The name Laikipia has its origins with the Laikipiak Maasai, who once moved through this area. They were defeated and dispersed by the ancestors of the modern Kenyan Maasai in a series of major battles during the 19th century.
Today Laikipia is predominantly the land of the Samburu and some Western tribes belonging to the collective Kalenjin group (see Related Links above). One of the most populous of this group are the Pokot.
The Pokot are a unique culture, divided into two major groups. These are the people of the cattle (Pi pa Tix) and the people of the corn (Pi pa Pax). As these names would suggest, one group are cattle herders, the other agriculturalists. No other Kenyan tribe is so distinctively divided. The lifestyles of the two groups are fundamentally different, with differently designed structures for housing.
Despite this division, Pokot culture is essentially a nomadic cattle culture. Even the people of the corn generally keep cattle. The customs and traditions and physical adornments of the Pokot are in fact more closely linked to the Karamajong of Uganda and Teso of Western Kenya than to other Kalenjin peoples.
Cattle have always been greatly valued, and great significance is place on the possession of bulls. The most important bulls are called kmar, an ox with distinctive horns, one curved forward and one curved backwards. The relationship between the Pokot and these bulls was one of near mystical worship.
The influence of Teso-Karamajong culture is stronger over the people of the cattle. This extends into the realm of initiation. The people of the corn have, like many Kenyan tribes, adopted initiation rituals based on rites of circumcision. The people of the cattle, however, do not circumcize, and share the opinion of the Karamajong- Teso that circumcision is barbaric.
Instead the people of the cattle developed their own rite of initiation called the sapana. Initiation by this ritual meant entry into one of two sets, either the tukoi (zebra) - so called because of the distinctive pattern of their brass jewellrey, or the nyimur (stone) in reference to their dark copper jewellrey.
Pokot women wear distinctive brass jewellrey, including large looped earrings. After marriage, women generally pierce the lower lip and fit it with a small decorative plug.
While land pressures have seen the modern Pokot become increasingly agricultural, their tradition and customs, way of dress and distinctive folk music based around use of a stringed lyre, remain firmly rooted in the influences of Western Kenya and Uganda.
Laikipia is home to several Community Ranches, which are owned and managed by local communities to protect wildlife, communal lands, and grazing and herding lands. Staying at one of these ranches can be a good way to experience and learn more about the local cultures, whether they are Samburu, Pokot or any other member of the Kalenjin collective.