Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Choices for Harmonious Coexistence in African Oral Literature: The Case of Conflict Explicants and Peace Implicants in Marakwet War Songs

The Choices for Harmonious Coexistence in African Oral Literature: The Case of Conflict[i] Explicants and Peace[ii] Implicants in Marakwet War Songs

Paul Kipwendui Kipchumba,
University of Nairobi

[Mombasa KOLA Symposium, Septemebr 2008]


Marakwet songs are of varied types. Classification is a problem of its own. There are marriage songs, circumcision songs, hunting songs, war songs, etc. But there are no clear examples of peace songs in Marakwet. There are only war songs. But by the virtue of being called war songs, the Marakwet songs have actually been appropriated to serve particular interests that reflect the community’s worldview—the privileging of war over peace as a measure of accomplishment. The songs are double-edged from the outset giving obvious choices for harmonious coexistence that have hitherto been ignored by the parties involved. There are the explicit conflict options and the implicit peace options presented side by side. The conflict option has been foregrounded so much that if viewed from a different lense the opposite is always true. Therefore, I have pointed out in this discussion paper how conflict and peace images and themes are juxtaposed in the songs, yet it is only the conflict option that wins the selection.
The study concludes that conflict and peace are socio-political and cultural choices that Marakwet are consciously aware of, and that peace can only be attained by foregrounding peace images and themes as exemplified in the songs.
This work is based on the analyses and findings of fifteen songs from my ongoing study on Marakwet oral literature. The songs were collected by participation in Tot Division, Marakwet District, in 2005.

Socio-political and Historical Character of Marakwet Conflicts

Connecting pre-colonial and colonial war-like activities of the Marakwet are the events (in colonial records) between 1900 and 1912 leading up to the administration of Marakwet in 1913. They are replete with the Marakwet perception of and reaction against colonial rule. H. Baker established a post at Kolloa in East Baringo also called Ribo in early 1900. When he was faced by famine he decided to send his men in June 1900 to Endo to collect some grains that he had been promised by the headman Lasero. The men included one porter, forty-two Nubians and one Sergeant General. They were invited to a wedding feast, whereby they got dead drunk; therafter, they were massacred. (The porter was spared.) Baker was also besieged in Kolloa for five days by East Suk[iii] and the Marakwet but was rescued by the Njemps. In 1903 there were frequent reports of the Marakwet raiding the East Pokot people but the government could not do anything about it. This account was made by the then tax collector W. J. M. Colyer.

In 1904 G. F. Stocker (tax collector) visited the Marakwet country with an escort of 30 askari and accompanied by a trader called Ali bin Saleh to collect hut tax. They crossed the Kerio River to the Endo. (There is also the report of some hut tax collected by the collector in 1906 in Marakwet.) This collector crossed from Ngiyang’ (East Baringo) via Kibas into Chebilil. In 1907 ADC Baringo J.  Leweson also collected a little hut tax from the Marakwet but the men that he sent to the Marakwet country to collect more hut taxes did not return. K. Dundas, DC Baringo sent ten rifles to Kolloa to prevent the Marakwet from raiding the Pokot in 1908 but the party was interrrupted by the rhino menace. Similarly, raids of the Pokot by the Marakwet were reported in 1908 but there were no measures to curb them. (A Somali trader was robbed by the Marakwet in December 1909.)

M. W. H. Beech conducted an interview with Lasero the headman of Endo in March 1910 in Baringo at which conclusion Lasero said that the people of Endo were friendly. In Novemeber 19109 A. Bruce, ADC Baringo, made a long journey into Marakwet country crossing the Kerio River at the junction at Arror.  The ADC encounerted some hostility and was even threatened by Lasero of Kaben. However, he collected some hut tax amounting to two hundred and sheep and a few loads of grain. He also made some comprehensive list of existing headmen in Marakwet country giving some descriptions of their capacities in handling their people.

In April 1911 J. Mansergh, DC Baringo, reported the murder of a Cheptulel Suk by Lasero of Kaben. Lasero dismissed the inquiries conducted by the DC J. O. Hughes who visited Cheptulel Suk/ Pokot in November the same year.

