Robert E. Daniels
A paper presented at the 25th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association,
November 7, 1982, Washington, D.C.
An earlier re-examination of the old controversy over Kipsigis and Nandi age-set transitions (Daniels 1976) raised issues of general significance concerning pre-colonial and current social processes among the Kalenjin. The list of colonial 'tribes' does not represent a series of equivalent, bounded polities; a critical question for determining larger Kalenjin social entities is the extent to which local groups coordinated their actions concerning the major institution of large-scale integration, the system of cyclical age-sets or ibinwek. The literature indicates that among the main groups four have retained eight age-sets while three have dropped one out to make a cycle of seven. Nonetheless the central groups were all reported to have initiated the same age-set in the first decade of this century while the outlying groups were one, or at most two, steps out of phase. Such synchronization suggests that most or all Kalenjin groups constituted not merely an ethnolinguistic category but a single information-sharing social system, obscured by the colonial categorizations which still hinder anthropological studies. Greater coordination among researchers is required, as well as greater comparability in future data collection.

Introductory Remarks

In the past I have found Kalenjin studies to be both an arcane and obscure pursuit. Very few people in the United States, even among my professional colleagues, recognize the name Kalenjin (or Kipsigis, or Nandi, etc.). Yet a few minutes spent with a shelf of introductory textbooks in anthropology will demonstrate that the cyclical age-set system which characterizes the Kalenjin is as much of an old chestnut in the texts as is the potlatch or the kula ring. Unlike them, however, the age-set system did not inspire extensive re-analyses, and is presented to the unwary as if there were no gaps or problems in our understanding of what it is and how it works.

A few years ago I wrote a paper concerning an age-set transition that started during my fieldwork among the Kipsigis. I was forced to plunge into the old and fragmentary debate between Hollis and Huntingford, writing on the Nandi, and Orchardson and Peristiany, writing on the Kipsigis. In that paper I argued that Huntingford's analysis of the process of age-set transitions among the Nandi could not account for what happened among the Kipsigis. The central problem, it seemed to me, was to describe how transitions were coordinated among tens of thousands of people in the absence of centralized authority. My explanation was based on a network model of Kipsigis social organization developed inductively from genealogical and census data. Likening this information processing net to a neuron system, I suggested that when, and only when, social pressures for declaring an age-set transition reached a threshold in a large number of local areas, a decision to do so in a few communities anywhere in the society could trigger a "convulsive" change across the whole network.

I mention all this here for three reasons. First, although my title was quite explicit, the paper was placed in a session at the AAA meetings otherwise devoted to squatter settlements. Secondly, the revised version was subsequently rejected by a journal whose reader apparently missed the main thrust of my argument. Thirdly, my subsequent re-revisions led me into gleaning as much as I could about age-sets in other Kalenjin groups, and thus the question of just how extensive the network of intercommunication and coordination was between them.

During all this I must admit I wondered if I were the only person who saw any interest in the question of the extent to which the various Kalenjin-speaking groups structured and co-ordinated their age-set systems and the implications this held for revising our understanding of indigenous social entities beyond the colonially crystallized 'tribes'. Then, last March, as a result of contacts made preliminary to this session, I received a xerox from Mari Clark of a xerox Gina Oboler had given her of a mimeographed paper Peter Rigby had presented at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1975, which raised this very issue. Far from having a definitive answer, I offer what follows in the hope that it will benefit from the new level of collaboration in Kalenjin studies being born at this meeting.

Calendric and Structural Time

It is now 30 years since Bernardi published his review of "The Age-System of the Nilo-Hamitic Peoples" (1952). Of the many well-reasoned statements in this excellent work I am attracted to two which still have great relevance: first that "this literature is extremely uneven and not seldom confusing" (p. 316), and second that "it is not out of place to note that our method of time-reckoning is alien to Nilo-Hamitic culture" (p.320).

Correlating two methods of time-reckoning is, of course, central to my method. Yet my main problem with the literature hinges on how this has been handled in the past. Much of the early anthropological interest in Kalenjin age-sets lay in the fact that they serve as the primary temporal reference for oral history. The sequence of set names (and in some groups sub-set names) established the order of significant past events. If, beyond this rather straightforward task, ethnographers could establish the periodicity of age-sets, then, it seemed, events in the pre-colonial past could be related to calendric dates in the western system of chronology. This goal was most clearly stated by Huntingford (1953a:54fn) and is central to his first publication on the subject (1927) in which he extrapolated the age-set cycle back three cycles to a postulated date of 1551 A.D., but can also be recognized in the earlier work of Hollis (1909) and that of several others who followed.

While seemingly reasonable, this approach rested on a number of improbable assumptions: i.e. that the duration of individual age-sets was approximately equal, or in other words that the periodicity of age-set transitions was regular, that the transitions themselves were clearcut and occurred more or less simultaneously at least within any given "tribe", and that not only the content and structure of the age-set system but also the forces which were responsible for its operation were not subject to change. In hindsight one can see that what started out as a reasonable approach deflected inquiry away from a number of empirical questions which are critical but can only be answered with a great deal of research and a willingness to wrestle with the highly variable, negotiable, and unbounded nature of Kalenjin social organization in favor of formalistic analysis which, however cumbersome and misleading it may be for capturing Kalenjin social processes, is more compatible with the linear prose, discrete distinctions, and hierarchical logic of western discourse. I call this latter orientation, which I will use as a foil for my own argument, the "clockwork" view of age-sets.


In this paper I will consider only the major Kalenjin groups: the Sebei/Sabaot, the Kipsigis and Nandi, the Keiyo, Marakwet, Tugen, and Pokot. The unevenness of the data concerning age-sets will, no doubt, be reflected in my analysis. I have not, for example, found sufficient data to say anything of significance concerning the various Okiek groups.

If there were ever a situation in which anthropologists might legitimately use the term tribe, it would seem to be East Africa in 1900. But I do not wish to defend that term; I would prefer, as I presume we all would, to escape it forever. The reason it was easy for me to list the major Kalenjin groups just now is that I cheated - I gave you, not indigenous reality, but the roster of colonially recognized "tribes". Aidan Southall has written quite eloquently on the "illusion of tribe" created in the colonial period (1970). But the problem in describing the Kalenjin is that some of the groupings are less illusions than others.

Let us start with the people who ring Mount Elgon. They recognize six main segments: the Sabiny, Mbai, and Sor, now in Uganda and collectively called the Sebei, and on the Kenyan side, the Bok, 'om, and Kony. In Kenya these groups, who were disrupted by relocation in the colonial period, are now labelled the Sabaot.

