The Talai people strongly believe that World War II may not have ended the time it did if it were not for their intervention. The dramatic turn of events towards the end of the war paints a vivid picture of the huge role played by the African soldiers, the King’s African Rifles (KAR).
Few days to the end of the war, the British soldiers in most instances were waylaid by the Japanese soldiers who owned heavy and deadly firearms in the Far East. Things were slowly falling apart for the British since they were largely dependent on the untrained African soldiers to retain their colonies in Asia. It is during this time that the commandant swallowed his pride and approached two KAR soldiers, Samoei arap Sonoet and Kiprono arap Bomsut.
The late World War II veteran, Samoei arap Sonoet candidly narrated his experience while in Burma during an interview with David Tuei the writer of the book “The Kipsigis Talai” in 1995.
While in Burma, a cold war between the Kipsigis and the Nandi erupted. The Nandi soldiers wanted to be allowed to fight alone citing that the Kipsigis had collaborated with the British in sending the Talai to Gwassi unlike them who were blessed by their Orgoiyot Barsumei arap Manyei, son of Koitalel arap Samoei before setting off for Burma. They argued that anything that would be done by the Kipsigis would not be successful. Instead, it will bring bad luck and tears. They attributed the war complication to the Kipsigis betrayal of their leaders.
When the commandant noted the widening rift between the two communities, he advised them to sit on a round table and look for a solution and avoid shifting blames telling them that they needed each other’s back like never before.
Relaxed, the Nandi and Kipsigis brainstormed and finally agreed to send a representative to visit the senior Orgoiyot in Gwassi. One soldier from Nandi looked at arap Sonoet and said, “you must be coming from the Talai clan as depicted by your name “Samoei”, Sonoet told him that he indeed came from the Kipsigis Talai clan.
All soldiers were delighted and they settled on him as a representative to seek answers to the war that had become a mountain for them. They immediately contributed some money, a dozen blankets, and two bottles of whiskey and put them in a box. They then sent a representative to call the commandant.
They briefed the commandant on their decision. They told him that one of them was to go home immediately to meet one of their Orgoiyot for further help on how to end the war. Having had a similar case when they were fighting in Eritrea, the commandant was well conversant with issues of supernatural powers of the Laibons.
He checked the box and upon learning that the Orgoiyot takes whiskey, he added a crate. He then told Sonoet to get ready for a morning flight.
It is important to note that it was the responsibility of the leading Orgoiyot to bless the warriors or soldiers going to war. In 1914, Kipchomber arap Koilegen blessed and prayed for the Nandi and Kipsigis soldiers who took part in the First World War.
Similarly, the British Monarchs in the First and Second World Wars, King George V and King George VI respectively prayed for their military before going to the battlefield.
Visit to arap Sitonik at Mfangano Island
The following day, arap Sonoet was flown to Kenya. He was received by the British administrators in Nairobi who were aware of his mission. Arrangements had already been made for his journey to Kericho. Upon reaching Gwassi, arap Sonoet was told arap Sitonik was moved to Mfangano island due to security reasons.
He eventually arrived at Mfangano late in the evening in a company of two British askaris. He was warmly welcomed by arap Sitonik and his two wives, Tapruiyo and Tapunei. Mr. Sonoet told him that he was sent by the soldiers in Burma to give direction on how to end the war that had put their lives at risk despite being a war of their demeanor. He then handed him a box full of gifts telling him that it was a gift from the soldiers on the battlefield.
The elated Orgoiyot ordered a ram to be slaughtered for his visitor. Arap Sitonik suggested that they eat first then they discuss everything at night. After taking supper, Sitonik took the askaris to the neighbor’s house for accommodation.
Sitonik called his wives and gave them one bottle of whiskey to share as they all drink while listening to the news of the situation in Burma. After listening keenly to the dire condition in Burma, Sitonik asked arap Sonoet the reason why he traveled particularly to see him. It is during this time that Sonoet went down on his knees and told him that he was sent by his colleagues to ask him to stop the war reason being that they were dragged and trapped in a war that was not theirs.
