Tapletgoi, my gogo’s closest friend, stepped on a snake’s bone as a child. She developed a wound, which festered. After some time, her leg malformed and she started using a cane to walk.

One evening, when the two of them were walking home from a ceremony, they looked behind and saw a low dark cloud get closer and closer, as if following them. They ran.

Tapletgoi, knowing she was slow, asked gogo to leave her behind, and save her life. Gogo said no and asked Taptuei to get on her back. It was clear now, that whatever that dark-cloud-thing was, it was pursuing them.

Gogo carried Tapletgoi down the slope of the land, crossed the river at the bottom, and labored to walk up the hill on the other side. The dark cloud stopped by the river, lowered its trumpet and began to drink. It was an elephant.

Another night, Tapletgoi was walking alone (as was usual for those times) when an animal grasped her waist and unsheathed its claws. She screamed and the animal let go. Dropping the stick, she ran to gogo’s home as if she had never limped before.

When she had calmed down, she marveled to gogo, how she could now walk, how she no longer needed the cane! But the next day, when she rose out of bed, her limp had returned. Gogo had to go and look for the abandoned cane.

They both got married, as soon as they grew up. Tapletgoi never got children though. Back then, it was custom for a woman unable to have children, to leave her matrimonial home and return to her father’s house.

But Tapletgoi’s husband kept living with her and they did many businesses together, including selling busaa. They hid the money they made in a pot which they kept in the tabut, this being the loft up the roof of a hut where firewood is also stored.

The couple visited my gogo many times, especially after she was widowed: to drink and talk, and when mellowed, to sing and dance.

Years passed by and Tapletgoi’s husband fell sick. While in hospital in Tambach, he told his wife that he was dying, and soon, his family would make her life, in her matrimonial home, inhospitable. He asked her to take the pot of money and find a place to live, far away.

One afternoon, Tapletgoi walked into my gogo’s compound weeping, a pot of money held tightly against her belly. Gogo realized that her friend was now a widow.

Together, they kneeled before elders, seeking permission to build and farm on part of the land that had been set aside by the community for grazing cattle. Tapletgoi argued that she was a childless widow, and without a piece of land to call her own, she would starve.

She got the land and built her house. Not a hut this time. But a brick house with a corrugated iron roof, and cosmos flowers outside.

She would visit my gogo often, and always with a skin pouch slung over her shoulder, filled with oranges, mangoes, sweets and other treats for my Mum.

When Mum was a teenager and in boarding school, Tapletgoi fell seriously sick. She called my gogo to her bedside and told her to tell her daughter that she was sorry for dying before saying goodbye. Then she requested that Mum make the most she could out of life.


Kabon 4


My great-grandmother’s first husband died of small-pox, and was followed by their first child, then his brother. This must have been in the late 1880s or 1890s, when such an outbreak was reported.

Anyway, my great-grandmother was cleansed, to rid her of death, and sent back to her parents.

But she soon moved in with a musician from Marakwet whom she described as having lovely eyes and beautiful melodies, a man who didn’t hesitate to reveal that he was scoundrel.

He was hardly ever home, leaving my great-granny in a tiny hut which she had to share with his sheep and goats, as he drifted through villages in the Kerio Valley, making songs at parties and most possibly, fucking around.

Then this hut of his was in the middle of nowhere, and it became a habit for hyenas and leopards to skulk around at night, eager for a goat or sheep, knowing that she was alone.

She just woke up one day and walked away, and never ever saw or heard anything from that musician. She also quickly forgot his name.

This time she met the man whose DNA I carry, my great-grandfather Kipkigey.

Kipkigey’s first wife had left him and his second wife died while giving birth. Each of these women had left a daughter behind for Kipkigey to mind. Perhaps it was their shared texture of grief and heartbreak that made them bond.

Anyway, they moved to Pokot, where Kipkigey herded cattle for the Pokot in exchange for calves and also hunted elephants, for their meat and their ivory.

There, my grandmother, and her three siblings were all born.

