The origin of the Highland Nilotes and how they migrated and settled into Kenya

main classifications of the Highland Nilotes.

  • The Kalenjin.
  • The Jie.




communities that belong to each of the two main Highland Nilotic groups.

The Kalenjin consist of:

  • Tugen,
  • Keio,
  • Marakwet,
  • Nandi,
  • Kipsigis,
  • Sabaot,
  • Pokot,
  • Elgon.

The Jie comprises:

  • The Karamojong,
  • Kumam,
  • Iteso,
  • Turkana,
  • The Jie themselves.

migration and settlement of the Highland Nilotes into Kenya




Highland Nilotes were pastoralists. Their ancestors may first have lived in Karamoja before they split into various groups.

The Highland Nilotes may have been the earliest Nilotic speakers in Kenya. They must have occupied most of western Kenya, because their neighbours speak a lot about them. They are mentioned in tales told of their warlike nature, e.g. the Luo story of Lwanda Magere (a strong Luo warrior) who a Nandi lady eventually betrayed in order for the Nandi to gain victory over the Luo.




Kalenjin traditions indicate that their original homeland lay at a place to the north-western part of Kenya, between Sudan and Ethiopia, from where the highland Nilotes may have began migrating during the last millennium. The Dadog of Tanzania and the pioneer Kalenjin emigrants in Kenya such as the Sirikwa may have occupied the Rift Valley by 700AD.

Highland Nilotic remnants therefore spread towards the western mount Elgon highlands, next to the Kenya-Uganda border. These became the ancestors of the Kalenjin speakers we have today.




The Kalenjin first lived as a single community on mount Kamalinga to the north-west of the lake Turkana region. In the 17th century, they began expanding southwards to the slopes of Mount Elgon, where some of them remained as others moved on. The Bok, Bongomek and Kony are among those that remained. Indeed, it was from the Kalenjin that the Bantu got some cultural practices, such as circumcision.

By early 17th century, the Kalenjin had inhabited Nandi, Aldai, Kamasiya, Elgon, etc. As pastoralists, they roamed and grazed in their new homeland, which led to intermarriage between them and the Uasingishu, the Maasai, the Sirikwa, etc