Culture and Customs  
Spiritual Beliefs  

Click on arrows
to find more
these themes


(KENYA 17)








Former preacher and religious teacher




November 1996


The main interest in this testimony is the fact that the narrator is a Teso who came and settled in Mount Elgon in his youth, and he has a perspective on certain issues such as circumcision and the clashes in the early 90s, which differs from to the dominant Sabaot view. Silbabel Okadapau Chacha moved to Mount Elgon in the 40s, and decided to stay because “it was easy to get land”. He believes that, until recently, there were no problems between the settlers and the Sabaot of Mount Elgon, and that therefore the clashes of the early 90s took the Teso community by surprise: “We Teso were completely unaware of what was happening. These Sabaot planned the clashes secretively. They were really prepared for war”. Though the conflict has obviously left the narrator with a bad feeling for the Sabaot, he also recounts shared experiences between the two communities. He describes how Teso men who moved to Mount Elgon underwent circumcision so as to be able to marry Sabaot women (who would otherwise reject them), and how the Teso taught the Sabaot how to farm.

detailed breakdown

You will need a password from Panos to view the full transcript of the interview. To apply for a password, click here.

Once you have a password, click here to go to the beginning of the transcript. You can also click on any section of the breakdown of content below and go straight to the corresponding part of the transcript.


Section 1  How narrator came to live in Mount Elgon, and how Teso like him began the practise of circumcision in order to marry Sabaot.
Section 2-3  Transport and travel in Mount Elgon when the narrator first arrived. Discusses the arrival of the whites and how people were afraid of them at first: “The white man ruled by force. He used the cane”. But after Independence “they realised that the white man was not superior”.
Section 3  The narrator “used to preach and…was a religious teacher”. Says that the people “loved” his teachings, and that he “never told the people here to throw away their culture. Nobody is meant to judge anybody’s culture or traditions”.
Section 3-4  How the Teso used to “perform their rituals of raising up the dead”, which was linked with healing the living.
Section 4-5  Changes that the colonisers brought with them – commerce, cotton, cultivation, roads (built by forced labour), and they “brought their religion to heal people’s souls”.
Section 5  Chief gatherings in the past. The significance of polygamy for the community: “Many wives could help in the digging of vast land
Section 6  Development of individual land ownership by the colonial government. More on circumcision: only the Teso in Mount Elgon are circumcised, because otherwise Sabaot women would reject them as husbands. “[The Sabaot] never used to farm their land so much. It is the Teso who came to teach them on how to farm their land
Section 7  The beginnings of education in the area. Traditional healing methods and the positive reaction to the arrival of modern medicine: “They brought drugs that were very cheap and they would even treat us free of charge. It is not like the drugs of these days, those drugs were strong....People loved these drugs.”
Section 7-8  Teso traditional marriage rituals: “Our way was that my son would take his age-mates and go and ambush the girl and carry her shoulder high to my homestead just like an eagle carrying a chick.” Narrator mourns the old ways.
Section 9  Narrator’s belief that if a woman only bears female children, “you feel hurt in your heart, so you marry another woman”.
Section 9-10  Teso traditional gender roles. Says women are protesting against tilling the land with hoes now (as they had to in the past), because they feel the men should do this, using ploughs.
Section 10-11  Discussion of the 1991-1992 clashes. Says the Sabaot told all the Teso and Bukusu to leave the area, and claims the Teso “never burnt down anybody's house”. The narrator “lost a lot of property” and says that the Teso “felt very bitter, because these people just woke up one day and decided to do atrocities on us. We did not have any problem with them…the ancient wars were all forgotten”. How the government persuaded those who fled during the clashes, including the narrator, to come back but not all have done, because of fear. The narrator and others are still scared because of rumours that some Sabaot are still planning to kill them all, though the “government has beefed up security....[and] the security personnel have been instructed to shoot and kill any troublemaker”.