Therefore, among the Marakwet war is both an art and a preoccupation. It is carried out indiscriminately in the present that neither children nor women of the territories marked “enemy” are spared. For instance, in 2005 Karel Village young men/ warriors threw an antipersonnel grenade at about two hundred people of Chesoi gathered to resolve a land dispute missing them narrowly, but they managed to kill more than ten by gun shots. Cattle rustling is one form of this aggression. Both men and women have participated in cattle rustling; for instance, the participation of Major Loitatung’ua (Mrs Matiin), a married woman from Kakibiyoswo, in raiding eighteen head of cattle from the Pokot in 2000.

The Marakwet warriors, who are young school dropouts or jobseekers, isolate themselves from the rest of the community. They live in groups called Kaporyong’. They follow Marakwet traditional culture—they marry more than one wife and sire children as many as possible. To them, war is a means to an end.

All in all, the participation of Marakwet in wars or some form of aggression can be categorized and evidenced below. There are so many incidents in Marakwet oral narratives that portray Marakwet as either war-mongers or were threatened with war every time. For instance, there is the Kakilekwa Story talking of Marakwet clans fighting and the consequently not sparing even women on succor. (It is a taboo to kill women on such a mission.)

But in the colonial records, the Marakwet are presented as the weaker tribe, not well fed, but highly principled and war-like.  Endow Marakwet killed the forty-two Nubians and one colonial army sergeant sent to collect hut tax in the early period of colonial administration in Marakwet as indicated above. There are other incidents like the burning of Sibow and Kabarsiran villages by the colonial governemnt in 1914 because of the arrogance of some male Marakwet.

Generally, Marakwet engaged in cattle rustling with the Pokot. They often won all the battles as they had superior weapons (bows and arrows). It was only after c.1976 when the Pokot started using automatic weapons that weaknesses in the Marakwet war activities became apparent. In the period 1991-2001 Marakwet displayed both its weaknesses and strengths at waging war. They were utterly defeated by the Pokot in the early part of this period. But this was later to be corrected when the Marakwet acquired guns after 1993. Although the number of raids conducted by the Marakwet against the Pokot were limited, they displayed superiority in war that was later equally respected and feared by the Pokot. An unconditional truce was declared by both parties after the 2001 Murkutwa Massacre in Marakwet (Kenya Human Rights Commission, 2001).

The 2007 post-election crisis in Kenya presented another opportunity for the Marakwet to display their war supremacy. They terrorized both other members of Marakwet and other communities around Trans Nzoia District. The aims of the warriors were solely acquisition of cattle, although they could not spare anyone who stood in their way. They shocked the security personnel by raiding cattle even inside Kachibora Police Station and also by throwing antipersonnel grenades at police officers.

The Marakwet have all along engaged—and still do--in wars or some form of aggression either among themselves or against members of other communities, but there has not been any systematic study, especially one based on their oral literature, to elaborate more.

Conflict-Peace Choice Paradigm of Marakwet War Songs

There are several treatises into African traditional conflict and peace management systems. Most of those accounts, especially the ones I have read, centre on the inherence of peace and conflict as stabilizing factors in the particular cultures or on conflict as a heinous issue. But none of them has observed conflict and peace as choices that the communities involved are consciously aware. Wilson-Fall on his exploration of conflict prevention and resolution among the pastoralist Fulbe/ Fulani of West Africa (Senegal, Niger, and Northern Nigeria) recognizes the double-scheme in the treatment of internal and external conflicts. The external conflict, which is the most telling case in this discussion, is mitigated by intermarriages (63), slightly different from the Marakwet situation. The Marakwet war songs are directed at the Pokot, an external enemy. But there are no songs trying to challenge peace or conflict in the immediate Marakwet society.

Equally, Gluckman who concentrates on the Nuer of the Sudan and following Evans Pritchard’s account observes that there is some balancing of peace and conflict: “…how men quarrel in terms of their cultural allegiances, but are restrained from violence through other conflicting allegiances which are also enjoined on them by cutsom…In this way custom unites where it divides, co-operation and conflict balancing each other” (2-3).

Gluckman’s view is similar to Chesaina’s which demonstrates the understanding of peace and conflict among the Embu and Mbeere in their oral literature. She observes many things like that in the furtherance of peace, communities fall into the trouble of war (132, 134) and that compact societies unite to face external threats but it is paradoxical that the individual’s peace  within the community with the end of the external threats is threatened (135), or that children are not passive participants in a conflict-peace process as she illustrates the justposition of hawk and dove characterization in the Embu and Mbeere children’s oral literature (126). While she observes the coexistence of peace and conflict paradox in the oral literature, Chesaina does not observe that they are apparent choices that the community is aware.