The pre-colonial unity of these segments is unclear. I have yet to find a reference indicating that the various Sebei or Sabaot fought each other, though Goldschmidt mentions "mutual distrust and prejudice" between at least two segments (1976:63). On the other hand I have found no evidence that they ever acted as a single polity.

At a finer level of analysis there are tantalizing indications of cultural heterogeneity. For example, Goldschmidt mentions the descendents of a small group of Bantu-speaking Bagwere who

are now called Bumachek; they retain Bagwere as their domestic language but all speak Sebei and regard themselves as Sebei. They have adopted many Sebei customs and are much intermarried with Sebei, yet are culturally distinctive (1976:22).

In my experience the more detail one learns about each Kalenjin group the more such examples of complex ethnicity emerge.

While I presume that all of the Sebei/Sabaot segments have been in intimate contact with each other since time immemorial, the data are insufficient to assess the extent to which they coordinated their affairs, particularly for the matter at hand, the age-set system.

The Kipsigis and Nandi were the most populous of the Kalenjin groups in the proto-colonial era, and apparently the most integrated or unified as well. This situation appears to be related clearly to the size and coherent terrain of the land they controlled.

While the Kipsigis recognize three main territorially defined segments, these distinctions do not seem to be nearly as salient as they are among the Sebei or other groups, and unlike the situation in other groups,the pororiet is not a significant feature of Kipsigis organization. While the people of the southern section, the Sotik, appeared in earlier colonial records as a separate tribe, and while there are dialect differences (to subtle for me to catch) between areas within Kipsigisland, there is no question that the Kipsigis had a strong sense of unity before colonialism. In the late nineteenth century there were major campaigns that combined many hundred men from Sot and other areas. In both internal affairs and military operations the Kipsigis were clearly one polity - if that word can be used for a society which did not have centralized leadership and in which events which mobilized more than a local area were uncommon.

People have always moved back and forth between their adjacent highlands Kipsigis and Nandi, intermarried, and jointly initiated their children. The Kipsigis and Nandi recognize one jural community between them and speak of each other as "us" and "our people." Being in close proximity only to the Nandi among the Kalenjin, and having this 'special relationship' with them, the Kipsigis never fought others of their language. But in this they were unique. The Nandi conducted raids against the people of Mount Elgon as well as against the Keiyo and Marakwet.

The Nandi also appear to have been highly integrated, at least during the second half of the nineteenth century. The Terik offshoot, with whom there were occasional hostilities, suggests more segmentation at an earlier date, while the concerted resistence to the British, focused around the orgoiik of Maasai descent, reveals a potential for unified action perhaps not found in other Kalenjin groups. Such judgments are highly speculative, of course, given the particulars of history, but I do not think it is wrong to say that at the start of this century the Kipsigis and Nandi differed from other Kalenjin groups in their level of large scale social integration.

When one turns to the people living along the Elgeyo escarpment, the Keiyo and Marakwet, the existence of a precolonial "tribal" entity becomes highly problematic. Here a number of local segments are strung along a narrow strip of fertile highlands. The District Officer of Elgeyo, speaking in 1932, described the situation as follows:

Linguistically, it is interesting to note that at the south end of Elgeyo is spoken a dialect closely related to [Tugen], the next group of locations to the north speak one which has a closer affinity with Nandi, then there comes a block which may be said to speak pure Elgeyo, then one small location in the valley speaks something which is neither Elgeyo nor Marakwet, but partakes of both, then comes the main Marakwet locations which all speak a dialect which bridges the gap between Marakwet and [Pokot]. Cherangani people speak, as might be expected, a dialect which is closely related to the [Okiek] tongue, less closely connected with the language of the [Pokot] than that spoken by cave-dwellers of Mount Elgon [i.e. Sabaot]. All are mutually comprehensive [sic] but any native of the district can tell whence came his interlocutor, once the latter has opened his mouth (Kenya Land Commission 1933:1954).

Nor should we forget how Benjamin Kipkorir opens his description of his own society:

There are no such people as the "Marakwet." The word is a corruption of Markweta -- a sub-tribe of the who, along with the Almo, Cherang'any (or Sengwer), Endo, and Kiptani, were formed by the British into the Marakwet Division of the Elgeyo-Marakwet District (1973:1).

Concerning pre-colonial unity Kipkorir states that:

The Marakwet rarely fought wars as a territorial group. Neighbouring groups might join together for war without the assistance of other parts of the tribe; and the clans of Endo very often fought the Marakweta. Nevertheless, the Pokot in the north and the Tugen (Baringo) in the east were traditional enemies of the Marakwet peoples. On at least two occasions towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Chepg'al [Chepng'al] (as Marakwet called the Nandi) raided both the Endo and Talai clan near Kapsowar in Marakweta. As a result of the latter raids, nearly all the Marakweta, Almo and Kiptani seem to have joined a common battle formation. The Endo and Cherang'any were probably too far from the scene to become involved (1973:35).

I regret that I do not know enough about the Tugen and Pokot to discuss the degree of their cohesion except to comment that significant regional variation is mentioned for both groups, particularly on the question of the timing of male initiations and thus the chronology of age-sets. At the interface of Pokot and Turkana circumcision is optional.

Thus I turn to the available information on age-sets with the uneasy knowledge that the social entities to which it refers have been characterized too crudely to allow more than an inkling of the social dynamics behind the "facts."


The first question is whether or not the same age-sets are recognized among the various Kalenjin groups. The handout (Appendix 1) lists 24 versions of the age-set names reported for the seven major groups. Obviously there is a "basic cycle" of eight names. These are, if you will tolerate my attempt at their Kipsigis pronunciations, Maina, Chumo, Sawe, Korongoro, Kipkoimet, Kablelach, Kimnyige, and Nyongi.

There are three major deviations from this standard list which need comment. The first is a simple matter of substitution:

  • Concerning the Pokot there was some confusion in the early accounts about the number of sets1, but the best source on this group, Peristiany (1951b), stated unequivocably that there are eight.2 The only significant difference from the basic list, for the Pokot, is the substitution of the name Merkutwa for Kimnyige. Presumably Kalenjin neighbors of the Pokot recognize the identity of these two terms, though I'm not aware that this has been reported in the literature.

