Kalenjin people hunted for food and fun in the 20th century

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Mr. Johnstone Kositany of Chesoen {center} during an exclusive interview with Kalenjin historian Wesley Ngetich aka Olchore {Right} and Kiptoo Koech.

Before anti-hunting laws were put in place, Kalenjin men hunted as a hobby and as a source of food. However, there were so many things that were put into consideration before and while hunting as candidly narrated by a veteran hunter Mr. Johnstone Kositany of Chesoen village, Narok County during an exclusive interview with Kalenjin historian Wesley Ngetich aka Olchore and Kiptoo Koech.  

When did you start hunting?

I started hunting in 1970 and continued till the forest diminished and that probably forced wild animals to migrate elsewhere.

In those days, hunting was the only option for those who didn’t have cattle. Hunting, however, was their only way of feeding their families lest their children could end up eating a kind of black nightshade which was sour and bitter. 

While hunting, we could assign everyone a place, sharpshooters were told to wait somewhere as others go chasing the animal in their direction. The leader organized his people based on where the animal would pass.

Besides, we had signals on when the animal comes and the sharpshooters would know when to ambush. When hit, the sharpshooter would again signal and the entire team would know that someone had killed it. Then a stick would be used and not a finger to show the blood which was referred to as water while following the animal that had been injured.

On finding it, there was a special way of slaughtering the prey. It would be skinned from behind and the skin would be used to cover the eyes and an arrow would be driven into the skin while chanting some terms to bless the coming days hunting.

So the hide was not important?

It was used to cover the meat after slaughtering. The person who killed the animal would take a special part of the meat like the steak and most of the meat removed from the ribs.

The person who signaled the killing?

Yes, the one who hit the prey first.

The meat would be removed from bones for the person who killed it to take?

Yes, the one who killed would take what was considered as a good part. The entire team would take the rest. They would not complain about the killer’s share since they knew that even when they are allowed to aim, they would not kill.

So they would take the bones?

Yes, it was their part. The one who killed the animal would give them the bones after taking the steak meat. He would also give parts of the stomach which some people would eat raw with blood from the heart

Did they eat them raw?

Yes, some hunters used to eat raw meat, the others would share other parts

So in short, the one who killed the prey would take a larger portion?

Yes, in fact, larger than the remaining portion for sharing among the other hunters. 

What do we call the meat taken raw?

They consisted mainly of the intestines. 

Was there a special name?

No, just intestines. 

What is “Sereriik”?

I only know of the white intestines. Though we had special meat called ‘aita’ which was given to the person whom you have been quarreling with, if he was not there, then you would send someone to deliver to his home.

So, was the one aiming at the same person or sometimes it could change?

No, even the community knew the sharpshooters and they were chosen depending on who they were going hunting with.

However, sometimes during hunting, a leopard would appear, so there was a special signal for that and those aiming would be quiet till the leopard passes for some few meters before hitting them from behind since if you hitting it from front poses danger.  

So if you didn’t respond they would leave you?

They won’t recognize you, as long as you do not wear clothes with loud colours.

But we were told when you see a leopard, do not look into his eyes, what would happen if eye contact occurred? 

The leopard would attack you.

So you said this is a special arrow for hunting, what do you call it?

It is called ‘chelebelyet’ (wider), we also have two other types including the one with feather-like ends used in wars.

So you could also carry that when hunting for safety?

No, that is so slim, the one for hunting is wider and sharp to kill the animal first.

During your time as a hunter, did you meet a dangerous animal?

No, but when I came across hyenas, leopards and others, I would not spare them

From the stories you have heard, how would you run away from a Buffalo?

It is a tough situation; you had to run and climb a tree on the opposite side and make sure you hold firmly since it would hit the tree hard that you could fall.

Let me take you back a little bit, there were special people for aiming, what were you doing?

I was among those special groups, I remember one day we aimed at a gazelle with a friend and it happened that his arrow hit first but mine too did not miss, we had to share the meat.

Again, when aiming, you would not breathe, so you had to take a deep breath and wait, then you would not pull your bow, because it could break since when the animal approached you would also pull again. So you would wait for the pull and release and you would make a good kill.

So how many types of hunting were there?

Three, Torok was for Buffaloes, I never knew about Ng’ororoni can’t remember now.

What about laying traps?