Fallers, on the other hand, shows the Basoga of Uganda as a compex socio-political entity that differ from the Western world in the way they handle peace and conflict. He explores the integration of conflict within the institutions of the Soga society by showing how it helps to ‘fit them together to satisfy basic minimum requirements for continued existence’ (5). Conflict is a stabilizing factor, according to Fallers. But there is not much distinction between conflict and peace from his thesis, thus differing from the central argument I am advancing—peace and conflict as conscious choices. A closer opinion is held by Mkutu in his analysis of violent conflicts in the North Rift. Mkutu observes that pastoralism is coming under threat and is being replaced by cattle rustling that he terms violent (13), a view that is distant from my oral literature analysis of stylistic and thematic relevance. In the same line, Gachukia uses the sociological school of thought to reflect on cultural conflict [iv]as espoused by creative writers of East African Literature. Her analysis centres on the Western-African cultural collision with the Western appearing as a victim infringing on the African values. She does not put any concern on the oral discourse.

In addition, Goldschmidt brings out the concept of cultural disequilibrium among the Sebei as a result of socio-cultural changes from external factors: “The disruption that renders old institutions and attitudes obsolete creates a disequilibrium, and the formulation of a new balance and harmony takes a long time” (354). He presents the bigger picture of conflict that ignores the internal conflict-peace games, as in the case of Marakwet. Gurr falls within the category of Goldschmidt. He explores Western cultural infiltration in East Africa as a real cultural conflict. He draws his argument from Japan after Meiji Restoration in 1868 and compares with the East African situation through the writings of Okot p’Bitek Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o The River Between. Gurr critizes oral literature unjustly: “Traditional (oral) materials, ceremony, folk-tale or myth, normally exists as a communal creation, a composition evolved in and for the community. The ‘artist’ in a traditional society is more a performer of what already exists than a creator. The writer therefore has little directly to offer to his community’s tradtional culture” (74). There is adequate local oral criticism and creativity or even unmatched originality in African oral literature, contrary to the standpoint taken up by Gurr.

In his account of oral messages in the 2007 Kenya postelection crisis, Osborn relates the role of rumours in the form of SMS, e-mails, weblogs in the fanning of the postelection crisis. He sees the oral messages as chiefly responsible for the escalation of the conflict. They show another side of oral literature that is chiefly negative, which is not, most often, the case. Therefore, Osborn moves away significantly from my double-edged conflict-peace account, as illustrated by the fifteen Marakwet war songs.

The songs are in two broad categories: (1) regret/ blame songs, no. 1-8; and (2) praise songs, 9-15. Blame songs recognize the importance of peace only after futility in the quest for supremacy from war, whereas praise songs celebrate success from battle and recognize and acknowledge peace as a result of war.

The direction of the first song is quite straight forward. It is peace-seeking, a request for the people to disarm. But it does not give the other version of the story. How is defence to be effected? What about the enemy? The persona is trying to plead for some impossibility as it is clear from the suggestion of throwing away guns. Perhaps we could observe that the persona is not a combatant. Therefore, this position is still far away from peace.
1Chenama kaalya X 2 piichuwee                                            1Let us observe peace X 2 we people
2Chemotee / chepistee na cho kikisirto                                   2Let us forget/ let go the past
3-Chewirte puntikin                                                                3Let us throw away the guns
4-Chenama kaalya                                                                   4Let us observe peace
Meaning: Let’s forget the past and embrace peace.

The second song, takes the quest for peace as a wish. A woman in Marakwet oral literature symbolizes peace; therefore, Margaret stands for peace. But this way of looking at it presents peace as some kind of privilege. In other words, conflict is a tangible reality and peace is a longing with no surety of attainment.
1Chereel Margaret inyoru kaalya X 2 1The white Margaret may you get peace X 2
2-Inyorchi keet wurit, inyoru kaalya               2May you get it at the foot of a tree, may you get peace
3-Inyorchi tuyunwo, inyoru kaalya                 3May you get it under Tuyunwo[v], may you get it
Meaning: The song is wishing Margaret peace of mind everywhere, even at the foot of a tree while resting.