The other two deviations from the basic cycle are more fundamental, for they involve a reduction in the number of age-sets from eight to seven:

  • For the Tugen it is reported by both Ott (1979) and the Kettels (D. Kettel 1972, B. Kettel 1980) that there are seven sets, with Maina absent from the basic cycle.3 I am not aware of an explanation for, or an attempt to date this deletion.
  • Among the Kipsigis and Nandi, there are also seven sets, but while Maina has been retained, either Korongoro or Kipkoimet has been dropped. The Nandi versions of age-sets were first described by Hollis and were a major interest of G. W. B. Huntingford, whose publications date from 1927 to at least 1976. It is an artifact of the chronology of Kalenjin ethnography, one which I consider unfortunate, that the Nandi seven-set cycle thus become regarded rather widely as architypical rather than being recognized early on as a variant of the basic system common to most Kalenjin groups.

The absence of one set in the cycle raises both minor and major problems. Of less importance is the question which has been given more attention: the determination of which set among the Nandi and Kipsigis had been deleted.4

As it happened, the two age-sets in question, Kipkoimet and Korongoro, were also those in eclipse (i.e. with few or no living members) during the middle part of this century and this lack of direct evidence probably allowed the continued impression that a substitution of names rather than a deletion of a whole age-set had occurred.

There is, however, a larger question raised by the absence of an eight set (be it Kipkoimet or Korongoro) among the Nandi-Kipsigis, and by the absence of Maina among the Tugen. Put simply, have these two seven-set cycles moved out of phase with the eight-set systems of the other Kalenjin groups? If, on the other hand, however counter it may be to mathematical logic, some degree of coordination has been maintained among these different cycles, how has this been achieved? As far as I know these questions have not been previously addressed.

This oversight cannot be explained away by a paucity of data. One reads in Huntingford's survey of the Southern Nilo-Hamites that among the Tugen "the dates of the circumcision periods appear to coincide with those in Nandi" (1953b:77), yet no explanation is given of how this is possible. That Huntingford failed to realize the depth of the problem is even clearer when turning to the Keiyo, for whom much fuller data were available. While he noted that "the names of eight age-sets (ipinda) are given by Massam" Huntingford went on to say that "the eighth set [Massam] names is Korongoro, which, it is suggested, is merely an old name for one of the other sets, as in Nandi" (1953b:73, emphasis added). Huntingford thus omitted Korongoro from Massam's list and concluded that "the periods more or less coincide with those of the Nandi, and that the order of the Keyo sets in 1925 was the same as in Nandi" (1953b:72). Firm in his understanding of the dynamics of age-sets among the Nandi, he did not, to my knowledge, pursue the problems of coordination further.

It is not my purpose here to knock the most prolific ethnographer of the Kalenjin. The moral of the story so far is that we must develop a more comparative, less "Nandi-centric" perspective concerning age-sets and, I presume, many other aspects of Kalenjin culture.


Having just said that, I now turn to the question of how the system proceeded from one set to another, i.e. the dynamics of transitions, and am forced to admit that most of the information comes from the Nandi and Kipsigis.

Prior to the colonial period the transition process was marked by a series of mass ceremonies called "the slaughter of a bull" (saget ap eito among the Kipsigis and Nandi and Sakobei among the Keiyo).5

Huntingford engaged in a debate with Orchardson and Peristiany concerning the factors which precipitated the convening of these ceremonies, but since neither the Kipsigis nor the Nandi had held one since the start of colonial control, the controversy was left unresolved. For reasons I cannot explain, these ethnographers did not make analytical use of the account published by Massam in 1927 of the Sakobei celebrations which started among the Keiyo in 1925.6

The primary purpose of the saget ap eito according to Hollis was "handing over the country from one age to another" (1909/1969:12). This is echoed by many later writers despite the fact that it suggests a form of authority that does not fit with our understanding of the political process among the Kalenjin (see especially Bernardi 1952:327). Orchardson, whom I find by far the most subtle in his grasp of indigenous Kalenjin society, flatly denies Hollis's idea and states that the saget ap eito was "rather for determining public exogamy of generation" since a man cannot marry the daughter of an age-mate (1961:4). Orchardson also notes, in a passage that raises profound problems both for the "clockwork" view of age-sets and my own attempts at dating that

The saget ap eito used to take place at any time during the latter part of a generation. It was not necessary for the age set to be completed, so that men who had been through initiation and boys who had yet to go through attended (1961:13-14).

The question of age-set exogamy leads directly to the question of the number of sub-sets in each set. Generally three are reported; in most Kalenjin groups the same names appear in each set but unique nicknames are given to all sub-sets among the Kipsigis and to junior sub-sets among the Sebei (Goldschmidt 1976:106). Huntingford claimed that there used to be an open period of four years in each age-set, and that there were thus four sub-sets each initiated in a single year, but

[n]owadays, when warfare is no longer possible, the two junior mostinwek [sub-sets] are combined....and the number....has come to be regarded as three instead of four (1953a:59).

I find Huntingford's ideas about such regularly spaced open and closed periods incompatible with most other sources. A far more accurate description of the situation, at least as I understand it among the Kipsigis, was given by Orchardson who wrote that there were three major sub-sets and one minor sub-set in a marginal position between sets, and that

"difficulties [concerning age-set exogamy] arise at times regarding contiguous groups of two age sets, but special rules are made in these cases (1961:13).

Men initiated around the time of the transition have the later option of declaring which age-set they identify with. I have heard men argue about whether a particular minor sub-set is the last of one set or the first of the next, and the ethnographers of the Kipsigis are divided about where to place such minor sub-sets. In one case I know, a man in the marginal Chumo/Sawe sub-set defined himself as Sawe in order to marry the daughter of a senior member of Chumo. These are decisions made by individuals in particular local situations; there is no way to standardize these decisions.

The extent to which centralized decisison-making may have regulated age-sets is the major issue I would raise concerning Huntingford's analysis. He attributed a highly regular periodicity to two causes: plants and prophets.

According to Huntingford the opening of a period of circumcision "is fixed by the flowering of a bush called Setiot (Mimulopsis sp.)", a plant found in adjacent forest zones which blossoms spectacularly every seven or eight years (1953a:62). All precedings were organized in terms of 24 military/territorial units called pororosiek. When the setiot flowering had been observed, representatives from each area made offerings to the leading orgoiyot, or prophet, and sought his sanction to open the next round of circumcision ceremonies. Approval was announced by a further ceremony held separately in each area. Initiations were held for four years, then closed for several years. Three or four years after the next flowering of setiot, which occurred during the closed period, the saget ap eito ceremony came due, and with the second subsequent flowering the initiations were opened for the next age-set.

