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Mt Kenya|Longonot|Mt Elgon|Loroghi Hills|Western Highlands|Shimba Hills|Taita and Chyulu Hills

Cultural Safari

When the 19th Century explorer Joseph Thompson first visited the Mount Elgon region (for more of his exploits see the Related Links above) he discovered a series of deep caves in which herds of cattle sheltered and great piles of grain were stored.

The people living here appeared to be physically similar to the Maasai, and for some time that is how they were known. In fact, these people were not Maasai. There were in fact members of four very small tribes, the Kony, Sapei, Pok and the Bungomek. These tribes are known collectively as the Saboat, and are also part of the Kalenjin collective (for more information on the Kalenjin see the Related Links above).

The Saboat people have many cultural ties to other Kalenjin peoples, chiefly the Nandi.

They called Mount Elgon Masop and made excellent use of this mountainous region. Agriculture was practiced on the slopes, and herds of cattle were kept. The many caves of Elgon were used as granaries and stables for cattle. In addition, the Saboat themselves sometimes used the caves as a refuge from weather and inter-tribal conflict.

The Saboat took advantage of the nightly visits to the caves by herds of elephants. The elephants were attracted to the caves by salt, which they scraped from the walls with their tusks and licked from the earth. The Saboat took salt from these pachyderm mines and used it to preserve food.

Hunting was also common in Saboat culture, and pit traps for elephants were dug at the entrances of the caves (for more information on Elgon Caves and Elephants see the Wildlife Safari).

Mount Elgon is also an area of great importance for the Teso people (sometimes referred to as the Iteso).

The Teso originate from the Karamajong region in Uganda, and while they may or my not be direct descendants of the Karamajong, they certainly still have strong linguistic and cultural ties to the region. While they have been influenced to some degree by their neighbouring cultures including the Luo (see Related Links above) the Teso's closest Kenyan relations are the Pokot (see Related Links above) , a Kalenjin tribe found throughout Western Laikipia and the area north of the Cherangani Hills.

In fact, it is the cultural links to the Teso that seperate the Pokot from the other members of the Kalenjin collective. There is one important difference though, between the Pokot and the Teso. While the Pokot have long had two distinct tribal units- one cattle herding nomads and the other sedentary agriculturalists- the Teso were originally agriculturalists who recently acquired cattle.

Teso culture is structured around a system of age and age-politics. Respect for elders is paramount, and traditionally the power base of tribe and clan stemmed from the authority of age. Initiation was never through rites of circumcision ( a significant influence of the Karamajong) but through rites of animal sacrifice and large scale feasting, bring young men into manhood within age-sets known as item. The Teso held great faith in the power of divining and prophecy, and traditional diviners (emuron) would cast sandals on the earth and read their position for signs of things to come. This practice is also seen in the traditional beliefs of other Northern Kenyan tribes, including the Pokot, Samburu and Borana.

Elgon lies directly on the Kenya-Uganda border, a line of recent and insignificant importance in the cultural history of the region. Both the Saboat and the Teso therefore have many bonds and cultural ties to Eastern Ugandan tribes, including a tribe of close relations also called the Teso.
See general information on this region....
Related Links
See Aberdares
See Kalenjin culture
See Pokot culture
See Luo culture
View Traditional Art



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