Laying traps had rules. When you get someone’s trap with an animal, you would slaughter the animal then take part of the meat and leave the other on the tree right there or go find the owner who should slaughter and give you part of the meat.

Have you ever heard of someone who went against the rules? What happened?

No, in the past, people followed rules to the letter though maybe some would break. Something would happen in return.

What special tree was used for these items?

The bow was made of kuryot. The bow for hunting was long in contrast with the one for fighting which was short since you could go hide in the bushes at times.

But sometimes you could use this to fight when you did not have a choice?

Yes, it  dipended largely on one’s skills. Though, when fighting, if you had four arrows, you only used two and spare two.

Kipsigis believed that those hunting could not do farming, was it true?

Yes, you could not get time to do farming but hunting had a time limit, you would leave it at some point.

During your time as a hunter, were you doing any other business?

From 1970, I used to sell skin to elders who were making seats, they were using the gazelle skin and they came looking for me and gave me Ksh5. By 1980, the forest had diminished and wild animals reduced in number. 

When did you make this bow?

A man called Cheruiyot made it for me after paying him Ksh 2. 

Was there bird hunting too?

No, bird hunting was mainly practiced by children.

Were you hunting animals for human consumption only?

Yes, we hunted animals which could be eaten, for instance, the gazelles, Dik-dik among others.

What about hare?

Most people were not hunting hare nor Dik-dik since they believed that dik-dik ate corpses.

Does that mean some animals were not allowed to be killed?

No, people did not want some animals but could hunt any.

Some people used to aim at trees, why?

Sometimes you could go hunting but unfortunately, you got no animal, while returning, you would say let us aim at something to see who could have killed the animal and that is how that happened.

Were their people who were taken out for a ride?

Yeah, some people had no lack and were not allowed to go hunting. So hunters used to go without telling them.

Were their people who would go hunting by themselves?

No, at least two people could go hunting and not one, we used to go hunting after it had rained since the animals would go grazing. Our dogs were also trained, when you aimed with your arrow, they would be alert and immediately you released it, they ran after it. When they catch the animal, they would not let it go. They knew they had to follow the hunters’ instructions.

Were there unlucky dogs?

No, all were trained and they could go hunting and when the gazelle appeared, they would chase till they catch it.

Which incident do you remember during hunting?

I remember a big gazelle that I killed here at home. I was asked to go round a small forest at home, I saw a gazelle and asked them to help but I aimed and killed it.

Is it true that when an animal entered your house you would not kill it and did you experience the same in your hunting career?

Yes, it is true, it was an abomination to kill an animal that had sought refuge in one’s house until it was released in the evening, anyone could kill it then. One day we followed a gazelle till it entered someone’s house, they closed the house and told us no one would kill it. It was believed that the animal brought blessings to the family, the number of sheep would increase in that house.

Did you meet lions in your career?

No, I never met a lion, there were lions but by the time I started hunting, they had gone. When a lion roared, trees shook, when hunting lions, one could not make noise, because it would come to where you are.  

 Was there a sign of calling or alerting other hunters?

Yes, we made a noise like Huh! Huh! And the other responded that way, there were no calling names.

Why did Kipsigis did not want people imitating animals or calling their names at night?

Many believed that when called, they could appear especially the Elephants.

Is it true that when you speak to the elephant it understands? For example when it enters a farm then you ask it to spare some for the children. 

Not really, like when it is angry and hungry, it will eat all.

So, what do you call parts of the arrow?

The tip is ‘Chelebeliet’ (wide) and the holder stick is called chebiririat (the force) while the end is called kapsakwet (gap) where the string fits. The rope used to attach is called meltet is part of an animal’s body.

There were arrows that when used, you would not miss the target. We had many but at least one was dedicated.

Could one borrow the arrows?

No, but in case, you would, not give to careless people.

Does a bow have names of its parts?

It has the lower and upper sides depending on how it was made.

We have not talked about the sword, does it have names of its parts?

It was only used to slaughter animals but you could not throw it at the animals. It was just a knife any like any other. We had a long one too.

What do you tell people who still go hunting?

Before, we used to go hunting because we were not farmers. Today, we can grow crops. So let us invest in farming.

Where did you get these arrows?

I bought them in Dikirr. I am a typical Kipsigis man of Kipsamaek clan.

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