A century and a half ago, Kipsigis warriors were massacred at a place called Mogori Valley in Nyamira County. The fallen warriors are estimated to have been about a hundred and ten clearly an entire generation since the total population of the Kipsigis then was barely ten thousand. This was circa 1886.
In a classical case of pride comes before a fall, the Kipsigis warriors were cornered, waylaid and descended upon. The implication was so huge that young boys had to step in to help in procreation. To date, a mention of Borietab Mogori (Mogori Massacre) sends chills down the spines of the Kipsigis people.
The Kalenjin Digital carried out an exclusive interview with Kiprono arap Kosgey, a 95-year-old Mzee from Cheptalal in Bomet County. His father, Kipyep Choget arap Bargetuny, was among the few survivors of the massacre. He told Kalenjin Digital that the extermination was a punishment by Chepongolo (god) to the community for the wrong deeds that the warriors did a few years earlier during a raid against the Purko; an iloshon (sub-division) of Maasai community.
“From time immemorial, the Kipsigis community was known for its firm foundation on theism. They were stickler of rules and community’s moral codes. They also shunned every evil they knew would vex and disfavor them from their gods,” said arap Kosgey.
He added, “Even during raids and wars, which its warriors would engage in from time to time, there were certain norms enacted that had to be strictly adhered to.”
According to him, (and as confirmed by Kipsigis Council of elders) some of such decree associated with wars and raids included not killing the children, the women, the old, the physically disabled and the sick. It was also a taboo to take the life of an enemy who has knelt down and called truce.
“However, during the raid against the Purko, the Kipsigis warriors went against all these norms; a transgression that galled chepomircho (god of war) and invited its wrath on the community’s warriors during the next raid at Mogori.
“The warriors were, after the Purko raid, supposed to undergo some rituals meant to cleanse them. However, that did not happen as the warriors, in their arrogance, refused to own up to the offences they had committed and even refused to take part in the debriefing process,” said Arap Kosgey.
The Purko raid
The Kipsigis warriors of Kipkoimet and Kaplelach age-group had embarked on a raid across River Siyabei, in the current Narok North Constituency, Narok County. This was where Purko; a cattle-keeping community, was living in. The Kipsigis warriors, known for their bravery and element of surprises, had subjugated all its neighboring communities. “The raid, against the Purko community, at that wee hour of the morning was successful. The Purko warriors could not put up much of a resistance to the chagrin of the courageous Kipsigis warriors. They fled away,” arap Kosgey narrated.
Therefore having not expended much of their energy and arrows, the disappointed Kipsigis warriors started killing the sick men, the old and those who were physically too disabled to flee. They also set houses on fire; a blatant disregard to the Kipsigis moral codes.
After committing the misdemeanors, the warriors then set off for a journey back home and with them, cattle and Purko women whom they had taken captives. They arrived at River Siyabei towards noon. Pangs of hunger and exhaustion overwhelmed them. They resolved to slaughter animals, eat and take rest before crossing over to the other side of the river.
Purko rescue and recovery team trailed the Kipsgis warriors
As feasting was going on, they cast their eyes behind them. From afar, they saw, what they suspected was, a rescue party (owendo) from Purko. Spears would be seen glistering against the afternoon sunlight.
Apparently, the Purko men had mobilized their neighboring communities for rescue and recovery mission against the Kipsigis warriors. With less time remaining for the arrival of the rescue and recovery team, the Kipsigis warriors, hastily, smeared the remaining meat with cow dungs and faeces.
“They nyar (make unpalatable for the Purko rescue and recovery team) the meat and left it heavily infested with flies,” narrated arap Kosgey and also documented by Kipchamba arap Topotuk in his song Borietab Mogori. According to the Kipsigis, this is one of the greatest taboos.
Upon learning that their men were hot in pursuit, the Purko women grew stubborn and refused to cross over to the other side of the river with the Kipsigis warriors. “We will wait here for our men; the men with sharpened spears (murenik che chorchoren ng’otwek). They will have to bid us bye as we cross to the other side of Kipsigis community,” voiced the Purko Women in unison.
“If you want to take us (to become your women) then be men enough. Wait and fight our Purko men. You fell them all and we will have no further qualms but to go with you.”
The Kipsigis warriors accepted the challenge and agreed to wait for the advancing Purko rescue and recovery team. They placed themselves strategically, bracing for the imminent fight.
After some few minutes, one of them developed cold feet and asked, “You mean to tell me we have been fooled by these Korusyek (a Kipsigis term used to demean women) to wait for their men?”
“We are exhausted and outnumbered. Why don’t we rob these women of their wristlets (raranaik) and anklets (tapaagonik) and let them wait for their men?”
The agreement was unanimous; they were not ready for a face-up with the advancing Purko team.
