. Joel K. Kimetto, Kipsigis Community Research work and true Colonial History.
    It is true that the Europeans gave themselves the Kipsigis and Nandi Land by chasing away our people from their ancestral land. Thanks for your Research-based analysis and interpretations.
    Resistance in Kipsigis land started when the rail construction was at Kipkelion by then was known as Lumbwa. Kipsigis prophecies had predicted that a long snake having white people (with a skin color like red ants) will come from the ocean to the lake. That truly came to pass as a train carrying Europeans and Indians came from Mombasa to Kisumu.
    Our people had predicted that those Europeans will come and take our land. Those who resisted were warriors of the Korongoro and Kaplelach age-set groups. That was during the time of the passing out of Kipnyige age-set who were given the sub age-set as Kiptil Garit. Kiptil Garit literally means cutting of the vehicle. This was said so since those who were against the coming of the Europeans destroyed the rail lines by removing the rails.
    Some climbed and hid up a tree so as to see what the white man would do only to be spotted and were shot down.
    All Kalenjin speaking people were referred to as Wanandi (Nandi) since Europeans could not differentiate Kipsigis and Nandi tribes from their language.
    Between 1901 and 1905, Kipsigis were banned from carrying out their ceremonies at the ancestral shrine at Tulwap-Sigis/Lagoi given the name Mt. Blackett by a railway line surveyor Mr. Blackett at Londiani Junction. The Europeans did not want our people to group or gather together for fear of planning resistance to British rule.
    During the railway construction, the Europeans saw that Kipsigis land was fertile and most of the land was alienated to Europeans after being taken as Crown Land (British Government’s) in 1902.
    It was said that a pastoral tribe like Kipsigis does not have a right to claim a clearly defined area. There was resistance by our people to move out of their ancestral land where the Europeans found them and forcefully evicted them. This resulted in the start of the removal of native’s ordinance 1909 which said that our people no longer had any rights to live in where they were found living since the land had become Crown land. Some who resisted were given order letters to move.
    This was so strange to our people. Someone who is completely a stranger comes to your land, introduce laws to suit him and forcefully evict you without any compensation! Our people said that the World was turning upside down. A law which suppresses others is not a good law.
    Between, 1901 to 1920 the most fertile land in Kipsigis had been alienated to European white settlers and was referred to as White Highlands, an area which was suitable for Europeans to settle and bring up healthy and intellectual Children. British soldiers were also given our land (BEADOC).
    There were raids by Europeans which resulted in the confiscation of thousands of our people’s livestock which were taken to feed the British Army.
    Our people were grouped into native reserves which were sloppy, hilly, rocky, barren and extreme environments with strange diseases affecting both people and animals. There were conflicts with wild animals and also with other tribes for grazing space. The Europeans created what they called buffer zones. Wild animals were grouped into game reserves and forests as forest reserves.
    Kipsigis complaints were turned on a deaf ear as Europeans and his power to make himself powerful in colonizing and taking over of our land was achieved under all means and force.
    Historical Injustices in Kipsigis Land have not been addressed by any Government. When Kenya got its’ Independence, our people thought that they would get back their land and instead those who were in power were helped by Michael Blundell who formulated a plan for Africans to buy the developments on the white settler farms without considering those who were chased away from those areas (squatters). The prediction found in the Kenya Land Commission records that the wealthier tribes would displace those who are poor is true. Whose soil is it? Is it the colonial owners? those who bought the developments from Europeans?, or the originally chased and displaced natives? This is an issue which should be handled and addressed with care.
    There is one thing which people should know. Kipsigis land is in the larger Kericho District. This is an area where only the Kipsigis were forcefully evicted from their ancestral Land. If you see Kericho in google maps, it is still Crown land since it is held by Europeans as Multi-national farms. The removals of native ordinance law have not been addressed in Kipsigis Land. They are still living in the overpopulated native reserves and waiting patiently to get back their land.
    As Kipsigis Community, we demand our rights and the colonial historical challenges should be addressed. We have started. We are Kipsigis Community made up of 201 main and sub-clans.
    Since you know some of the injustices meted upon our people,
    Christopher, can you be one of our witnesses against the British Government?
    My picture attachments could not be supported. But I have them
    This is just but a portion of what Europeans did in apportioning and alienating themselves most of our land. Thanks to those who kept the records. I am sure you can find these in the archives.
    Land titles which the British introduced and gave themselves were not known to our people.

    Some of the Kipsigis Community forcefully taken land from colonial times up to-date is still being held by the British in the name Multi-national farms. The leases which the British Government gave to the local European White Settlers without consulting our people have expired. The farms should honorably be returned to the rightful owners of the soil – The Kipsigis free of charge.

    69 years of colonial rule 1895 to 1963 and 53 years said to be independence 1963 to-date and yet our people are still suffering and living as squatters in the native reserves. What an injustice! What if it were your people?

    Kipsigis Community ancestral land which was said was suitable for European settlement. Our people were forcefully and unlawfully evicted from those areas and yet they were found there having lived for years before the European arrival.

    • Regarding your request that I witness against the British government, you’ll find that my book, Land and Class in Kenya, provides a detailed and documented critique of British appropriation and settlement of the Kenya highlands. Your comment expresses views that are still widely held in Kenya today.

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