In the third song, a peace song in a war-time, peace is more pronounced but the song touches on some superficialities. The major issues are hidden like, for instance, the participants of the conflict, the meeting place. It is an NGO kind of imposition to foster peace among the cattle rustling communities of North Rift Kenya. The unanswered question is whether there is true peace. It leaves several options for either peace or conflict. In Marakwet version of conflict management, an oath (mis) is adminsitered to bolster any furtherance of peace. But the choice for peace or the suppression of conflict in this song is not clear. Therefore, a player in the peace-conflict situation is free to choose either.
1Kichomnyo e kichomnyo X 2                                   1They have reconciled e they have   reconciled X 2
2Kichomnyo pikaa MAPOTU                                    2The people of MAPOTU[vi] have reconciled
3Oyo kichomnyo                                                        3Yes they have reconciled                             
4Kituyo o kituyo[vii] X 2                                               4They have met o they have met X 2
5Kituyo pikaa MAPOTU                                           5The people of MAPOTU have met
Meaning: The people of Marakwet, Pokot and Turkana are celebrating because they have reconciled and reunited.

Similarly, the extent of conflict or peace is not clear from the songs. In song 4 Churui is still respected as a war veteran, as people keep watching at his every move towards the youth. He is accused of inciting the youth into war. By the virtue of his being a war veteran he earns some respect and recognition. By inciting the youth into violence he earns some derision and invites public outcry. He is then cursed by the community. Therefore, this song shows some powerful ambivalence between war and peace where the deterrent into war is a curse thereby sparing the question of ‘to what extent should a player go either peacewards or conflictwards?’
1Churui e Churui wero Lorita meng’ololei                 1Churui e Churui the son of Lorita do not speak
2Kinam ng’ala X 2                                                      2Words have got him (i.e. suspect) X 2         
3Kinam ng’ala Churui nyole ng’orokoyon                 3Words have got Churui the cattle rustler
4-Kipar korenyin                                                         4He has sold his people
5-Namin supetyo                                                         5May a barbed arrow catch you
Meaning: Churui is a war veteran who has been inciting youth into cattle rustling wars. He is definitely a sell-out of his people, as the rumours suggest.

It is natural for cattle to be taken away by the cattle rustlers, according to song 5. Even if that is the case, it is still something to worry. The Marakwet persona laments such an act of taking away someone’s (Pokot’s) cattle leaving the owner hapless. Taking away the cattle is explicit, but identifying with the victim (Cherop) is implicit.
1Kiriir kiriir oe a a                                                       1She has cried oe a a                                      
2Kiriir Cherop oe o kiriir kirirchi tukwak x               2Cherop has cried oe o she has cried over their cattle
Meaning: Cherop has cried, for the raiders have stolen their cattle.

In addition, there is some conscious understanding of the implications of possession of illegal arms by the Marakwet. In equal sense, there is some clear understanding of war and peace in relation to the possession. For the Marakwet to enjoy relative cordiality with the Moi’s Government, they have to surrender the guns. For them to live in peace with the Pokot, they have to possess the illegal arms. This is the peace-conflict paradox expressed by song 6. The same is seen in song 7. The song takes the presence of peace as the ideal precondition for existence. However, there is the overt violent conflict resulting to the death of the herdsman whom the persona declares innocent.
1Lokoto Chembe Chumakow                         1Lokoto Chembe Chumakow
2Keoite na puntukin                                                   2Let us return the guns
3King’wanit ng’alee Nyayo                                        3The Nyayo era is becoming tough
Meaning: Let’s return illegal arms. The government has become tough with disarmament.
1Owolei x 2                                                                1I praise X 2
2mm                                                                            2mm
3E woye owolei wero Lorita em Sibow mm              3I praise the son of Lorita in Sibow[viii]
4-Keperchi nee chipo chiich?                          4Why did you kill someone’s kinsman?
5-Keperchi nee kip-echai?                                           5Why did you kill a herdsman?
6Kepar chiich kulen                                                    6You have killed someone for no reason
Meaning: The son of Lorita from Sibow Village has killed an innocent herdsman. The witness is asking the community to take action against him.

In song 8, Kimeli confesses implicitly of the challenges he has faced in his participation in robbery/ thievery/ cattle rustling. He declares that he would never participate in such activities; therefore, he has embraced peace. But this only comes after Kimeli’s futile quest for supremacy in war, as he confesses. Therefore, peace is a last resort according to him.
1O o Kimeli[ix]                                                                          1O o Kimeli
2Kolo Kimeli karaam kaw motoweti chemwaka/ chorsho                2Kimeli has said that home is good and so he will never go abroad/ he will never participate in thievery
3-Motoweti chorsho                                                                            3He will never participate in thievery
4-Motoweti Kapsing’ar                                                                       4He will never raid Kapsang’ar[x]
5-Motoweti Cheptulel                                                             5He will never raid Cheptulel[xi]
6-Motoweti Chesumaya                                                                    6He will never participate in the battles at Chesumaya[xii]
Meaning: Kimeli has declared that he will no longer get out of home for robbery/ thievery/ cattle rustling.