Orchardson denies flatly that setiot flowerings regulate Kipsigis initiations. Instead he states that the association is that "ceremonies must not take place in the second year after the flowering" (1961:12) when it is feared that initiates might share the frailty of the new seedlings. Peristiany gives substantially the same information (1939:7). One of my informants, born before 1880, gave a similar explanation that initiations could not be held when the red flowers appeared for fear the initiates would hemorrhage, and Goldschmidt (1976:104) likewise reports that it was only when the plant was in flower (every five to seven years) that initiations could not be held. From everything else reported about scheduling important social events among the Kalenjin, I think it is clear that setiot flowerings were one of no doubt many omens considered and in no sense should be seen as "a botanical clock."

Concerning the other key feature of Huntingford's account, the centralizing role played by the orgoiik, or prophets, in decision making, I will only comment that on the one hand, as Rigby has pointed out (1975), Huntingford seems to slight the data on those orgoiik not said to be descended from the Maasai in groups other than the Nandi7, while on the other hand among the Kipsigis the descendents of Maasai-Nandi orgoiik never gained the same legitimacy or centralizing social power. Indeed it is hard to understand how Huntingford's explanation of the role of this line of orgoiik could account for Nandi initiations held before 1860 or after 1923.

Finally let me mention one other problem among several that I see in previous understandings of age-set dynamics: the relative positions of fathers and sons in the age-set sequence. The dynamics of these relationships correctly play a key part in Peristiany's account of the local decision-making process regarding transitions (1939:30ff), but I find his discussion of these negotiations incomplete and inconsistent.

Massam, Huntingford, Peristiany and several others refer to the members of an age-set as the sons of the set two senior to them. In a manner of speaking (used by the Kalenjin), they are. But it is a serious error to take this folk usage of "fathers" and "sons" literally in order to analyze age-set dynamics. Although several sources report that a boy should not be initiated into the age-set immediately following his father's, I think it is similarly an error to elevate this to a formal rule (for example Steward 1977:103).

Due to polygyny and alternate forms of marriage, fathers and sons frequently are not separated by a span of 25 or 30 years. If each man addressed the contemporaries of his own father as "fathers" the result would be nonsense. That, I think, is precisely the point of the folk usage. For 124 pairs of fathers and sons in my genealogical tables, the number of age-set intervals are distributed as follows: one interval (i.e. adjacent sets) 13 cases, two intervals 54 cases, three intervals 40 cases, four intervals 16 cases, and five intervals 1 case. The 'typical' two interval span is thus found in less than half the cases.8

To summarize, the scheduling of regional transition ceremonies was partially independent of various local decisions about when to hold initiations, age-sets thus could not be closed all at once but only over a period of time, the minor, marginal sub-sets provided, I would argue, the necessary leeway for establishing concensus about age-set transitions across a large number of communities, this concensus was often reached ex post facto, and, paradoxical as it may sound, these sorts of ambiguity and flexibility, far from being "noise" in the system, are necessary features for the achievement of a rough synchronization of age-sets in the absence of centralized decision-making.


The next question on my list has to do with the spatial organization of age-set behavior. At least among the Kipsigis male initiations are highly local events involving a small number of boys drawn from one or a few adjacent primary communities (kokwet, kokwotinwek), and that at times a few such sets of initiates may be circumcised together before being divided into separate seclusion groups. At the end of the paper I will suggest the outer limits, geographically, of age-set coordination. But about the middle range, the areas which drew people together for collective celebrations of transition ceremonies, the sources are either vague, refer to ill-defined areas now bearing government location names, or remain totally silent. The bitter truth is that we know very little indeed about the intermediate levels of Kalenjin organization. I therefore prefer to use Bernardi's term, "the minor territorial unit" (1952:325) simply because it is a cypher calling out for further research, rather than using a Kalenjin term which might lead us to presume that we know what we are talking about.


In trying to relate the age-set cycle in the various groups to calendric dates I have often felt that I was working with a handful of pieces from more than one thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. To simplify the problem, I will discuss the data as they relate not to the whole cycle, but to the dating of just one age-set whose name appears in each group. I have chosen to focus upon Nyongi which was, among the Kipsigis at least, the first age-set initiated in the colonial period. My intention is, of course, to refer those few calendric references we have (almost all of which come in the twentieth century) to the period when colonial interference in age-set dynamics was minimal. As we shall see Nyongi initiations did not occur at this contact period in all groups, but I think the procedure is a reasonable way to cut through many of the tangles involved. I will start with the Kipsigis.


A number of authors have attempted to date Kipsigis age-sets. The sequence of sub-set nicknames is relatively well established back to the previous opening of Korongoro in the nineteenth century, and many of those occuring since 1901 refer directly to known historical events, allowing for accurate assessment of the duration of sets and sub-sets in this century at least. The minor, transitional sub-set at the end of Kimnyige was called Kiptilgarit, those initiated when the railroad (garit) cut (til) between the Kipsigis and Nandi in 1901. Kosigo, the first major sub-set of Nyongi followed shortly thereafter. Dobbs (1921:57) and Barton (1923:60) date Kosigo at 1906, Orchardson and Peristiany give 1901, and Lang'at (1967:75) sometime between 1902 and 1904.

The last major sub-set of Nyongi was Blu (or Buloo, after the blue ink used to thumbprint men who joined the wage labor force during World War I) which opened in 1916. The following minor transitional sub-set, Mesiewa, which opened in 1921 was listed by Orchardson as belonging to Nyongi, but was given by Peristiany and my informants as belonging to Maina. It seems clear, then, that among the Kipsigis Nyongi initiations lasted from shortly after the turn of the century to about 1919 or a bit later.


The primary sources on Nandi age-sets are Hollis's pioneering monograph (1909, reprinted 1969) and the several classic writings of Huntingford.

Hollis reported that a saget ap eito was held about every seven and a half years, the most recent before his research having been in 1904. After the confinement of the Nandi to their reserve in 1905 and 1906, boys' initiations were held "every year or so" (1909:12). According to Hollis, Nyongi initiations opened in 1907. During his visit in 1908 he claimed to have seen "boys and girls attired in their strange costumes both before and after the circumcision ceremonies" (Hollis 1909:v).

