Kenya glossary


(KENYA 20)















Section 1
Today, I am talking to Mr Jackson Miti Kapchanga who is from Kibuk village, Kibuk sub location, Elgon district.

Mr Kapchanga, how do you do?
Karam, I am doing fine

Would you start by telling us when you were born?
I was born in the year 1937

Where were you born?
I was born here in Kibuk

How many were you in your family?
We were five all together, three girls, two boys. We lived here very well. In these days, there were no hospitals, we used to take herbal medicine.

You used to take herbal medicine?
Yes, we used to be treated by the use of herbal medicine.

Who was responsible in treating you with this herbal medicine?
My father. He knew all the herbs for Malaria. He knew these herbs and when you could take this medicine, you would just vomit and all the malaria would be cleared. God too has assisted us up to this time.

Your father gathered these herbs from where?
Just from around this area where they are

How was this area in times of your youth?
Those days, even those trees you see had not been planted. The trees available here then were those that had occurred naturally in this area. That time, there were plenty of cattle here, a lot of grazing land but there was no maize as the one you see over there.

You had not begun planting maize?
We used to plant just a little, which we would consume and finish while it was still in the shamba (small family plot). We would not be left with anything to put in the granary. You know, we people valued cattle more than these other things.
Section 2
You said, you people valued cattle...
Yeah. There was plenty of milk. This is how we lived and later we started expanding our farming activities. Education was brought by the whites...the missionaries also brought Christian religious matters and started teaching us.

Where was the first church stationed here?
On this land we are sitting. I had gone away for some time. When I came back I found a church had been established here.

Which one was this?
It is the Catholic Church

How was the church established here?
It was established by our people.

You mean fellow Sabaot?
Yeah. It was our fellow Sabaot. All that I do not know is who taught them about this new religion. Gradually, we all became members

I do not know whether you Sabaot had your god. If you did, how then did you feel about this new religion when it was brought here?
Yeah. We believed earlier in god. We used to pray to him differently but when this new religion came, it changed the people here.

You believed your god lived where?
We believed our god lived in the sun. In the morning when the sun was rising, we would spit towards the east, asking god to take care of us. Also when we sacrificed, we used to spit blood towards the rising sun for God to accept our sacrifice

You would spit towards the rising sun and believe that God had acknowledged?
Yeah, when it was rising and setting

Tell me about your life as a youth?
As I grew up to be big, I tried to learn this white man's education. In those days, we used to be supplied with a small blackboard each, which we used to buy for twenty cents. In school, they would provide us with writing chalk, and then you could write as the teacher was writing. The blackboard was like their exercise book. You know, the education of our time was good. If you could school up to standard three or four, you were equivalent to a teacher.

At what age did you go to school?
We would go when we were ten or thirteen years old. You know we would be forced to go to school. The teacher would [go] around the village looking for pupils. The old men of that time only wanted their children to look after cattle. If you would be told to release your child to go to school, he would feel terribly bad. So you would prefer to look after the cattle. People were forced to take their children to school for a long time, until later when they started to realise that those who went to school could become more important people, and it is then that more people opted to take their children to school.
Section 3
As a young man, what activities were you involved in?
Those days, running after girls was the greatest hobby. Other boys were more involved in education. Many others liked involving themselves in girl hunting. You know, after you got circumcised, you were meant to pay tax, so many of the young men would opt to run away to go to work in the white man's farm. Those who decided to work hard in their farms here also would be able to pay the tax.

How much were you being charged as tax?
We were meant to pay Kshs60 per year

Where could you get this kind of money?
If you had your goat, you could sell it. If you had your maize, you could sell. If not, then you would be forced to go and work for the Europeans so that you could get money. There in the plantations, the tax rate was low. It was twenty shillings per year

You have talked of some of you getting involved with girls while others were in school. Expand on this?
You know, if you noticed where the beautiful ladies were, you would go and seek pleasure or at times get serious and have a relationship with one of them that could culminate in a marriage. Some of us would organise night dances where girls would be invited. Some would marry early and settle at home.

