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Three Nandi warriors, date unknown
The Nandi is a Kenyanmarker ethnic group or tribe living in the highland areas of the Nandi Hills in Rift Valley Provincemarker; they form a sub-group of the Kalenjin. Before British colonization, they were sedentary cattle-herders, sometimes also practicing agriculture; their settlements were more or less evenly distributed rather than being grouped into villages. Like other Nilotic peoples, they were noted warriors. They traditionally practice circumcision of both sexes as a rite of initiation into adulthood. Boys' circumcision festivals took place about every 7 and a half years, and boys circumcised at the same time are considered to belong to the same age set; like other Nilotic groups, these age sets (called ibinda, pl. ibinweek) were given names from a limited fixed cycle. Each age set is further subdivided into a subset (siritieet, pl. siritoiik). About four years after this festival, the previous generation officially handed over defense of the country to the newly circumcised youths. Girls' circumcision, excising the clitoris, took place in preparation for marriage. They traditionally worship a supreme deity, Asis (literally "Sun"), as well as venerating the spirits of ancestors. They were divided into a variety of clans, each with a particular "totem" animal which its members could not eat. Their land is divided into six "counties" (emet): Wareng in the north, Mosop in the east, Soiin/Pelkut in the south, Aldai and Chesumei in the west, and Em-gwen in the center. The Orkoiyot, or medicine man, was traditionally acknowledged as an overall leader. The Orgoiyot led not only in spiritual matters but also during wars, as evidenced during the war between the British colonials building the railway and the Nandi warriors. The leader at the time was Koitalel Arap Samoei who was killed by Richard Meinertzhagen, a British soldier. In precolonial times, they also enjoyed a fearsome reputation as fighters; Arab slave-traders and ivory-traders took care to avoid the area, and the few that dared attempt to traverse it were killed.

Female-female marriages within the Nandi culture have been reported, although it is unclear if they are still practiced. The female-female marriages are a socially approved way for a woman to take over the social and economic roles of a husband and father. They were allowed only in cases where a woman either had no children of her own, had daughters only (one of them could be 'retained' at home) or her daughter(s) married off. The system was practised 'to keep the fire', literally meaning to sustain the family name. A woman who married had to undergo an 'inversion' ceremony to 'change' into a man. Henceforth she was allowed to attend the most private male circumcision ceremonies. However, only about three percent of the marriages are female-female. Such marriages seem to solve the problem of traditional marriage failure. Their solution is to have the woman, even if her husband is still alive, become a "husband" to a younger female and a "father" to the younger woman's children. The female husband is to provide marriage payments to obtain her wife. She must renounce her female duties such as housework and take on the obligations of a husband. No sexual relations are permitted between the female husband and her new wife (nor between the female husband and her old husband). The female husband will arrange a male consort for the new wife so she will be able to bear children. Those children consider the female husband to be their father, not the biological father, because she (or more aptly the gender role "he") is the socially designated father. If the child is asked who their father is the child will name the female husband.

See also


  • A. C. Hollis. The Nandi: Their Language and Folklore. Clarendon Press: Oxford 1909.

  • Ember and Ember. Cultural Anthropology. Pearson Prentice Hall Press: New Jersey 2007.

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