From the ivory they didn’t sell, great-granny carved for herself bracelets that piled all the way from her wrist to her shoulders. She loved her ornaments though they also served as a weapon.

Kipkigey was violent, which was the reason his first wife ran off. On the days he went drinking, great-granny would wear all her ivory and all the metallic jewelry she possessed, then wait for him to come home.

This literally transformed her into a cyborg so that if Kipkigey came with any fuss, she could hurl a blow that was sure to tear his skin, break his teeth, fell him onto the floor where he would plead for mercy.

The fights dwindled as the years passed, and soon enough Europeans came in droves and settled in the Uasin Gishu plateau, prompting them to move back home to Kerio, now that the Maasai, the Karamojong and the Nandi, who would have stolen their cattle, had been pushed out.

They ended up working for a Scottish farmer named Mr. Right as opposed to going down the Kerio Valley. Kipkigey trained Mr. Right’s horses and great-granny at times cleaned his house, but mostly just attended to the land they had been given to cultivate and rear cattle.

She died in 1954, shortly after being baptised and given the name Elizabeth. Kipkigey lived on till 1961.

My mother (her grand-daughter) met her briefly in her last years and remembers a few of her observations about the world.

1. Europeans had the ability to create machines that looked like human beings but without blood. Some of the machines were settled in Uasin Gishu to oversee plantations and could be identified by their brutality.



When my great-grandmother Kabon was about to die, she told my mother that she was a poor woman, and had nothing else to give her, other than a promise. The promise was that my mother would live a long and a happy life, till each hair on her head was as white as the clouds.

She asked my mother to spit on her hair. Kabon rubbed the saliva on her hair, then plucked a few strands, which she placed on my mother’s forehead. She took off her skin cloak and covered my mother with it, telling her not to cry.

That morning Kabon had told my grandmother that she would leave the next day for her husband’s home. Her daughter had pleaded back, saying that she could die in her house. But Kabon had said it was unfair, and wrong, for a mother to die in her married daughter’s house,

So my grandmother slaughtered a ram and roasted its fatty tail for Kabon. She also washed her mother, gently wiping the wound on her thigh that was slowly killing her.

A few weeks before a medicine man had come to tend to the wound. When he pricked it with an arrow, a lot of pus fell out. After that, Kabon declined any other treatment, asking that the Irish priest in Sing’ore be called, so that she could be baptized. He named her Elizabeth.

My mother’s uncles came to take Kabon back to her home, arriving at my grandmother’s house with two oxen, on which they had tied a chepchuguguk. My grandmother placed blankets on the chepchuguguk and laid her mother gently on top. She was driven back to her farm in Kamariny.

This was in the early 50s and children were never told about deaths. So the only way my mother knew that Kabon had passed on was when she walked to Kamariny to see her. She tried to enter Kabon’s hut, only for her uncle’s wife to shout at her, telling her not to dare.

Later in the day, all the children were locked inside a hut so that the burial could proceed. My mother pressed her face on the interstices on the wall and saw her uncles wrap a shrunken Kabon with cow skin and carry her to a shallow grave not too far from her hut.

Her head faced the East, because that’s where the sun rose and where life begun. She lay on her side, on her left arm, as women were meant to, and she was buried in the late afternoon, when the sun was almost setting, to signify that her life, as well, had set.

When heavy rains came, thick solanum weeds grew over her grave, the soil fertilized by a decomposing body. My mother and her cousins would pluck the solanum berries and weave them into necklaces and bracelets, up to the time they got bored and moved on to other games.


Writing KIMBO

The first word my mother learnt to write was KIMBO, a word inscribed in the many tins in their granary. Her elder sister, Lina, would take one when they went to herd cattle, then teach her the sound behind each word.

This was in the early ‘50s and Lina was a phenomenon, one of the only two girls in Sergoit to join school. They were nicknamed chepsugul (girl-who-goes-to-school).

Barmao, my mother’s elder brother, was the only other sibling who had attended school, but he dropped out in class two in order to train horses for a colonial settler. In his hut, he had a huge, black, tin box filled with letters.