Up to what educational level did you reach?
I just went to school up to standard two

Why is it that you reached only class two?
I was not interested in schooling. I was more interested in marrying.

So you got married and left schooling?
Yeah, I left learning completely.

You married at what age?
I married when I was twenty-two years old.

How many wives do you have?
Just one.

Up to now, you have one wife?
Yes, I do have one wife.

How was it that you had only one wife whereas most of your age mates have multiple wives?
It was because we were so many children in my father’s family. He could not give me more cattle to pay for dowry even if I wanted to marry another wife. My father had six wives. If you got married, he would tell you to go and start your own life. Because the cost of living is very high, I realised that marrying many wives would be counter-productive. The land is scarce and the more children you have, the more food is required.
Section 4
I can see in front of us a school for the mentally handicapped. You as Sabaot, what do you believe causes handicaps, which include mental, physical, blindness and even deafness?
In the past, we did not know what caused these disabilities. We used to abandon these children. They did not get good care and they would not be taken to school nor were they allowed to be seen by visitors. Recently when the missionaries came and constructed the school that you see and say that it is for the handicapped, it was then that we realised that so much could be done to alleviate the lives of our handicapped children. Now, parents have brought their children to these schools and the school even serves children from other districts like Nandi district.

In this area, do you have handicapped children?
Yeah we have.

How do you view these children?
We have realised that they can be helped. Those who had been taken to school are in primary and some are doing quite well.

Those children that were born with physical handicaps, what do you associate the handicaps to?
We associate this to God's will. Now that a school has been built here, we inform them of the children and we wait to see how the government can assist them

In the past, what did you people used to do about these children?
We would just abandon them at home.

But now...
For now, we report to the hospitals for assistance if they may help the child. In this way, they call you and advise you on the expected management of this child. And what they feel would be best to be done to him.

So you as a Sabaot, if your wife bears a child with a physical deformity, how will you feel?
I will feel really bad. For now, I know, I can take the child to a government institution to it can be taken care of.

How do you feel inhabiting the mountain?
This is our mountain and it is ours alone. Nobody should cheat you otherwise. In the past, we used to stay up to inside of the forest. The government decided to move some of us down here. They felt that we would die of famine if we did not cultivate crops. In the past, our people were only involved in cattle herding. They only used to buy maize these sides.
Section 5
What resources does the mountain supply you with?
This mountain has a lot of benefits for us. We get our water supply from the mountain. We feel that if this mountain decides to stop giving us water, we will all die. We fear the mountain a lot.

Is it true that there are some precious minerals found in the mountain caves?
Minerals are said to be available but I have not seen any. Possibly those who get them just smuggle them secretly. In the past, there was a religious movement known as Dini Ya Msambwa, these people used to go to the top of the mountain and they would worship there. Of late, I have not seen them do that.

In Mount Elgon, you have seen many species of trees. This Elgon teak tree, do you plant it or how does it grow?
In the past, we used to cut down any tree that we required. The government has gazetted (declared it a forest preserve) this forest and has declared that unlicensed felling of trees is not allowed for they are important trees. So we started planting trees including the Elgon teak.

What changes have you noticed since your youth?
I have witnessed a lot of changes. We grow a lot of food crops theses days. We also grow coffee, tea, maize. All these are developments. We also keep exotic breeds of dairy cattle in most homesteads unlike the old long horned cows. We are also able to take proper care of our family from the proceeds we get from selling the milk

What about the girl’s education?
Of late, we do not discriminate. If a girl is bright in school and you have the resources, you just educate her to the highest level possible. In the past, we used to discriminate against girls, for we felt that they should get married, and we would then educate the boys. These days, they are all equal. It depends on whose brain is sharper.

