Cultural Overview

The Nandi are a section of the several million Kalenjin-speaking people in Kenya. Greenberg classifies the Kalenjin languages as part of the Nilotic sub-branch of the Eastern Sudanic branch of the Chari-Nile subfamily of the Nilo-Saharan language family. The Nandi were formerly semipastoralists, who kept cattle, sheep, and goats, and planted eleusine (finger millet) as the staple crop. In the 20th century they have become settled cash-crop farmers, who produce maize, milk, and tea for national and international markets.

During the 19th century cattle were central to the economy, and at times the cattle-to-people ratio was as high as 4:1 or 5:1. Cattle were also central to social life, a focus of cultural interest celebrated in song. The language included an impressive cattle-related lexicon, and men were tied together in cattle-exchange partnerships. As with other East African pastoralists, raiding for cattle by young men of the warrior age grade was also important to Nandi cultural identity.

Prior to colonial rule, the Nandi were tribally organized, with the beginnings of political centralization in the role of the Orkoiyot, the most powerful prophet of the Talai, the clan known for producing powerful prophets. The Orkoiyot was believed to be able to foresee the future. All cattle raids were cleared through him.

The settlement pattern was and is scattered, with each minimally extended family living in a compound of several houses on its own land. Each married woman has a separate house. A minimally extended family might be an elder with wives, married sons, unmarried daughters, sons' wives, and grandchildren; or it could be a married man with his wife or wives and children and widowed mother. Descent is patrilineal, and communities are made up of households from several patrilineal clans. The other important feature of social organization is seven rotating age sets for men.

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