My mother, at times, would see him lift a letter out and read, and be impressed by the emotions that took over his face. She concluded that if she learnt to read, she would have access to his emotions and his thoughts, and to the worlds suggested by the letters.

These were the days when girls gathered at night to learn songs which they would sing loudly whenever there was a full moon. Hyenas still lived close to man and stole from him. My mother’s dress was made from goat skin and held at the neck with a thread. She was five-years-old.

She wouldn’t let Lina be. Lina would come home and repeat each lesson. The alphabet was easy: Aa, Ba, Cha, Da, and soon enough she was stringing words, beginning with KIMBO but moving on to animals, utensils, plants, insects—teta, artet, sotet, kibichek, chepsitaki.

Finally confident in her skills, she asked Barmao if she could read his letters and Barmao said she could, if she could write down his three names.

This she did, easily, using her forefinger to draw on the soft mud that formed outside his hut when rain fell—Bamao Aap Chesegon. R was the only letter she failed to include.

Barmao looked at his name, shook his head this way and that, then told my mother that he would leave his hut open the next day and she could come in and read all day long, even carry some of the letters as she proceeded to herd cattle.

The next day his hut was locked and he had disappeared (and would disappear for many years). His instruction was that my mother was to join school immediately for he had paid the 17 shillings fee.

The next time they met was when he came to visit her in high school, to tell her that he had just married. He was still paying her fees. When he died, my mother wove the wreaths on his grave, using flowers from our garden and stephania vines.

This story came to mind because Lina and Mum called. His death anniversary is soon approaching and they want me to follow up and have his memorial in the papers, with a few, nice words.



In 1957, my mother first visited Eldoret, taken there by her elder sister because she had developed stomach pains and in Eldoret, there was an Indian doctor known by as Africans as Patel Mwendazimu who could attend to her. Before that, she had only lived around Sergoit.

My grandmother was not for the idea. Rumor had it that white and Indian doctors would draw lots of blood from Africans under the guise of treating them and share it with members of their races. But her elder daughter insisted and she gave in.

On Uganda Road, my mother only saw white people, walking up and down, in a rush. The men looked mean but the women had the thinnest waists she had ever seen and were dressed in yellow, orange, red; colors she could never imagine being on garments.

What she did, was stand by the road and in fascination, look at each woman passing till they disappeared. That day she saw her first set of twins that were not Black, sausages (which her sister described to be pig intestines) and high heels.

At the turn of the road was Patel’s clinic, on a street that was decidedly Indian. He prescribed my mother some pills which she had to take each morning after tea, and this is where the dilemma arose. Only one person in Sergoit was known to take tea in the morning.

His name was Kipsilgich and he owned a lorry. My grandmother summoned her courage and asked Kipsilgich if her daughter could come each morning with a cup because she had been prescribed medication which she had to take each morning “after drinking tea.”

And for three days, she walked to Kipsilgich’s house, a yellow pill in her fist and a tin on the other hand, in order to be given a little tea.

But she began to question her family’s inability to make tea. After all, they had enough firewood, lots of milk and a spare sufuria made from copper (safuriet ap tai). What they had not stocked was sugar and tea leaves, and my mother imagined these not to be that expensive.

So the next day, she boiled milk and water in the copper sufuria, then added the pink roots of chepchai (a shrub whose roots were used for flavoring) and referring to the pink beverage as tea, drank it with her pill and also served her mother a cup.

My grandmother loved it, and decided that from then on they would up the breakfast from mere ugali and kisocho, and drink tea just like the English. She handed my mother a shilling and told her to go to Iten and buy sugar and tea leaves.

Less than a century later every family in Sergoit drinks tea in the morning as if it is a very Kalenjin thing to do 🙂 when the habit was actually recently acquired. And oh, Patel was known as Mwendawazimu because of his fits of rage. He easily went beserk at his staff.





When Rumbas, my great-great-grandfather, wanted to marry Shakwei, he realized that he didn’t have enough cows. He was an orphan and raids from the Nandi and Tugen had robbed him of the livestock his parents had left behind.