Huntingford was particularly interested in the chronology of the age-set system, and devoted several pages of his major monograph (l953a) to this question, including a detailed discussion of his differences with Hollis. Central among them was Huntingford's assertion that Hollis's estimate of the periodicity of age-sets was "too short by half", the length of time between the openings of age-sets being not seven and a half but fifteen years (1953a:56).

According to Huntingford, Nyongi initiations should have opened in 1911, but were postponed because of the death of the orgoiyot Kipeles until January of 1912. Nyongi initiations ended in 1915 and a closed period was observed until 1923.9 The first Maina initiations, according to Huntingford, started in 1926.

While Huntingford's estimate of 15 years was no doubt closer to the truth, he ignored his own caution that this was an approximation, and proceeded in his analysis as if this figure were invariant. Because his work is the classic on the subject, this has, in my opinion, caused serious problems for the comparative study of Kalenjin age-sets.

First, my data on age-set durations among the Kipsigis in the twentieth century yield periods of 20, 8, 16, and 20 years. Rather than conclude that these "discrepancies" were entirely due to colonial factors I think we must recognize variability as inherent in the dynamics of age-set transitions.

Second, Huntingford contends that open and closed periods of several years each were observed as late as 1944 (1953a:65ff). While I am in no position to question the detailed personal observations, informants' statements, and genealogical data he presents, and have not yet consulted the political record books he cites, my own data from Kipsigis, and my reading of Orchardson and Peristiany suggest that the Kipsigis held circumcisions more or less annually since the early part of the colonial era, parallelling Hollis's report for the Nandi.

Third, I find Huntingford's argument discounting Hollis's eyewitness account of male initiations in 1908 unconvincing. Hollis strikes me as having been keenly interested in ceremony and material culture and it is certain that Nyongi initiations were being held among the Kipsigis at that time.

Finally, I must add that I find the changes made in the second edition of Hollis's monograph by Huntingford to reflect his own dating system curious at best.10

Despite Huntingford's detailed evidence I am thus forced to accept Hollis's date concerning the approximate start of Nyongi initiations in Nandi around 1907.


The best source on dating Tugen age-sets is Ott (1979). He provides estimated age ranges of men identified by age-set membership11 (B. Kettel [l980] also provides approximate age ranges for the more recent age-sets, and these agree with Ott's data). Assuming age at initiation to have averaged 17 for Nyongi age-set, this places Nyongi initiations from approximately 1913 to 1925.

Huntingford noted that Tugen "dates of circumcision appear to coincide with those of Nandi" (1953b:77). According to Ott "the cue for opening and closing the set is taken from the Nandi with some time lapse as the news travels from the south to the northern areas" (1979:30).12 It should be noted that for Nyongi age-set the dates derived from Ott's age estimates fit well with Huntingford's dating of the Nandi. The next age-set was Maina among the Nandi but Chumo among the Tugen. Thus the more recent Tugen age-sets appear to be a phase ahead of the Nandi.


The dating of Keiyo initiations rests mainly on evidence presented by Massam. His book (1927) and Intelligence Reports written by him and other officers in Kerio Province (Kenya National Archives) document the start of Sakobei ceremonies in February, 1925, around Tambach. Locations to the south (Rokocho, Changach, and Sego) observed the Sakobei in 1927 while their neighbors to the north had already started circumcisions to form the next age-set.13

Massam did not give dates for the age-sets but only listed the approximate age or stage of life for living members of the age-sets as of 1925. Kimnyegeo were described as "men of fifty years or thereabouts" (1927:54) which would place their initiations somewhere around 1890. Nyongi, were retiring from warrior status with the Sakobei of 1925-27. This seems quite straightforward. However, Massam's account of the status of particular age-sets at the time of the Sakobei is unclear. The ceremony marked the retirement from warrior status of one-age set, and the debut as a group of the next, whose initiations were completed, and preceeded the opening of initiations for the third. Massam speaks of changes in status of only two sets, with the Nyongi becoming elders, and the Maina being elevated "to the dignity of warriors" (1927:55).14 The Maina are variously described as "young men" and "youths" giving the impression that it is their initiations which are being completed. This interpretation is apparently supported by Hosking's statement in his annual report for 1927 that "practically all the Maina are now circumcised."15 If so, this would place the Keiyo about one phase ahead of the Nandi, who opened Maina, according to Huntingford (1953a:74), in 1926.

The matter, however, is not so simple. Aside from the ambiguity of Massam's account, it happens that Maina were a problematic age-set. The Kipsigis opened Maina in 1922 (which makes me doubt Huntingford's Nandi dates) but then ended Maina initiations in 1929 and started Chumo in 1930, several years early (Huntingford reports the Nandi closed Maina in 1930 but did not open Chumo initiations until 1940). This was done because of widespread anger among the elders at the disrespect of those already initiated into Maina, and because the previous Maina group over a century earlier had a similar reputation as troublesome. Hosking's note comments that "it is hoped that circumcising of these Maina [among the Keiyo] will lead to less crime", which, while following slightly different reasoning, also suggests that Maina initiations were held early and perhaps means that they were confined to the period immediatly after the Sakobei. Given my discomfort with Huntingford's dates for the Nandi, and Orchardson's report that among the Kipsigis the saget ap eito did not necessarily coincide with a clean break between sets, I am inclined to consider Nyongi initiations among the Keiyo as having occurred at approximately the same time or slightly before Nyongi initiations among the Nandi, i.e. from sometime shortly before 1910 to shortly before 1925. Other fragmentary evidence on the Keiyo from Hosking, Welbourn, and D. Kettel fit this surmise.16


There are two sources on the Pokot who give sufficient data to allow estimates of initation dates. Beech, writing around 1910 concerning the Pokot of Baringo District, reports that age-sets last fifteen years, and that

Maina is the age of those most recently circumcised, and comprises youths between the ages of about fifteen and thirty. Nyongu, the next age, consists of comparatively old men between the ages of thirty and forty five (1911/1969:6).
Assuming the age at initiation to be at least 15, this would place the date for Nyongi initiations at 1880 to 1895.

Peristiany, writing about the western Pokot forty years later, notes the "common belief in the ideal correspondence of circumcision sets and sapana sub-sets" (1951b:296, emphasis added). Using estimates of the "period of 'official recruitment' of the sapana-set" he calculates that age-sets span about ten years, and that Nyongi were initiated from 1896 to 1906 or, speaking loosely, one phase later than Beech reports. Peristiany's age estimates for specific individuals in the Maina age-set are in accord with Beech's (if anything they make Maina slightly older, not younger than Beech's data).17 Barton (1921:87), although a far less reliable source, gives a date of 1918-1919 for some Chumo initiations (also cited by Peristiany 1951b:297) that fits both Peristiany's dating and dates extrapolated from Beech.

