Cheborgei arap Tengecha rose from a translator to a Colonial Chief

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Chief Cheborge arap Tengecha

Senior Chief Kipsang ‘Cheborge’ arap Tengecha was born in 1892 at Masarian village, Belgut Constituency in Kericho County. He was fondly known as “Kiprany-tich”, a name that was coined from his strong stance against colonial repression and oppression. He was a son of Tengecha arap Leel of Kapchamogondeek clan and Tamusok chepo Mososwo. Despite not receiving any formal education, Tengecha was able to read and write. He could also speak fluent Kiswahili, Ekegusii, Dholuo, Maasai and some little English.

His capacity to read and write on top of his multilinguistic talent earned him a rare position in the colonial public service as a court interpreter locally “Mtaptayat” in Kericho Law Courts. His diligence matched his intelligence in service delivery as a government translator. Tengecha was transferred to Kerendei in Maasai land on the same capacity having mastered the Maa language in 1921.

Following his sheer performance as an interpreter for close to thirteen years, he was promoted to the position of Chief of Bomet location in 1934 where he served with flair and glare for nine consecutive years. Tengecha excelled in his new position as an administrator and became the apple of the colonial masters’ eyes.  

In 1943, the legendary chief went back to his motherland taking over from the then ageing Chief Ezekiel arap Roronya as the Chief for Bureti Location where he served until his retirement in 1961. At this time, he was assisted by arap Komuilong, father to the former powerful permanent secretary in Moi’s era Hon Zakayo Cheruiyot.   

District administration was re-organized by the then District Commissioner H.G. Gregory Smith in 1946. This led to a reduction in the number of locations at Kipsigis land from twenty-four to five only. The restructuring was done with an intention of retrenching the chiefs who had developed monarchies for themselves and ruled their subjects with iron fists so as to pave way for the literate and vibrant chiefs. Tengecha, however, was spared due to his prowess in administrative skills and language mastery.

In 1956, Tengecha was chosen as one of the delegates from East Africa who went to England for six months where he managed to climb the 287 steps to the top of Scott monument in the city of Edinburg. He was subsequently given MBE, Member of British Empire medal by the colonial government in 1961. Although he sometimes appeared as a heavy-handed administrator, the transformations he brought to his community paints a vivid picture of a relentless and selfless leader who always meant good for his people.

Most of the colonial chiefs those days worked to please the colonial masters but Tengecha juggled between the interests of his people and those of his bosses.  At one time, he was accused of trying to render his people poor when he suggested that cattle should be branded and inseminated against rinderpest. However, his intentions were misinterpreted.

Arap Tengecha is remembered for setting aside enough land for public facilities such as schools, hospitals, stadia, urban centers and human settlement. He championed for the establishment of Kapkatet shopping centre in 1944.

To date, his name still adorns many landmarks in the present day Kericho County, most notably Tengecha Boys and Girls Secondary Schools, Tengecha Boarding Primary School, Kap-Tengecha shopping center in Bomet County and Tengecha lane within Kericho town. Chief Tengecha also guided the establishment of the famed Kapkatet Stadium in Bureti Constituency where multiple cultural and political ceremonies have been conducted.

Following his staunch belief in Christianity, he declined a large tract of land extending from Togomin to Chebilat awarded to him by the colonial government and opted to take similar portion as that of his members of the community. It is also reported that he played a role in the appointment of the late President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi as the vice president. He led a delegation that pleaded with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to take Moi as his vice president after resignation of Joseph Murumbi in November 1966.

There are many descendants of arap Tengecha. One of the prominent ones is Josiah Sang, former Chairman for Myoot Kipsigis Council of Elders and former minister during President Daniel Moi’s era. Japhet Kiptergech Mutai, the current Member of Parliament for Bureti Constituency is the son of Josiah Sang. Prior to his election in 2017, Mutai was the speaker of Kericho County Assembly from 2013 to 2017. It is also documented that Kipkemoi Sang, son of arap Tengecha, was a chief for Kaptengecha Location.

Arap Tengecha was a serious environmentalist whose love for trees was immense, real and sincere. He always taught his people the importance of keeping the surrounding green by planting trees and keeping the place clean. He is remembered for establishing a tree nursery where people would obtain tree seedlings free of charge.

Tengecha had four wives and thirty-two children. He married three of the wives and inherited one from his late brother. Tengecha married his first wife Sofiah Tabarng’etuny kobot Johana in 1914 at Masarian and they had six sons. His second wife Tabrang’we kobot Loise whom he married while working in Bomet had four sons and seven daughters. In 1927, Tengecha got married to his third wife Tabutany kobot Lezebeth in Bomet and they were blessed with six sons and five daughters. The fourth wife whom he inherited was Roda Tapkolige chepo Mapengo whom she begot four sons, one from her first marriage and three with Tengecha.

Chief Tengecha’s contemporaries were famous and admirable in their own rights but none matched his charisma, pragmatism and brilliance. He had the opportunity to host big names in his home for instance Sir Everlyn Baring, the then Governor Kericho District, Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Tom Mboya and Ronald Ngala.

As fate would have it, the celebrated chief died on 5th July 1978 only six weeks before the demise of his agemate and a friend, Kenya’s founding father the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

Some information extracted from the Kipsigis Heritage and Origins of Clans a book by Bill Rutto and Kipng’etich Maritim

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