So he moved from Kerio Valley to live among the Pokot, whom the Keiyo referred to as Kimukony and who were renowned for their riches. He was hired to herd and milk cattle by a man who preferred to spend his time drinking as opposed to minding over livestock.

The agreement was that the man would repay Rumbas with calves, so that he could build his own stock, but Rumbas was greedy and eager to go back home and marry Shakwei.

One evening, as Rumbas brought the livestock back to the pen from grazing, he began separating those he was going to run away with. His employer, sensing a commotion, walked out of his hut and confronted him. They fought and Rumbas cut the man’s leg off with a sword.

Rumbas finished off the man by thrusting a spear into his heart, and as was the custom among the Keiyo, he tore the man’s heart out and bit a piece of it. This way, he was assured that the man’s ghost wouldn’t pursue him as he rushed back to Keiyo with the cattle.

There was hue-and-cry and Pokot warriors pursued him. What Rumbas did was make the cattle walk on buffalo spoor, and at that hour of the night when elephants went to drink water, he crossed a river and thrust the cattle inside thickets. He climbed a tall tree to keep watch.

But even though they came so close to him, the Pokot warriors were unable to locate him or the cattle, confused as they was, by the buffalo spoor. The next morning he walked to Keiyo and as he neared his village, he shouted his name. “I am Rumbas, the son of Kabon.”

Other men came along as well and everyone introduced themselves, shouting the names of their mothers as well, and they were consumed with such joy that many of them, Rumbas included, collapsed and began to foam in the mouth.

He slaughtered a cow in celebration, and with the rest, he had enough to pay dowry and to add to his stock. He never had any wife other than Shakwei, and she bore him one son and many daughters. Rumbas was described to be lean, tall and handsome.

His favorite spot was a cave of red ochre along the Kerio Valley, where he would spend hours smearing new designs on his face, till the cave was named ng’eriap Rumbas, after him.

He would buy all the shiny ornaments he could and adorn himself. When a friend applied himself with a new type of oil, Rumbas would flick the oil on his finger and smell it, and if it smelled good, would scoop the oil from the friend’s face and apply it on himself.

His only son, Sitienei, died early, before him. But he left behind a wife and a number of children, and one of them was my grandfather.

Sitienei’s wife was Kimoi, daughter-in-law to Rumbas and my father’s grandmother. My Dad has fond memories of visiting her in the 50s for she would always roast sweet potatoes for him and relish him with stories about Rumbas, her father-in-law.

Kimoi died way long before I was born, and her son, my grandfather Arap A—, passed on a few months before my birth. And when the elders came to see me they named me Maritim, saying that Arap A— had refused to stay for long in the spirit world and had come back through me.

I know what Rumbas did reads as gory to us now. All I will say he was a man of his time and he acted according to his time. The Rift Valley was a bloodbath

Smiling face with open mouth and cold sweat

. I will share more stories about him for I have many. He was, decidedly, a most fascinating human being.



In Elgeyo Marakwet, settler colonists belonged to three tribes: Boers, who loved cattle, Italians who only seemed to care about the E.African Railway, and the Scottish, who learned Keiyo so quick that it was hard to have conversations around them.

Cameron, son of Finlay, was Scottish but he cared less about being one and spent his entire childhood being as Keiyo as he could possibly be. He grew up with my grand-uncle, Samatei.

They belonged to the age-group Maina, who were too young to fight in WW1 and too middle-aged to fight in WW2.

As boys, they hunted hare and dikdik with arrows made entirely from wood. As young men, they sneaked on beer pots left behind by elders and sharing a straw, sucked the remnants of alcohol. With time, they were old enough to join adult men in these beer parties.

Tipsy Cameron would join in all the songs: singing about past battles, cattle raids, elephant hunts, clan names and their totems, and other very vulgar compositions because by this time Victorian values were yet to be imposed on the Keiyo and they could talk dirty.

