It is said that there are three large societies in the world that prophesize: the Jews, the Russians and the Kalenjins. Home of Friends is located in the land of Sebei, whom are part of the Kalenjin. Who are the prophets – spiritual leaders – of Sebei? Of recent I interviewed Mzee Mwanga – a Sebei elder – about prophets in his region.
Are the prophets still there these days?
Mwanga: “They are there but silent. Since the introduction of religious activities in Sebei land, the prophets have become less active. The colonial government and churches were advocating for life after this through Jesus Christ, the Muslims through Mohammed. As a result the work of prophets has gone down. Also the system of administration is different from what it used to be. Politicians came to represent the people directly and somehow put aside the prophets.”
And previously, before the colonial government and churches came in, what used to be the role of the prophet?
Mwanga: “The prophet used to foretell what was going to happen in the future. For example when the Karamajong, Nandis or Pokot (other tribes) would come to raid our cows. Then the Sebei people would prepare their spears and arrows. Sebei people used to hide in caves (like the one we are now seated in) and put up gates to protect themselves. The prophets did also foretell when epidemic diseases would come. Then people would start praying, and would burn offerings such as flowers and crops.”
What did prophets used to believe?
Mwanga: “The prophets used to believe that the sun was the major god. They also believed in good and bad spirits. The bad spirits could punish you, the good spirits could protect you. Prophets also used to believe that when a man dies, that person will come back in a different form, in a child. That is why we used to name children after the dead ones. The spirit is present in new born children. For that reason we do not name our children after bad people. If you would name a child after someone who was a witch, thief or drunkard, the child would behave exactly the same way as the person who died.”
Has the belief in good and bad spirits disappeared because of religious influences?
Mwanga: “No, it has not completely gone. Some people are active Christians. Some have been baptized but are not very active. These people still believe in these things, up to today.”
In Sebei bars I am hearing many stories about a prophet called Kingoo. Who was Kingoo?
Mwanga: “This was a man from a tribe called Kapchoget, from Kapchorwa. His real name was Chemonges. At first he joined police in Kenya, after he finished his education. Because Chemonges was a very capable person, he was promoted to become an inspector of police in Kenya. At that same in Kapchorwa we wanted to separate ourselves from the Bugisu district administration, based in Mbale. Bugisu are Bantu, we are Kalenjins. Most of our people live in Kenya. The former president called Moi is part of us. Our people felt that the Bugisu people were not treating us properly. Therefore our people said we want to struggle for a separate district, in order to get socio-economic development. Because we did not have a strong leader, we asked the inspector of police, Chemonges, to come and lead us. He accepted and resigned from his job in Kenya.
From then on, Chemonges started to help to struggle for our own district. This was not easy. The Bugisu influenced the colonial leaders (the British) by saying that we were with few, so that we would not deserve our own district. When Chemonges saw their reaction, he started becoming rebellious. He influenced all of us (the Sebei) to refuse tax payments.
Another thing he did was to block the way in Sipi, which is a widely known story. A certain assistant district commissioner was coming to Kapchorwa to find out from Chemonges and others if they were really serious in refusing to pay tax. When people informed Chemonges that the commissioner’s convoy was coming, he went to Sipi to block the way. He climbed up a car and stood there with a spear and his shield. Because of that act, the commissioner failed to reach Kapchorwa. By that time, there were no means of communication, no phones. The commissioner became stranded until 3pm. Then he left.
A few months later the colonial leaders and Bugisu administration realized that Sebei people were really different and deserved their own district.
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