Moreover, in song 9 the persona plays with language by declaring the raiding of Kocheseret’s (an old grandmother) cattle by Marakwet raiders an allegation. The lamentation by Kocheseret of the loss of her cattle is ignored by the persona’s assertion; therefore, the conflict option has been advanced towards Kocheseret as opposed to the peace option that seems sensible.
1Rirei o rirei Kocheseret                                                         1She is crying o Kocheseret is crying
2Leli kipa tuka(k)                                                                    2She alleges that the cattle have gone
3Rirei o rirei                                                                            3She is crying o she is crying
4Leli kipa tuka(k) chepleng                                                   4She alleges that the cows have gone to Marakwet
Meaning: Kocheseret is crying complaining that Marakwet raiders have taken their cattle.

Peace is sometimes secured through death according to song 10. The community enjoys relative calm because of the murder of Merinmyang, a Pokot cattle rustler, by a Marakwet cattle rustler. In spite of this the persona recognizes the unhappiness of his family over his death: “Until children have cried for him”. This line expresses some pity or regret over the way Merinyang has been killed—inhumanly. Therefore, as much as the song celebrates the death of Merinyang, it, at the same time, pities it giving the conflicting reality that the community does not see murder as something to celebrate but it still remains a necessay evil.
1Kikipar Merinyang o                                                 1Merinyang has been killed
2Kikipar Merinyang arap[xiii] Lopela                                       2Merinyang the son of Lopela has been killed
3Kipa muren a                                                                         3The warriors have gone
4Kipa muren kuwit Tangasya a!                                             4The warriors have gone past Tangasya[xiv]
5Chekar atokeet a!                                                                  5Until insecure military points have closed
6Chekar atokeet, chekar Kamolokon                                    6To close insecure military points, to close Kamolokon[xv]
7Owen owen o a!                                                                    7The war party the war party                         
8Araa Tangasya                                                                      8In Tangasya
9Sangpo Lelan a!                                                                    9In the vast expanse of Lelan
10Kikipar Merinyang arap Lopela                                         10Merinyang the son of Lopela has been killed
11Kiriryo lakoi                                                                        11Until children have cried for him
12Kongoi Lomechar kiperwech Merinyang                          12Thanks to you Lomechar for having killed Merinyang on our behalf
Meaning: The community is happy that there is peace because Merinyang has been killed, and they give thanks to Lomechar for having killed him.

The following is a praise war song both underestimating and overestimating the importance of the AK47 assault guns to the cattle rustlers. The Marakwet cattle rustlers claim that it is only because of their possession of illegal guns that they managed to defend themselves from the Pokot cattle rustlers. In other words, they managed to secure peace because of the guns. But with the mention of all the guns, it is impossible to see peace except to justify an elusive peace within the cattle rustlers’ innerselves.
1Kium kityoli Nyang’ura x 2                          1There are heavy gunshots, Nyang’ura X 2
2Kiumo kaa chesu, Nyang’ura                                  2They have reported from GSU’s[xvi] camp, Nyang’ura
3Kium saait mut, Nyang’ura                                       3They have sounded at eleven o’clock Nyang’ura
4Poryo 24, Nyang’ura                                     4The war of 24, Nyang’ura
5Kium so kipoi, Nyang’ura                                         5It has really sounded, Nyang’ura
6Tomo FN, Nyang’ura                                                6If not of FN, Nyang’ura
7Tomo lokwapenit nyopo Lotabang, Nyang’ura        7If not of Lotabang’s Lokwapenit, Nyang’ura
8Tomo ritong Nyang’ura…                                        8If not of Ritong’, Nyang’ura           
Meaning: Gunshots have reported dangerously at GSU’s camp. If not of the mentioned guns AK47 assault guns (FN, lokwapenit, ritong), the Marakwet warriors would have perished. They are reporting to Nyang’ura—probably a war veteran.

