Kapsisiywa or Nyagacho: Orkoik of Nandi, Kipsigis and Maasai have common ancestry

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Lion, totem for the Talai clan. Photo/Courtesy

The Talais are revered for blessing leaders to take up higher positions in the Kalenjin nation. The latest is the cultural ceremony performed on Dr William Ruto who was enthroned to be Kalenjin leader and given all the powers to run for presidency. In a much-contested similar enthronement, Gideon Moi has also been touted to take up Kalenjin leadership and seek the presidential seat. At the centre of all this is one clan: Talai. 

The Talais live at Kapsisiywa village in Nandi County, Nyagacho village in Kericho County and Loita Hills in Narok County.  The one in Narok is the Maasai Laibon clan.  

Although little is known about the Talai clan, research paints a vivid picture of a clan with a singular determination to keep their land free from colonial domination. The Talai, also known as Orkoik is one of the clans whose immediate origin is said to be Nandi from where they later moved to the Kipsigis land just before the advent of British colonialism in the early 1890s. Once in Kipsigis land, they assimilated into the Kipsigis social, economic, and political institutions.  

The Talai is a clan found within the vast Kipsigis and Nandi communities. History has it that the clan got its way to the Kipsigis land in the 19th century from Nandi country following the assassination of the Nandi supreme Orkoiyot called Kipnyolei arap Turugat due to a series of failed prophesies. His sons were led by Kipchomber arap Koilegen who was the eldest and went to Kipsigis land through Kap-Okiek. Upon arrival, arap Koilegen and his two brothers, Kipngetich arap Boisio and Kibuigut were accorded a warm welcome by the Kipsigis who had lived without Orkoiyot for a long time.

The origin of this clan has over the years remained obscure and different researchers have had different views and versions but one common thing holds true- the clan has its roots in Maasai land. 

However, according to the research done by Sialai, the origin of this clan can be traced beyond Maasai and he avers that they once lived among Rendile people and even among Galla and Oromo of Ethiopia who were later assimilated by Maasai in Laikipia.

Origin of the name Talai/Orkoiyot 

The name Talai originates from the local word “Tala” which translates to the quality of being docile, calm, and submissive. According to the ancestors, the clan acquired this name about the tame lion who took care of the two great ancestors of the clan- Kobogoi and Barsobotwo.

On the other hand, orkoiyot is derived from two Kalenjin words “Or” meaning path and kooi meaning long, literally long path. That means they used to see far, to foretell the future and to warn on the proper path to be taken. In essence, they were there to see things that others were not in a position to see. They were not men of war and that probably gave birth to the name Talai.

The sub-clans of the Talai  

Presently the Talai clan constitutes several sub-clans which include; Kapturgat, Kapsonet, Kapsogon, Kapchesang, Kap-tabole and Kap-mararsoi. Among these, are other hundreds of individuals who collectively refer to themselves as the Talai based on the fact that they all descend from a single branch of the great tree.

Ancestry of the Talai 

The Talai clan has their ancestry on the twin brothers named Kobogoi and Barsabotwo. According to history, the two boys were born probably in the 17th century. A woman who was a wife to one of the Maasai’s Laibon found her way to the Nandi country during a skirmish between Nandi and Maasai. The woman managed to escape with her two twins and settled in a cave near O’lessos. It is said that while staying in the cave, two lions came and took care of the family. This continued for several years until the time it dawned on the Nandi warriors that there was a woman with two boys living in the cave under the protection of two lions.

At one time, the boys noticed the Nandi warriors and they told their mother. Their mother warned them from getting close to the Nandi men. She narrated to them how their people were killed by the Nandi and how they escaped from the jaws of death. The message of the people living in the cave with lions spread throughout the village causing a lot of curiosity.

One time when the lions had gone hunting, Kobogoi due to his inquisitive nature, managed to sneak and mingle with the Nandi warriors. The warriors asked him why they are living in the cave and why the lions are protecting them. Kobogoi narrated to the warriors what their mother had told them. From then on, Kobogoi and the warriors became friends. He convinced his mother to allow them to mingle or rather live with the warriors on grounds that if the Nandi warriors were dangerous to their safety, lions would not have allowed them to communicate.

Kobogoi told the warriors that for the lions to allow them to go, the warriors were to bring some animals for the lions to feast on. This was done and Kobogoi communicated with the lions and eventually went with the Nandi. They were named Talai by the Nandi.

Major Draught 

A few years later, a major drought was experienced in the Nandi country. Rivers dried up hence cattle had to be taken to far places in search of water. While other boys were taking their cattle to the far ends of the Nandi land, Kobogoi was not taking his’ anywhere. It was later noticed that Kobogoi’s cattle were healthier than the rest even though he didn’t always take them to the river.

The elders instructed other boys to keep an eye on Kobogoi. It was reported that when it was time to drive cattle to the river, Kobogoi would remain behind and take his cattle to the dry valley. As usual, he would strike the ground using his stick. Instantly, water would start flowing. When the animals were satisfied with water, he would strike the ground and water would disappear mysteriously. The boy who was monitoring Kobogoi was shocked and surprised at the same time. The following day, an elder was sent to confirm the incident and indeed, nothing changed, Kobogoi repeated what he had considered as a norm.

Twins groomed for leadership

Without the slightest hesitation, the elders decided to prepare the two boys, most preferably Kobogoi to be a leader. The man who had married Kobogoi’s mother was asked to mention to Kobogoi what had been discovered of him and the decision of the elders on the same. As expected, Kobogoi denied the possession of the supernatural powers but after a series of persuasion, he obliged and even accepted to take up the task. The elders decided that the two boys should be circumcised then get married. It was done and the two boys were made the (Orkoik) leaders of the Nandi community.  That marked the beginning of the Orkoiyot leadership and also the beginning of the Talai clan.  

Despite the crucial role that this clan played in fighting for the country’s independence, the government has not recognized their efforts. It is one of the marginalized groups living in abject poverty. 

Information extracted from the book ‘The Kipsigis Talai’ by David Tuei, a Talai. 

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