They loved many women. When Samatei wanted to marry his third wife, he went to Cameron to borrow a lorry in order to carry pots of beer to his in-laws, and Cameron, in jest, told him

“Samatei, iibisie akoi au? Kiip nebo kapAmdanya, kiip nebo KapChesergon, ara ngiip nguno nebo kapTarkwen!” Cameron wanted to marry as well. But by this time his father Finlay was tired of his son mixing with “the natives” and had planned to whisk him back to Scotland.

Cameron agreed, but took with him to Mombasa, his lover Chemaiyo, who was also Samatei’s cousin. Knowing that she wouldn’t be allowed to sail, he convinced her to lock herself inside an empty suitcase which he proceeded to identify, to port officials, as railway equipment.

Of course they saw through the farce and as Cameron left, Chemaiyo was bundled on the next train to Nakuru, where she was driven to the police station at Tambach, then let go.

Cameron did come back to Kenya, but he was then too white to mix with the Keiyo. Independence was also nigh, and his family sold their STOLEN land back to the government. He was last spotted in Eldoret in the 70s, going inside Barclays Bank.

Chemaiyo, on the other hand, married another Keiyo man whom she outlived, had about 10 or so babies, of which about 7 or so survived past childhood. Basically she had a regular life for a Keiyo woman of her time.

When I was a child, she had become an old woman of terrifying aspect, who was followed everywhere by a multitude of dogs and who lived in a grass-thatched hut that was surrounded by tall podo trees, forever under shadow.

It was rumored that Cameron had given her a life-sized doll, which she kept in her hut and which could move and talk like a person. But as kids we couldn’t dare check. We fervently believed that she had developed a taste for human ears and would eagerly cut ours up to cook.

We also referred to her as Mamsap, which is the shortened version of Memsahib, which means

The women she drank with, many who sold busaa and chang’aa and at times sold sex as well, didn’t mind her company though.

And when it was her time to die, which happened as she was drinking, these women tried to carry her to the local morgue.

But it was a hot afternoon and her corpse felt so heavy. There was also still so much alcohol to sell. So they left Mamsap under a tree shade and attended to more urgent business.





We called the famine kimugurbai. This is because the soil was too dry for the millet to grow, and when mothers unearthed the seeds to feed their hungry children, they found the seeds firm and round, unsprouted.

Drought wasn’t unusual in the Kerio Valley though, where we had been confined to a narrow, rocky escarpment in order to be safe from the Maasai, Nandi and Karamojong, who were the lords of the highlands.

Here, we eked a living by keeping




and very few


; also by minding furrows that channelled water from Cherang’any, in order to grow millet, sorghum and sweet potato.

But Kimugurbai held for so long that families began selling their children for bags of grain, and for the unsold children, their mothers would boil pieces of skin from their chepkawi (skirt) and sikwet (shoulder-cape), for them to chew.

And children would sing to their mothers, asking not to be sold: “Mealdana iyonyu, nganyoru kiberwo iyonyu, aam togole akonin ole mi warek.” “Don’t sell me, Mum. If I find a grasshopper, Mum I will eat the hard parts and leave you the soft.”

So women walked to Bungoma to borrow food, and before they slept at night, they were warned in a mixture of broken Kalenjin & Babukusu. “Chorwa, keegu kachori. Iwendi ruanya. Namunyu aamin.” “Friend, if you are a thief, you will sleep outside and be eaten by the hyena.”

My grandmother’s grandmother recalled the fortified villages of Bungoma, the floors so clean that ugali was placed on it for them to eat, the tall banana plants.

And they walked back with lots of millet, sweet potatoes and sorghum; ever so afraid of the Maasai who criss-crossed the Uasin Gishu plateau, who would hide and wait for them, then give chase. If that happened, the women would drop their bags of grain in order to run faster.

The warriors, who would have no need for the grain, would scatter them on the ground, and pee on them, so that the women would have nothing to salvage when they walked back. But there were none around this time, and the women arrived in Kerio Valley with all the food intact.

Rain fell; and in time, the women would adorn their sheban, muitap it, neigere and ngoishili, to dance and thank Asiis, but for now, they chewed the millet seeds and fed the pulp to their children.





