Nilotes in Kenya

Nilotes in Kenya: After the arrival and several years of settlement by the Cushitic speakers, another group, probably in search of pastures, arrived through the Uganda-Sudan- Ethiopian border region around 2000 years ago. These are the southern Nilotic speakers.

Nilotes in Kenya – Origin

The Nilotes came originally from the Nile Valley, probably the Upper Nile and its tributaries in southern Sudan. Their main direction of movement was southwards along the plains of the Rift Valley, which favoured both their cattle-raising lifestyle, as well as their rapid, all-conquering advance. By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they had reached Tanzania, where their advance was finally stopped by the Wagogo and others.

The second major ethno-linguistic group to arrive in Kenya after the Cushites were the cattle-herding Nilotes, the first of whom came some time around 500 BC. However, Nilotic migrations only became substantial some five hundred years ago, with the arrival of the highly organised and militaristic Luo from the west and the Maasai/Samburu from the north. This second wave of Nilotic peoples catalyzed a period of great change in Kenya, as it displaced many of its original Cushitic-speaking inhabitants. Some were forced south towards Tanzania to avoid the Nilotic advance down the Rift Valley, whilst others headed east and northeast into arid lands which were of no interest to the cattle-herding Nilotes. Those that remained in the path of the newcomers were either militarily defeated or culturally assimilated, eventually disappearing completely. There are however, a few exceptions, such as the Njemps fishermen who live by Lake Baringo, and some hunter-gatherer groups such as the forest-dwelling Okiek, who have survived been assimilated by their much more powerful neighbours: the Samburu and Maasai respectively.

Within some of the localities believed to have been occupied by the Nilotes, is evidence of archaeological materials, similar to those found within localities occupied by the Cushites, indicating some form of interactions between the two groups. There are also some similar cultural practices between the two groups, such as age sets. Some of the economic activities related to the Nilotic speakers include fishing, as unearthed by archaeologists from fish bones and fishing implements like bone harpoons.

Anthropologists divide the Nilotes into three main groups: the Highland or Southern Nilotes, who comprise the Kalenjin tribal group and the Pokot; the Lake or Western Nilotes, who include the Luo and Acholi; and the Plains or Eastern Nilotes, who are exclusively nomadic herders.

The Nilotic groups today in Kenya include the Luo (river and lake Nilotes), Samburu, Maasai and Turkana (plain Nilotes) and the highland Nilotes, including the Nandi, Tugen and Kipsigis. Nilotic tribes in Kenya today comprise the Luo, Maasai, Pokot, Samburu, Turkana, and many of the subgroups which constitute the Kalenjin. They occupy the vast sweep of western Kenya’s Rift Valley, which skirts the border of Uganda from Sudan in the north to Tanzania in the south.

Nilotes in Kenya
Nilotes in Kenya

Reasons for the Migration of the Nilotes into Kenya

  1. Increase in population. Land is assumed to have been small for their growing numbers forcing them to search for bigger areas for settlement.
  2. Search of fertile areas that could support agriculture.
  3. Search for pasture and water for their animals.
  4. Prolonged seasons of drought and the drying of water reservoir which might have forced them to move in search of water.
  5. Epidemic diseases like small pox, malaria, river blindness and nagana may have hit their area due to overcrowding, forcing some to look for new disease free areas.
  6. Internal conflicts are given as a probable cause for their migration. i.e family quarrels or clan feuds.
  7. External conflicts and pressure from the neighbours especially the Cushites.
  8. The spirit of adventure and wandering.
  9. Group influence, i.e. simply because they saw others moving.

Nilotes in Kenya – Video