Named after a white stone, Koitalel arap Samoei as he was fondly known, was the last-born son of the great Nandi Orgoiyot Kipnyolei arap Turugat. He was born in a place called Samitu in Aldai in 1860.
Right from his early years, Koitalel was destined for greatness. Just after his birth, some of his stepmothers denigrated him as an illegitimate son but his father silenced them. To verify his paternity, he ordered the toddler to be placed at the entrance to his homestead as the cows were trooping home in the evening saying if he was spared, he belonged to him and he will undoubtedly inherit his title as the spiritual leader of the Nandi. The young Koitalel was not trampled upon by cattle and he inherited his father.
Albeit being the youngest among the many sons of arap Turugat, Koitalel was closely attached to his father. His understanding and interpretation of prophetic signs and messages was unmatched and that probably bonded the relationship between him and his revered father. His father is said to have foreseen Koitalel’s demise. History has it that he once summoned his sons and asked them to consult and interpret whatever they were seeing in the pot that was full of a traditional brew called busaa.
Samoei upon gazing at the pot and noticing the heavily armed white men killing black people, was angered. He is said to have seized his sword and said “I am seeing white men killing our people”. Arap Turugat got irritated since he had instructed them to just watch the pot silently and carefully. Out of anger, he said “barin biik che lelach” which means; may the white people kill you and he was finally killed by Richard Meinertzhagen.
After the death of his father, Koitalel was made the Nandi Orgoiyot in 1890. Koitalel took over the reign and reorganized his troops into a formidable force that instantly and constantly disrupted builders as they laid the railway line across the Nandi land.
On April 5, 1902, Koitalel’s men raided Kibigori Railway Station prompting the then Deputy Commissioner Hobley to order them to surrender 300 cows as a punishment lest they face military action. Instead, the defiant Koitalel intensified attacks and even raided the railway in broad daylight.
The irritated government organized an estimated 2000 soldiers in an expedition against Nandi who were armed with spears, shields and poisoned arrows. The British raided the community killing approximately 100 Nandi Soldiers and confiscating 4,800 cows but Koitalel’s force held on forcing the British to call for reinforcement. On September 26, 1905, the cowardly British Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen instigated another military operation against the Nandi. Meinertzhagen later tricked Koitalel by calling for a truce.
Having his father’s words ringing in his mind, Koitalel told the British colonel to be in the meeting in the company of only five companions to meet him at Ketbarak, presently Nandi Bears Club. On the other hand, Samoei was to go with five foretellers. Contrary to the agreement, history has it that Meinertzhagen marched to the place accompanied by more than 80 armed soldiers he instructed to hide in the nearby bushes and stay alert to counter any fierce response.
On October 19, 1905, when Koitalel attended the meeting Meinertzhagen instantly shot him on arrival alongside his 23 closest aides. Known for his psychopathic tendencies, the gruesome murder of an unarmed man troubled Colonel Meinertzhagen. “My drastic action in this occasion haunted me for many years,” he wrote in Kenyan diary 1902-1906.
Samoei was succeeded by his brother, Kipeles arap Tamasun for a short period before Samoei’s son Barsirian arap Manyei who was born in 1882 took over. Barsirian took over the reputable position as the Nandi Orgoiyot from 1919 to 1922 when he was detained by the colonial rulers. He was later released in 1964 thus making him the longest-serving colonial prisoner in Kenyan history.
In memory of the Koitalel’s legacy, gallantry and sacrifice towards Kenya’s independence, the government has put up a Mausoleum in Nandi Hills, Nandi County. Koitalel Samoei University has also been established at the same location.
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