The population of the Kalenjin tribe is about 3 million being the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya. This tribe is traditionally pastoralist and is made up of about 10 sub-groups. The largest sub-group is the Kipsigis.
The origin of the term Kalenjin
The name “Kalenjin” is relatively new for these people, who used to be referred to as the “Nandi-speaking tribes” and not as one single group. They deliberately created a tribal identity for themselves in the 1950s to gain more political power from their numbers.
The Kalenjin History
Because they originally were many different tribes, there is no one single history for the Kalenjin people. Overall, they are thought to have come to Kenya from Sudan and their territory is in the Great Rift Valley.
Customs and Beliefs
The social structure of a Kalenjin village is based on the “age-set”, like other tribes such as the Masai. Rites of passage, such as initiation and circumcision, take place every seven years. Young people tend to bond with others in their age-set, though the concept is not as important for Kalenjin who live in the cities.
Polygamy, or marriages with more than one wife, is allowed in Kalenjin culture but many men find that paying more than one bride price is too costly for them.
The Kalenjin have a very strong oral story-telling tradition, consisting of stories, proverbs, riddles and songs. Evenings would often be spent telling stories or singing as a form of both entertainment and education.
Religion and Belief
Traditional Kalenjin beliefs are monotheistic, with a belief in a single Deity called Asis (symbolized by the sun). The spirits of dead ancestors were also an important part of Kalenjin religion, as was the practice of sacrifice to the spirits. Modern Kalenjin are almost exclusively Christian, with some being Muslim. Even so, many blend their old beliefs with their new ones.
The Pride of the kalenjin
The Kalenjin tribe have the unusual notoriety as having a great number of members who excel at marathons and other running competitions. Since Kip Keino won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics for the 1500m race, Kenya has won 38 more gold medals in distance running. And 75 percent of all top runners in Kenya are from the Kalenjin tribe, including Kip Keino.
Scientists have long speculated that the Kalenjin people have some kind of genetic predisposition towards distance running, though no concrete evidence has been established.