Mr Miti, if it happens that your two children in an examination class, that is one is a boy and the other is a girl, if all of them pass well, what would you do?
I will try by all means to rally even my clan’s men and other villagers to hold a harambee (joint self-help initiative) so that I can get funds to take both of them to school. If I have a large piece of land, I would lease some for a period of time to get funds to educate them. If I fail, I will talk to them and ask one of them to repeat as one proceeds to form one.

What kind of animals do you know inhabit this forest?
Mostly, it is elephants, buffaloes and other small animals. We do not have lions here. We have leopards and hyenas.

As a young man, were you involved in hunting?
Yeah. I used to hunt.
Section 6
Tell me about how you used to hunt.
We used to go hunt with the use of arrows. We would go to the forest in a group of twenty or thirty people. We would divide ourselves into two, those who would go ahead, the others who remained behind were to support to beat up the animals in the bushes. So if an animal got up, scared and started running, the people in the forest would shoot it with arrows. We would even shoot it with arrows. We would kill the animal in a day. Others used to use traps. They would set traps, especially at the place where the animals used to drink their water.

What were you doing with the shot animals?
We could eat them, use then as vegetables. The meat of Kuru, Siabongo and Katunda is what we used to get.

Do you still practice hunting?
We feel so bad. We are in a pathetic situation. We miss eating the wild meat and yet we can do nothing about it because the government has put tough sanctions on hunting. We feel that if they would be fair to us, they would allow us to go hunting for one month once in a year.

As you told me, there before, you used to be pastoralists. Presently, this has changed and you now cultivate maize, tea and coffee and other crops. How do you feel about this new style of life?
We feel pretty well about it, for if you are a good farmer, when the maize, beans ripen, the children are able to get plenty of food and you can even sell to get some money to solve your financial problems. If you manage one dairy cow properly, it will give you so much milk for consumption and for sale. You can even supply the local hotels with milk. This life is better than the previous one.

Do you still keep plenty of cattle?
It depends entirely on the size of the land. Those who have big pieces of land keep more, those with small, keep few animals.

At this time, do you still keep traditional cows?
We keep crossbreed cattle. The exotic dairy cattle die easily in this area. We prefer cross breed animals for they have higher chances of survival

I have noticed that the road network is poor. How then do you get your veterinary services?
We do not get proper veterinary services. We get services from those who are not properly trained. Our roads are bad and we can not easily be accessed most of the time.

How then do you transport your products to the market?
We use donkeys to ferry our produce to the market centres. We have great transportation problems.

How does it feel transporting your produce using donkeys?
We feel very bitter. We are not able to sell our produce right on time whenever we want due to lack of proper means of transportation.
Section 7
This road that I have seen, when was it constructed?
It was constructed in 1949. We dug this road using our hands and jembes (hoes). No machinery was used

You made these roads by yourselves or it was the influence of the whites?
During the colonial times, the colonial government would give instructions for the construction of the roads. So the people (we, Africans) would start constructing it by the use of ploughs and jembes (hoes) till we made it level and passable.

You told me that you have one wife. How do you solve any arising conflicts between the two of you?
Sometimes we have family conflicts. For example, if my wife complains of sleeping hungry when there is famine, I ask her, “I have provided you with land, why didn't you till it? Now whom do you expect to give you food?” So we decide to join hands to till our land and prepare our crops to avoid a repeat of the same problem again. You know, hunger is a good teacher. If a child falls sick, we usually take him or her to the hospital.

When you differ, what do you do?
We can not differ. If it is something that we want to do, we just agree and do it

Now that you have lived at a time when polygamy was predominant, but you married one wife, what would you feel about the marriages of your children?
My father has six wives. As I married, I saw how land was subdivided to my brother. Now I asked myself, if I have as many children as my father, where is the land that I will give them? How will I feed them? I would like my children to marry one wife because life now is hard. I have decided to bring up these children I have in the best manner. Possibly, I may marry another woman later.

Thanks a lot for the wonderful conversation
Thanks too.

God bless you.