The socio-political and economic organization of the Highland Nilotes during the pre-colonial period

The socio-political and economic organization of the Highland Nilotes is best illustrated by the Kalenjin as follows:


  • They were divided into semi-independent territorial units known as Bororiet (borosiek in plural).
  • Each Bororiet was controlled by a council of elders (Kok), which was chosen to their position because of their wisdom and military skill.
  • At puberty, boys and girls were initiated and taught the values and customs of the community, although most of the training at initiation, which culminated in circumcision, was centred on boys, who were seen as future defenders of the community.
  • After circumcision, boys of the same age group entered a named age-set. There were up to seven or eight Age-set names.
  • Age-sets were formed on territorial basis in order to discourage interclan disputes or conflicts between families. The aim here was to create a unified strong community.
  • The Saget Ap Eito ceremony was used as a means of maintaining the age-Set system by cycling Age-Set names. This ceremony marked the official hand-over of power from one age-set to the other. It was performed after every 10-15 years. It took 50-100 years to go through a cycle of age-set names. Names, years and number of age-sets varied from one region to another.

  • After initiation, boys also qualified to join the junior Warrior rank in the Bororiet as a permanent warrior cadre to defend the community and to conquer new lands.
  • The Kalenjin believe in the existence of one supreme God (Asis), to who they directed all warship, prayers and petitions.
  • Medicinemen, rainmakers, diviners, prophets and prophetesses were highly respected in the community.
  • By the middle of the 19th century, the office of the Orkoiyot emerged as the central political and religious authority among the Nandi.


  • Mixed farming. The Kalenjin were basically pastoralists. They kept cattle, sheep and goats. later, they adopted agriculture and grew Eleusine, millet, sorghum, etc.
  • Ironworking. In this, both men and women participated in order to produce weapons, farm implements and other equipment.
  • Trade. The Kalenjin traded with Abaluhyia, the Maasai, Luo and other neighbours, to whom they sold food, animal and iron products.
  • Crafts. They made pots, baskets, hunting traps, etc. They also were good in leatherwork.
  • Hunting and gathering. Since land inhabited by the Kalenjin was mostly fertile, they undertook hunting and gathering as an extra leisure time and adventurous economic activity to intensify their vigilance and to keep them alert and firmly in control of their territory through impromptu patrols apart from supplementing their diet. Dogs, bows, arrows, traps and spears were used in hunting and catching animals.