Arap Sitonik gulped his whiskey quietly for some minutes. He then broke the ice and said “My son, I would have wished the King be defeated to serve as a punishment for torturing us. However, my children are now in a foreign country fighting for them, I will, therefore, humble my heart and request God of my father arap Koilegen, arap Turugat and God of our ancestors to stop this war”. Mr. Sitonik said bitterly.
Orgoiyot accepts soldier’s plea
At the crack of the dawn the following day, Sitonik woke up the tired Sonoet and led the way to a rock that stood some meters away from his house. He sat on it and called for his senior wife instructing her to get him his special club made of ivory and various items including a rhino’s horn, locally known as torgochet, and a ram’s horn containing unknown oil.
He knelt and instructed arap Sonoet to hold the club facing the East with both hands. He then held the ram’s horn and scooped the oil using his right fingers and wrapped the oil on his left palm, then held the club, wrapped the club with his hands prayed while directing the club to the East. He then gave arap Sonoet the club and led the way to the house.
After taking heavy breakfast, arap Sitonik asked Sonoet to unpack the carton. He took four blankets and two bottles of whiskey and some of the money from the soldiers and told him to take them to Barserian arap Manyei, his cousin in Nandi. He told him to take the gifts and tell him that he, Sitonik has accepted the request of the soldiers to stop the war. He asked him to show the club as a confirmation that he has accepted.
Arap Sonoet told the officers who were accompanying him to wait for him for he had another mission in Nandi. He then set for Nandi where he was welcomed by arap Manyei.
The following morning, arap Manyei took Mr. Sonoet to the place where he used to pray. He told Mr. Sonoet to give him the club then spat on it and prayed. He then gave him back the club and asked him to go back to arap Sitonik and tell that he has wholeheartedly accepted the request to stop the war.
Upon his arrival at Mfangano, arap Sitonik together with arap Sonoet went to the outcropping rock. Arap Sitonik held the club and spat on it and prayed while facing the East. He then asked Sonoet how the soldiers were fighting. Arap Sonoet told him that some soldiers fought in the land, others in the sea while others on the air. Arap Sitonik instructed him that once in Burma, a brave black soldier should throw the club towards the direction of their adversary’s stronghold, and the war will stop after three days.
The following day, Sonoet was escorted to Nairobi where he took a flight to Burma. He was welcomed by the anxious soldiers. He gave them warm greetings from their loved ones. He also showed and explained to them what arap Sitonik had said. As the bravest and courageous, Sonoet was given the task of throwing the club.
A representative called the commander and briefed him on what was to be done. After consulting his superiors, the commanding officers gave them a green light. On 6th August 1945 at 8:00 am, Sonoet did what he was told to do.
World War II comes to an end
On the same morning at 8:15 am, American Lieutenant Paul Tibbets flying a bomber jet B-29 known as “Enola Gay” carrying a deadly atomic bomb that was never used before. He dropped the bomb at Hiroshima in Japan. The bombing led to the death of 6,800 people in an unprecedented massacre.
On the third day, August 9th another bomb was dropped at Nagasaki Japan killing over 30,000 people with great destruction. It was then that the Emperor of Japan Mr. Hirohito conceded defeat and instructed his soldiers to surrender thus bringing the war to an end.
The Nandi and Kipsigis held their hands on their shoulders, formed a circle, and sung the famous chemelilit. They were later joined by other African soldiers and even white soldiers. The song went;
Uren, uren ano kibaro ra,
Uren ketit nemi songoliet barak
Motomusmus olen tom kenam Japan,
Kagenam Japan Kolanda,
Operen cheranyisyek ab moindichu
Where, where are the tankers
They are parked at the flag post
Don’t doubt that we have conquered Japan
We have pushed Japan beyond the seas
Confirmed by the Indian sewing machines.
Additional information from the book, “The Kipsigis Talai by David Tuei”