Any attempt to decide between Peristiany's and Beech's dating would, I think, be reading more precision into these data than actually exist. As Peristiany notes:

there are frequent disagreements between Pokot provinces on whether to open or close the period of recruitment of a circumcision set (1951b:297).18

I suspect the best we can do is to date Nyongi initiations among the Pokot to the 1890s.


The information on the dating of Marakwet age-sets is the most fragmentary and contradictory. Hosking's one page memorandum (Kenya National Archives) lists the Marakwet sets as being two phases ahead of the Keiyo, i.e. with Marakwet Chumo being young initiated men equivalent to Keiyo Nyongi men. If the dates of Nyongi initiations among the Keiyo, i.e. approximately 1915 to 1924, are taken to be the dates of Chumo initiations among the Marakwet, then the latter correspond closely to the dates for Chumo among the adjacent Pokot given by Peristiany (1951b:296) of 1916 to 1926. The conclusion that the Marakwet were two phases ahead of the Keiyo is also reflected in a memorandum written by R. O. Hennings in 1938 (Kenya National Archives, microfilm reel 67). He lists the age grade statuses of age-sets at that time, describing Sowe as "moran" and Korongoro as "moran and children." Among the Kipsigis in 1938 Chumo age-set, two steps ahead of Korongoro, was at a similar stage of being halfway through its formation by initiations. Further, Hennings lists Chumo as the "ruling elders" among the Marakwet, while among the Keiyo this status was held by Nyongi, the set two steps ahead of them in the cycle.

Other sources on the Marakwet give data on Chumo, but not Nyongi. Osborne, District Officer at Eldama Ravine, reported that the Cherangany, one of the northern groups subsumed under the colonial definition of the Marakwet, were initiating members into Chumo in 1927 while the "Kapchemutwa Elgeyo", the northernmost of those classified as Keiyo, were circumcising "the rest of the Maina age" (Kerio Province Intelligence Report for November 1927, Kenya National Archives, microfilm reel 110). This would place the Marakwet somewhat less than one phase ahead of the Keiyo. D. Kettel, on the other hand, lists the Marakwete and Endo age-sets as being two steps ahead of the Keiyo and Tugen, although he does not provide the details of his dating.

The most troublesome bit of evidence comes from Kipkorir, the source that one would presume to be most reliable. He mentions that "In 1964, the oldest men living, most of them over eighty years of age, were of the Chumo age-set" (1973:11). This would place their birthdates around 1884 or earlier, and their initiations, assuming age at initiation between 15 and 20, sometime around the turn of the century. Seemingly this would place them three phases ahead of the Keiyo. Given the extreme difficulties involved in estimating ages of old people in these societies, however, I think it would be unreasonable to conclude that Kipkorir's statement directly and unreconcilably contradicts the other evidence.

Concluding, rather tentatively, that the Nyongi age-set among the Marakwet was approximately simultaneous to that of the Pokot, and two phases ahead of that of the groups to their south, I suggest dating Nyongi initiations among the Marakwet somewhere in the period 1880 to 1895.


The only source which I have found useful for dating Sebei/Sabaot age-sets is Goldschmidt (1976:102-108). According to Goldschmidt the duration of age-sets during the nineteenth century was approximately 20 years, and that after disruptions caused by an infectious disease among initiates in the late 1890s and subsequent BaGanda interventions, the periodicity of age-sets was steadily reduced until it was standardized in the 1930s to six years.

Goldschmidt dates Nyongi initiations from 1865 to 1884 (and more recently from 1958 to 1962). The best fix on this dating is Austin's report that during his visit in 1897 the initiates then healing in seclusion were the last sub-set of Maina (Goldschmidt 1976:107). While the estimate of 20 years is based on flowering of Mimulopsis, and is not, in my opinion, to be considered much more than a rough estimate,19 it is difficult to see how Goldschmidt's figures could be more than a few years off.20 I think we must accept his dates and thus the conclusion that among the Sebei Nyongi initiations were held significantly earlier than they were in all other Kalenjin groups.


To wrap up a very long paper, let me say that I think we are faced with a very serious challenge. If my review of the literature is reasonably accurate, then the situation is as follows: of the seven main groups, the Nandi and Kipsigis have deleted one set while the Tugen have deleted another and the remaining four groups have retained eight. Yet [as Appendix I tries to portray] four of the groups, the Nandi, Kipsigis, Tugen, and Keiyo, representing three variants of the basic system, appear to have been roughly synchronized in the recent past, while the outlying groups to the north and west appear to be only slightly out of synchronization, the Marakwet and Pokot less so than the Sebei.

If one imagines a slot machine with seven drums, each with either seven or eight symbols on them, it appears that we have hit the jackpot. But of course this is neither happenstance nor the result of some unseen mechanical underpinnings. Indeed, a western "logical" approach makes it impossible to understand how cycles with different numbers of sets can be synchronized, even roughly.

I do not think the answer lies in a glottochronological cranking back through time to a single original "calibration". That does not get us away from seeing the major groups as we now know them as distinctly bounded entities, diverging on the landscape and independently whirring away like clocks. Rather, we should follow up on the well established understanding that each currently recognizable Kalenjin entity not only coalesced from people originating in several other groups, but that this flow of people and information was continuous and, no doubt, is on the increase today.

The baffling complexity of reports about the endless list of factors and unique events that have influenced age-set dynamics, as well as the frequently reported variations, ambiguities, and disagreements about the status of the age-set system at any one place and time, are the evidence of a remarkable network of face to face social and negotiation among an amazingly large number of people spread over a diverse terrain.

I think the implications go far beyond a simple reconsideration of ethnic boundaries. The imposition of intrusive centralized authority over acephalous societies has often been lamented as ending the chance to study the dynamics of these societies in operation. From this review of Kalenjin age-sets, however, it would appear that in many cases uncentralized processes, lacking points of vulnerability and possessing informational resilience, can be highly adaptive, and that their continued study promises insights of general analytical significance.

As Kalenjin scholars, we desperately need to coordinate and standardize our research, not only on the question of age-sets, but on every aspect of social dynamics. Frankly, I think we're just beginning to come to an appreciation of what has been going on.