In addition, there is some justification for a ‘show of force’ in song 12.  The persona alleges that after fighting the colonial officers at Chesegon (Marakwet-Pokot border), the entire Pokot territory, even areas close to Uganda like Chepareria, felt the magnitude of Marakwet might. Therefore, the colonials were not the target but the Pokot. It is most probably that Marakwet warriors believe that they experience peace by possessing military might only against the Pokot, a conclusion that moves me further to note that innermostly the community would like to realize peaceful coexistence with the Pokot but at the same time they do not want to be seen as ‘the weaker’, a quality that is only countered through successful violent conflicts.
1Kuletee x 2                                                                1The war X 2
2Araa Chesegon                                                          2In Chesegon[xvii]
3Kirur kulet                                                                 3The war is ripe
4–cheluma Cheparerya                                                4It is deeply felt even in Chepareria[xviii]
5O kipa chumba x 2                                                    5The white men have run away
6Mo kwero                                                                  6Barefeet
Meaning: This is an account of Marakwet revolt against British colonial rule. The white men were defeated in the fight at Chesegon. The war was felt deeply even at Chepareria.

The persona of song 13 is lamenting the raid of cows from Lomoreng, a Marakwet, by the Pokot cattle rustlers. He consoles Lomoreng not to worry about the loss, as the Marakwet cattle rustlers will avenge for him by raiding Tangasya. But the chorus part of the song curses Lomoreng. He is seen as a victim who deserves suffering and death. The bamboo-headed arrow in Marakwet custom is a ritual arrow. So the paradox of conflict and peace is explored here by consoling Lomoreng that the Marakwet warriors will avenge for him the loss of his cattle and, at the same time, cursing him. Whichever the case, the community is ready for either peace or conflict. But readily espouses conflict.
1Lomoreng wero Mochor ah                                      1Lomoreng the son of Mochor ah
2Merirei Lomoreng X 2                                              2Don’t cry Lomoreng X 2
3Merirchi tukaa papunyaa                                           3Don’t cry over my father’s cattle
4Cho kipka kuwitu Tangul                                         4That have come past Tangul[xix]
5Kuowonu chepleng ah                                              5Forcing the Marakwet to wage war
6Kipar tuchu mi Tangasya                                          6To raid the cattle at Tangasya
7-Lomoreng kwamin ng’oki                                       7Lomoreng may you be cursed
8-Lomoreng kwamin nyaril                                         8Lomoreng may you suffer
9-Lomoreng kwamin tangas                                       9Lomoreng may you suffer
10-Lomoreng namin supetyo                                      10Lomoreng may a bamboo-headed arrow catch you
Meaning: Pokot cattle rustlers have raided Lomoreng’s cattle in Tangul. Lomoreng is crying over the loss of cattle. Marakwet warriors console him and tell him that they would avenge for him by raiding Pokot cattle at Tangasya.

There is rationalization and normalization of injustice in Marakwet war songs through the quest for peace. In song 14 cattle have been raided from Pokot and rushed into Marakwet. But the Pokot, to console the owner of the cattle, they tell him of the supposed long distance that the Marakwet cattle rustlers have taken making impossible for the Pokot cattle rustlers to mount a recovery strategy. For the owner of the cattle to enjoy peace, he must forget about the lost cattle. For the Marakwet to get away with punishment, they must take the cattle far away even into upland Marakwet, where they do not live. It is really hard to reconcile. But it is clear from this account that cattle rustling, in the present context, is purely a culture of its own right where peace and conflict are the same. Sensitivity and insensitivity coexist. Insensitivity to the plight of the loser is victory.
1Oe owoyee                                                    1Yes
2Kikipar tupo Kakapul a                                 2The Kakapul[xx] cattle have been raided
3Kikipar kilang mosop o                                 3They have reached mosop, upland Marakwet
4Lomurmurya merirei a                                   4Lomurmurya don’t cry
5Chitap Baringo aya, Lomurmurya merirei    5The person of Baringo aya, Lomurmurya don’t cry
Meaning: Marakwet have raided cattle from Kakapul in East Pokot District. A Pokot herdsman called Lomurmurya is crying bitterly over this loss but other Pokot herdsmen console him by asking him not to worry about the cattle, as they could not be recovered. They have recahed Mosop, upland Marakwet District.