The only memory I have of my grandmother Kimoi is that of an old woman in a leso and plimsolls. She is holding a packet of Digestive biscuits which she eventually gives to me for I keep looking at them. She must have said something but I can’t recall her voice.
She passed on when I was three-years-old and I know this about her:
Her porridge name (which she would give up when she became a woman) was Chebelio. Named so because her father hunted an elephant the day she was born in order to feed her mother with the meat.
She spoke Maa and Kimukony (Pokot) fluently because she grew up in Laikipia and West Pokot. But she refused to speak Kiswahili for people laughed at her accent when she tried to. She never ate chicken or eggs for that was akin to eating a lizard and lizard eggs.
Just after initiation, and a few years after the Great War, she married a man named Chesire who minded horses for a Scottish colonial farmer. The marriage was an agreement between her father and Chesire’s father, and was sealed without their consent by an exchange of tobacco.
And she despaired in the first few years of her marriage for she kept miscarrying. Her parents asked her to walk out but she consulted an Orkoiyot who told her that she had to cross three rivers in order to make her home. That way her children would survive.
This she did, and when her first child was born she placed her inside a hyena’s den so that death would mistake the child for a hyena cub and leave it alone. Chesiny, her first-born, is still alive at 95.
(To be continued)

The Incident with the Headmaster

Mr. Lukunga said he was going to make me Index One. This he said despite the fact that I was position 6 in the exams that were to determine our Index numbers. He said that he believed in me, and all I needed to do was to be more serious with life, and to pay attention in class. He taught GHC (Geography, History & Civics) and this he did well. He was a man of serious mien: short, blind in one eye (due to an accident), with a commanding voice that could call all students to attention. He also pronounced God as Gaad, with an American accent. A few weeks later, as he taught in class, I was busy doodling, as always. An hour on, or so, he walked over to my desk and asked what it was that I was doing. Naturally, I shielded my drawings with my body, but he just gestured to me to step back, and this I did, as if he had full control of my motor skills. On my desk were drawings upon drawings of horses (which I had never seen) and women (all of whom had braids). The horses were all running: limbs folded, manes flailing in the air, eyes in deep concentration, as if in a race. The women were all unfinished. I would abandoned each project as soon as I tried to draw them from the shoulders downwards. It was too hard. But I was very good with sketching their eyes, noses, eyes and necks. And I was brilliant with giving each woman a different braid design so that there was range in their afro-kinkies, corn-rows, fish-tails, Bantu knots and crotchet braids. Mr. Lukunga then asked me the most natural question: Who are these women? And I was stuck on how to answer. He was asking me to articulate a part of my creativity that was yet unspoiled with words. So I just kept quiet. He then asked, what any headmaster of that era would, which was that I was to follow him to his office after the class. The whole class shuddered at this; going to the headmaster’s office meant a thorough beat-down. It meant them holding their ears against the walls to hear me scream.

All the curtains were closed in Mr. Lukunga’s office. He had me stand before his desk as he closed the door. The lighting was unnatural—bluish-grey, as if it was something of the night and not a product of sunlight.. He sat down on his desk and looked at me with his hands folded. I scanned the office for signs of canes. When I saw none, I immediately concluded that he had sent the class prefect to fetch some—springy cypress twigs whose scarly barks would tear off my skin as he thrashed me. Kiprop, he said. What is wrong? I just smiled, fishily. He continued. I always see you in class with your mind too far away. Is there trouble at home that you are not talking to us about? He was not asking so that I could respond. He was just reiterating his thoughts, devising a way to make me pay attention to the fact that I was a miscreant. You should stop drawing this women. What do you want with them? You are such a small boy. And you know this is your last year of primary school. Don’t you want to go to a National School? I will not beat you Kiprop. Just go back to class and wipe off all those drawings. I don’t know where you will get water and a scrub. Just ensure that I don’t see them tomorrow. I did as he instructed me. But a few days later, the canvas that revealed itself after I had wiped off the drawings called onto me. I began to draw.