They tried getting the ornaments off the hands and legs of the women but to no avail. The now very tenacious women were giving them hard time. They did not want to be robbed. At the same time they were buying time for their men to arrive.
Frantically, the Kipsigis warriors decided to cut off the legs and arms of the women by their wrists and ankles joints (rotyonishek). This was meant to lessen the women’s resistance and also to ease the removal of the bracelets.
They then stacked the ornaments, dripping with blood, on their spears and then set off to the other side of River Siyabei with the cattle.
Gruesome sight at the bank of River Siyabei
No sooner had the Kipsigis warriors crossed the river than Purko men arrived to the gory scene of their women writhing in great pain as hyenas and vultures (motong’ik) mauled and devoured them alive. They had been rendered physically disabled (kian koek rarameek) and had no means of defending themselves nor fleeing.
Having recovered from the momentary shock, the Purko team looked across the river and saw their Kipsigis counterparts washing their bloody machetes and the ornaments they had gruesomely robbed from the women.
In fury, they howled (ki worirso) and sought green light from their leader to cross over to fight the Kipsigis warriors; a fight of life and death. The cruelty meted on their women was overwhelming. Their leader, however, beseeched them earnestly not to cross over, “Omuiten innei olmurang’. Mokisyome lug ne kaakoyai chalwok neteno inoni nebo meet (I feel the same as you my brothers; I feel what you are going through. However, our own traditions bar us from engaging with an army that has committed felony of such magnitude).”
The Purko leader then added, “Obagach kobarat gee ak kachililutikwak (let them carry the blood of these women and the disabled they killed back home, in their own hands)
With a lot of self-restrain, the Purko worriors heeded the plea from their leader.
“Hey young men, whose raid-party are you from?” the Purko leader asked the Kipsigis warriors who responded that they were from arap Kisiara’s. Arap Kisiara was the community’s leader. The Purko leader voiced his shock, “Knowing arap Kisiara, it is unbelievable that such an anarchic raid-party could belong to him.”
In bitterness, he asked them, “What made you kill the disable, the sick and the old? You set our houses on fire, you held our women captives… why did you have to mutilate them this way?”
“Tindoo yoityo nee kwonyik che ilolchin maa uitugul; che momiten ole kikirotyi? Gertook ano ingolo? Kalyan asi obar iyo? (What crime did they commit to deserve this brutality? Women kindle the kinship fire for any community. There is no community that they belong, why did you have to kill them? How will God perceive you? You should have taken them to be yours),” rhetorically questioned the Purko leader, emotions running high.
He then looked down, fought tears back and cast a glance on their dying women. He clicked and then unstrung an “olive branch” (ingeunetab kalyet) attached to a short spear called teto. Then pointed the sharp end (meleito) of spear at the Kipsigis warriors and told them, “Lugoni lugoni, lugoni, Lugoni bo Kipsigis ogas ak ogas kochut itikwok. Kokoek chekwok, mego chechok, kwonyichu ka ogoten kou ni. Ogot kateeiyet ko nengwong. Ogot motong’wek ak kimagetok ko chekwok. (Kipsigis warriors, listen and listen good. May the felony you have committed today rest on your heads. May the blood you have shed from these women, in your hands follow you. May their cries gnaw at your conscience forever. Even the hyenas and vultures devouring them alive, may they do so to you some day)
“Ak ko matuun kota olitu moltet ana togoch kogeny Purko (Never again shall you raid Purko and triumph. This is the last),” the leader cast the curse after which he led his army back home with mourning howls.
Not even once did the Kipsigis warriors fret over the curse by Purko leader. Not even once did they agonize. They laughed it off and dismissed with waves of hands. They too proceeded with their journey home singing jubilantly the triumphant songs.
The warriors, even after being summoned by a counsel of wazees for debriefing, blatantly refused. Word started doing rounds about their never-heard before atrocities that they committed at River Siyabei. One day, as the men were grazing at Bureti Hills (between Roret and Ngoina Road), snakes would crawl from nowhere and start biting the cattle. It went on for some days; something out of ordinary.
“The young men reported the incidents to their elders. A decision was made to withdraw cattle from the hill and then set it on fire. Setting the hill on fire was for the purpose of killing the snakes and also to let new pastures regrow,” narrated arap Kosgey
Several months later, the cattle were allowed back to the hill. The pastures were now greener and snakes were no more. Not so long later, having grazed on the new pastures, bull grew healthier and strong. They started goring each other; some to death. The young men grazing them would cheer. “This was out of ordinary too. Never before had bulls fought that way to death and in successive days,” said arap Koskey.