Lastly, there is no real success in Marakwet war songs. In song 15, even if the cattle rustler has done some successful raids, the use of the word “successful” tells of some worries inherent in him. It poses peace as a definite alternative, although he cannot say so because of the communal expectation of him—seeing life in terms of war.
1O Ng’ailee X 2                                                          1O Ng’ailee X 2
2Nyasilo ng’oroko                                                      2The one who is heard by the cattle rustlers
3-Toru Kipusien                                                          3He has participated in Kipusien[xxi] battle
4-Toru Cheparial                                                         4He has participated in Chaparial[xxii] battle
5-Toru Tangasya                                                         5He has participated in Tangasya raid
6-Toru Kapsing’ar                                                       6He has participated in Kapsing’ar raid
Meaning: A Marakwet warrior praises himself after raiding several Pokot territories successfully.


Conflict and peace are choices for harmonious coexistence that the Marakwet are consciously aware of, and by favouring conflict over peace as is clear from the discussion above is a matter of socio-political and cultural worldview as opposed to a pragmatic decision by the actors in the conflict. In most of the songs peace is an impossibility, a wish, something of the weaker person, or a last resort; whereas conflict is seen as an aspiration as is the case of Kimeli in song 8. But a successful war is an illusion according to song 15. Therefore, taking all these perspectives into account, peace can only be attained, not by other means, but by foregrounding peace images and themes in the songs.

Works Cited

Chesaina, Ciarunji. “The Treatment of the Themes of War, Conflict and Peace in Embu and Mbeere Oral Literature.”Daisaku Ikeda and Voices for Peace from Africa.Eds. Ingandasi, Henry and Masumi O. Hashimoto. Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau, 2008. 124-136.

Fallers, A. Lloyd. Bantu Bureaucracy: A Century of Political Evolution among the Basoga of Uganda. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,1965. 2-12.

Gachukia, W. Eddah. Cultural Conflict in East African Literature. PhD Thesis. University of Nairobi, 1980.

Gluckman, Max. Custom and Conflict in Africa. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1970.

Goldschmidt, Walter and Gale Goldschmidt. Culture and Behaviour of the Sebei: A Study in Continuity and Adaptation. Berkely: University of California Press, 1976.

Gurr, Andrew. “Engagement is not Marriage: Perspectives on Cultural Conflict in East Africa.” Mosaic 2. Manitoba: University of Manitoba Press, 1976. 65-79.

Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). Raiding Democracy: The Slaughter of the Marakwet in the Kerio Valley, 2001. Nairobi: Kenya Human Rights Commission, 2001.

Mkutu, Agade Kennedy. Guns and Governance in the Rift Valley: Pastoralist Conflict and Small Arms. Oxford: James Currey, 2008.

Osborn, Michelle. “Fuelling the Flames: Rumour and Politics in Kibera.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 2 2 (July 2008): 315-327.

Steinhart, I. Edward. Conflict and Collaboration: The Kingdoms of Western Uganda, 1990-1907. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Wilson-Fall, Wendy. “Conflict Prevention and Resolution Among the Fulbe.” Traditional Cures for Modern Conflicts: African Conflict “Medicine”. Ed. Zartman, I. William. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000. 49-65.

Kenya National Archives Sources

DC/ELGM 3/1. (1911-1958). Political Record Book.

MSS 10/ 1.  (1958-1963). A. T. Matson’s Diary.


[i] The recognition of some form of aggression or destabilization of harmony in either the pursuit of peace or communal supremacy
[ii] Tendency towards appreciation or empathy of other worldviews, which in this case is the sensitivity towards those who lose their lives or cattle
[iii] Suk and Pokot are used interchangeably
[iv] The totality of the jittery expressed on the colonial/ Western culture as infringing on African worldview
[v] An edible leaf desert tree with thick thorns
[vi] Marakwet, Pokot, and Turkana
[vii] This verb can also mean ‘to unite’
[viii] Tot Division, Marakwet District
[ix] Kimeli is the son of Talai
[x] Lelan Division, West Pokot District
[xi] Lomut Division, West Pokot District
[xii] Tunyo Division, Marakwet District
[xiii] There is contest if it is Marakwet to say “arap”. The obvious choice is “wero”.
[xiv] Lelan Division, West Pokot District
[xv] Tirap Division, West Pokot District
[xvi] Soko Mjinga, Kerio Valley Secondary School, Tot Division, Marakwet District
[xvii] Border commercial centre; Lomut Division, West Pokot District
[xviii] Chepareria Division, West Pokot District
[xix] Kapyego Division, Marakwet District
[xx] Kolloa Division, Marakwet District
[xxi] Tot Division, Marakwet District
[xxii] Tot Division, Marakwet District