Appendix I
1.Maina Chumo Sowe Koronkoro Kwoimet Kaplelaich Nyikeao Nyonki
SABAOT (Book or Pok)
2.Sowo Maina Gabaiyak Korongoro Gamnenac Gamnyikewa Nyongiik
3. Maina Juma Sawe Kipkoiimet Kaplelach Kimnyike Nyonge
4. Maina Juma Sawe Kipkoiimet Kaplelach Kimnyike Nyongi
5. Maina Chuma Sawe Kipkoimet Kaplelach Kimnyige Nyongi
6. Maina Chuma Sawe Kipkoimet Kaplelach Kimnyigei Nyongi
7. Maina Chuma Sawe Kerongoro* Kablelach Kimnyige Nyonge
8. Maina Chuma Sawe* Kipkoymet Kablelach Kimnyige Nyonge
9. Maina Chuma Sawe Kipkoimet Kaplelach Kipnyige Nyongi
10. Maina Chumo Sawe Korongoro Kaplelach Kipnyige Nyongi
11. Maina Chuma Sowe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablelach Kimnyegeu Nyongi
12. Maina Chumo Sowi Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablalach Kimnyegeo Nyongi
13. Maina Chumo Sawe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kaplelach Kipnyigeu Nyongi
14. Maina Chumo Sawe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablelech Kimnikeu Nyonki
15. Maina Juma Sawe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablelach Kimnyige Nyonge
16. Maina Chumo Sawe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kaplelach Kimnyigei Nyongi
17. Maina Chumo Sawe Korongoro Kaberur* Kablelech Kimnikeu Nyonki
18. Chumo Sawe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablelech Kimnikeu Nyonki
19. Chumo Sowe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablelach Kimnyegeo Nyongi
20. Chumo Sowe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kablelech Kimnikieu Nyongi
21. Maina Jumo Sowa Karongoro Kip-koimet Kablelach Merkutwa Nyongu
22. Maina Juma Sowe Korongoro Kipkoimet Kaplelac Merkutua Nyongu
23. Maina Juma Sowa Korongoro Kablelach* Mergutwa Nyonge
24. Maina Chuma Sowe Kerongoro Kipkoymet* Merkutwa Nyonge
Sources for age-set names:


  1. Goldschmidt (1976)

  3. La Fontaine (n.d.) [N.B.: La Fontaine states there are eight "age classes" but lists seven names, the order of which is questionable.]
  4. NANDI

  5. Hollis (1909/1969)
  6. Huntingford (1953a)
  7. Langley (1979)
  8. Oboler (1982)

  10. 7. Orchardson (1961) [*Orchardson lists Kiptoymen as the first sub-set of Kerongoro]
  11. 8. Peristiany (1939) [*Peristiany mentions that some informants reported Korongoro were the first sub-set of Kipkoymet. N.B.: For the Kipsigis, Dobbs (1921) and Barton (1923) have not been included since the have confused age-set and sub-set names in their lists.]
  12. 9. Lang'at (1967)
  13. 10. Daniels (1970)
  14. KEYO

  15. 11. Hosking (1921)
  16. 12. Massam (1927)
  17. 13. Welbourn (1968)
  18. 14. D. Kettel (1972)
  19. 15. Gillibrand (1973)

  21. 16. Kipkorir (1973)
  22. 17. D. Kettel (1972) [* Kipkorir also lists Keberur as an alternate name for Kipkoimet.]
  23. TUGEN

  24. 18. D. Kettel (1972)
  25. 19. Ott (1979)
  26. 20. B. Kettel (1980)
  27. POKOT