The young men grazing the animals would slaughter the bulls killed and feast. To them, the more the bulls fought and killed each other, the happier they were. The young men too grew strong and since they had nowhere to expend their energy, they started organizing fighting competition amongst themselves. Injuries were reported and it raised concerns among the old men. A conference was called and the decision was reached that they be sent to raid. The young men had become too idle and they needed where their energy would be very useful. Mogori was unanimously voted for.
As a requirement before any raid, Maina arap Chemwa from Kipindoek clan who lived at the present day Kamirai village was send to seek blessings and consent of arap Koilegen. “Arap Koilegen however advised them against going for the raid as the young men had not been cleansed of the previous transgressions against the Purko,” explained arap Kosgey. The brave warriors disobeyed the directive and proceeded with the raid. They were led by Malabun arap Makiche from Sotik and Chesengeny arap Koborok from Bureti. There were also warriors from Belgut
As they progressed towards Gusii, vultures flew ahead of them towards Gusii land. According to arap Kosgey, this was a sign of bad omen and the warriors were supposed to retreat. “In every raid mission, the Kipsigis had specialists who would advise accordingly. On this particular raid, the specialist from Kapcheboin clan who was mandated to curse the birds too had a second opinion on the raid. He suggested a retreat but to no avail,” narrated arap Kosgey.
The warriors dismissively waved off the suggestions. According to their own interpretations, the sign of vultures flying above their heads and ahead of them, was not meant for them but for the Gusiis whom they were going to kill. Some few warriors from the raid broke out and went back amidst jeers of being cowards. These were mostly the saweiyek (from Sawe age-group).
The younger warriors led by arap Makiche (from Kipkoimet age-set of Kaplelach age-group) proceeded with the journey. They reached Gusii land at dusk. The first phase of the raid (in Mugirango and Kitutu) was successful. They destroyed many Gusii villages. The Gusii fled their homes. It was time to collect the spoils and head back home. However, Malabun arap Makiche disagreed with other commanders of the raiding armies; from Bureti and Belgut.
“Other commanders led by Chesengeny Arap Koborok wanted the raid to head back home. However, Malabun arap Makiche was of the idea they raid the next community; the Luos. Malabun was a man full of himself,” said arap Kosgey. He led a larger faction in raiding the Luo community.
Meanwhile the Gusiis were blowing their horns and drumming to summon all their warriors. They knew the Kipsigis had crossed to Luo-land. They were ready to waylay them. The engagement with the luo was a bit tough. Wails and screams from Gusii had been heard all the way to Luo-land and hence its warriors were alert. So when the Kipsigis warriors got there, to their shock, they were being awaited.
The Kipsigis warriors were overwhelmed and outnumbered and they had to retreat. They were hotly pursued by the luos. Unbeknown to them, the Gusii, too, were regrouping at the eastern edge of Manga Escarpment to execute revenge. When the Kipsigis raiders started ascending the escarpment, along the valley of the Charachani River it was nearing dawn. As they got to Getwanyi, Kitutu, there came a loud wail from a woman who then threw downhill a gourd full of ashes.
“The gourd thrown by Chepkinet (the woman had one breast) exploded throwing the valley into more darkness. The obviously fatigued Kipsigis warriors were descended upon. The Luos arrived at the battleground when the fight had already started,” narrated arap Kosgey.
The Kipsigis army suffered a huge number of casualties. Very few managed to escape. Some of the survivors hid among the corpses of their fellow tribesmen, while others, including father to arap Kosgey, jumped into the river and hid in the swamps for 12 hours waiting until nightfall to escape to Kipsigis land.
“Since some of them had smeared blood of their fellow dead warriors on themselves, the vultures mistook them for the dead and started devouring them while alive,” said arap Kosgey. The victim had to contemplate between enduring the vultures or warding them and telling himself off to the Gusii warriors who at the time were still around. This was like the fulfillment of the curse the Purko leader had cast on the Kipsigis few years earlier. The entire generation was wiped out.
So great was the loss that the Kipsigis elders ordered a ‘premature’ initiation of young boys into warriors, and encouraged young men to marry early so as to increase the population of the tribe. According Kipkirui arap Langat who got the information from his grandfather Kiplasoi Arap Rugut who witnessed the battle, young boys were made drunk and made to sleep with women; a precedence that would slacken the moral chords in the community.
Although the massacre was devastating to the Kipsigis people, the remaining elders and young men soldiered on to lead the community. Luckily, a few years after the massacre, the Kipsigis community was blessed with bountiful harvest while the Gusii people endured dry spell and famine. This led to a batter trade whereby Gusii young energetic men were exchanged with foodstuff from the Kipsigis. This gave birth to some clans like Matabori (Botabari in Gusii) and many others.
After the bloody Borietab Mogori, there was a friendly Borietab Chemoiben still with the Gusii. The rest were just cattle-rustling raids between the two neighbouring communities.