  28. 21. Beech (1911) [original orthography]
  29. 22. Huntingford (1953b)[revision of Beech's orthography]
  30. 23. Barton (1921) [*Kipkoimet is listed as an alternate name for Kablelach]
  31. 24. Peristiany (1951) [* Peristiany states there are eight sets but only mentions seven names]
Appendix II
Among the Major Kalenjin Groups
Nyongi chart graphic
  1. For the Pokot, Barton (1921) listed Kipkoimet as an alternate name for Kablelach. However, as Huntingford noted (1953b:85) "he seems to have confused the sapana and pen sets" and was wrong in concluding that there are 10 sets. Beech (1911) apparently listed both Kipkoimet and Kablelach separately for a total of eight (I have not been able to inspect Beech's article and rely here on Huntingford's summary [1953b:85]).
  2. Peristiany did not, however, mention Kablelach by name.
  3. There are two minor inconsistencies in the data for the Tugen: (a) in The Southern Nilo-Hamites Huntingford (1953b:77) reported seven age-sets among the Tugen, but was mistaken in stating that it is Nyongi, not Maina, which is missing, (b) recently Kipkorir stated (1978:12) that the Tugen have the full eight sets while the Keyo have only the seven found among the Kipsigis and Nandi; I am unable to reconcile either of these assertions with other accounts.
  4. Initially Hollis listed Kipkoimet and did not mention Korongoro. Later Huntingford (1953a:74) provided the explanation from oral history that Korongoro warriors, heavily decimated by Maasai, were renamed Kipkoimet to avoid further disaster. He dated this event to about 1770 (i.e. two cycles ago), which would place it well before the time he considered the Nandi to have been established as a distinct "tribe" (1953a:2). Inasmuch as both the Terik and the Kipsigis share this same deletion, this last statement is problematic, not so much for its relative position in Kalenjin history, which is quite possible, nor for its approximate calendric date, which I consider highly speculative in any case, but for its implications for our conception of the nature of the proto-historic differentiations and social discourse between these groups. The mistaken idea that Kipkoimet was an alternate term coined by the Nandi was further complicated by Orchardson's (1961:125) identification of "Kiptoymen" as the first sub-set of "Kerongoro" and Peristiany's (1939:42) report that his informants considered "Kerongoro" the first sub-set of "Kipkoymet". Peristiany concured with Huntingford that "Kerongoro" was dropped after "some unlucky event" but added, rather ambiguously that "the association [of the two names] became so close that all Kipkoymet came to be known as Kerongoro." All I can add to the minor question of which name has been dropped is to report that among the southern Kipsigis the age-set which was opened around 1966 was universally known as Korongoro, and to note that among the Bantu Tiriki, the seventh name they adopted from the Terik is Golongolo (Sangree 1966).
  5. Goldschmidt (1976:105) reports that among the Kony (Sabaot) this ceremony was called tamokyet after the rawhide ring worn by each man who attended the slaughter.
  6. Similarly their debate ignored the obvious fact that despite the loss of this major ritual among the Kipsigis and Nandi the age-set system continued to reproduce itself in an orderly fashion throughout the colonial period.
  7. Concerning the orgoiik see also Massam 1927; Huntingford 1953b:68,74; Schneider 1959; Weatherby 1963; Manners 1967; Magut 1969; Scully 1970; Kipkorir 1973, 1978; Peristiany 1975; Goldschmidt 1976; and Langley 1979.
  8. Concerning fathers and sons in adjacent age-sets, Peristiany comments in a latter publication that "the Kipsigis now breaking down and the elders are at a loss to rationalize the numerous infractions of this rule" (1951b:292). The 13 "infractions" in my data, however, are distributed fairly evenly throughout this century. While I do not know the details of these cases, there are a number of ways in which traditional family patterns, quite apart from recent changes, could have produced these outcomes. Such irregularities are not moral offenses and, in the absence of centralized authority requiring their rationalization, neighbors and relatives condone such events according to their individual circumstances. To understand the age-set system one must consider not only how decisions are negotiated, but how the rules which constrain those decisions are themselves subject to local intepretation and redefinition.
  9. The Nandi orgoiik intended to use the massed gathering at the saket ap eito scheduled for 1923 as a pretext for a rebellion. The plan was aborted at the last minute by the colonial authorities and the ceremony was cancelled (Huntingford 1953a:42ff; see also Magut 1969, Ellis 1976, and Greenstein 1976).
  10. In his introduction to the second edition, Huntingford commented
    Apart from a mistaken reckoning of the length of the age-sets as 7 1/2 instead of 15 years (pp. 12, 52 of the original edition), a very few minor errors, and some misprints, the book is singularly accurate in its description of what Hollis was able to see and to record from his informants (1969:xi).
    On page 12 Huntingford added a comment 'correcting' a footnote by Hollis concerning annual initiations; the comment is in square brackets but not otherwise identified as that of the editor. Elsewhere on the page Huntingford changed the text to read 15 rather than 7 1/2 years and altered Hollis's dating of precolonial initiations. To the unsuspecting reader these changes produce some curious results: Hollis writing in 1908, appears to have described Chumo age-set as "men between 50 and 60, circumcised about 1836" (Hollis 1969:12), i.e. 12 to 22 years before their birth! Fortunately (since the first edition is not widely available) Huntingford quoted the critical passage, with the dates Hollis gave in the original edition, in his own major work 16 years before the second edition (Huntingford 1953a).
  11. For the more recent age-sets Ott's estimates span 15 years (which he reports as the approximate duration of a set), and there is no overlap in the ages of members of different sets as one might expect if their ages were being determined from data independent of age-set status. I suspect that the age estimates Ott gives are based in part on some estimated dates of initiations which I am merely reconstituting.
  12. A similar local variation was noted by the Baringo District Officer in 1938:
    Ages follow the Nandi except that in Lembus the Maina and elsewhere the Nyonge have got lost. The age in power everywhere now is the Chumo but whereas in the South, especially Lembus, quite a number of Sawe have been circumcised and many Chumo have shaved their heads for other reasons than imprisionment [i.e. indicating 'retirement' from warrior status], in the North and around Kabortenjo the Chumo have only just been circumcised (Kenya National Archives).
  13. The text reads:
    Usually a start [of circumcision ceremonies] is made at the northern end of the district, and the locations carry on in succession as far as Rokocho, in the middle of the reserve. Then the southern end starts, and the remaining locations continue in their order, going northwards. There is but one operator for each half of the district (Massam:1927:67).
  14. Peristiany's account of saget ap eito among the Kipsigis (1939) similarly fails to distinguish between the second two groups and he wrongly identifies Kaplelach as awaiting initiation rather than awaiting the completion of thier formation as initiates. Possibly the confusion arose because the emergence of the new senior warriors and the emergence of initiates into the partially formed set of junior warriors are ritually similar, both involving passage through, or around, a symbolic gate (ormarechet).
  15. The text reads:
    The Sakobei or handing over ceremony was completed throughout Elgeyo this year. The very old men, the Kablelach age have now retired and have been relieved of all council duties by the Kimnyegeu while the Maina moran are taking over from the elder Nyongi moran. Practically all the Maina are now circumcised but the ceremony takes part in different parts of the Elgeyo Reserve at different times. It is hoped that circumcising of these Maina will lead to less crime..
  16. I have not been able to locate E. B. Hosking's six page memorandum (1927) on Keiyo and Marakwet age-sets in the Kenya National Archives, but a one page note by him in 1921 confirms Massam's data. There are a few troubling details, however, to Hosking's note. He comments that the "average age" [span?] is nine years, and adds "I think it used to be about 12 years" (Kenya National Archives). He also adds that in Mutei location in the north circumcision occurs "up to age of 28 or so" while in Rokocho location to the south the upper limit is age 15. D. K. Kiprono (Welbourn 1968:214) reports that among the Keiyo initiations for his own age-set, Sawe, started in 1952. This seems to fit, being 25 years after the reported start of Maina, the age-set previous but one to it, and six years after the start of Sawe among the Kipsigis, who appear to have been a few years ahead of the Keiyo in starting Nyongi and Maina as well. David Kettel, in his paper on Tugen age-set organization, gives charts (1972:14) listing, for Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwete and Endo sets, the age grades or statuses they held, presumably at the time of writing, 1972. The chart indicates that among the Keiyo and Tugen members of Nyongi were elders of the same seniority, which also corresponds to the dating for Keiyo based on Massam and Tugen based on Ott.
  17. Peristiany reports that members of Maina in 1947 were in their 60s or late 50s (1951b:297). Beech's estimates that Maina were 15 to 30 in 1910 would make them 52 to 67 in 1947 (1911/1969:6).
  18. The danger of inferring regularity where it does not exist is also suggested by the Monthly Intelligence Report for January, 1936, filed for the West Suk District by the D. C., H.R. Mahony (Kenya National Archives, microfilm reel 110):
    Circumcision ceremonies are taking place all over the Suk Reserve at present. There appears to be no regular period for holding such ceremonies, and it is six years since they were last held. The reason given for holding the ceremonies at present is the good rains and consequent surplus of crops. Youths from 10 years upwards are undergoing circumcision.
  19. See earlier comments on setiot flowering.
  20. Goldschmidt reports that the third major section of Nyongi, which ended in 1884 was named Chepsaror after a comet which appeared just before their initiations started (1976:106). This was most likely the great comet of 1882.

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