culture and customs
family life
social change
social relationships
spiritual beliefs

introducing the area


 quotes about land
 key testimonies featuring land

Mount ElgonThe majority of Kenya's Sabaot people live in the Mount Elgon region, an area which has economic, political, spiritual and historical importance for them. One narrator explains: "The name Bikap Koret, which literally means the owners of the territory .... used to refer to the Sabaot a long time ago, when the Sabaot were truly owners of a vast territory" (Kenya 14) .

Many talk of the gradual loss of their land, mainly to the Bukusu, although there is some mention of white settlers annexing their land during colonial times. One narrator says that it is the result of their "pastoralist nature": "Whenever disaster struck, for example, death of livestock or a human being, the Sabaot would migrate. Hence we lost the land because of our nomadic nature" (Kenya 11) . Another says persecution by the Bukusu meant "the Sabaot were pushed out of the plains to this strip of land along the mountain" (Kenya 12) . They have been unable to get their land back: "when the Sabaot realised the need to reclaim their land, they were disadvantaged because they had very few educated people to effectively present their case" (Kenya 11) . Another talks of the Sabaot being duped, after Independence, into not claiming their land rights: "I think that the then MP of this region contributed a great deal to many Sabaot not buying land. He made us believe that because Transzoia had been our land originally, we did not need to buy it..." (Kenya 12) . Several mention how a pro-Bukusu government forcefully moved some Sabaot out of the forest. This has compounded their anger at what they see as outside intervention in their land, which has denied them access to the plains or the forests.

The conflict with the Bukusu, therefore, has been centred on land, with a policy, practised by both sides, of ridding areas of people of different ethnic groups. Since the clashes of the early 90s, Mount Elgon has achieved its own status as a district, and many narrators talk of a sense of triumph at finally being able to administer their land, though there is still a lot of concern over land shortage, as the population increases.

quotes about land

"People should be told that Sabaot land right now is very small and we are just living on a mountain strip. You the youth, should ask yourselves where you will live and where your children will live too. For the Sabaot have been pushed to the foot of the mountain."
Masai, M/57, retired primary school teacher, Kenya 11

"Most of our land at the moment, has been taken up by Bukusu who...came from Uganda. Initially they just came in to assist the Sabaot as herdsmen, but they took advantage of the nomadic nature of the Sabaot....When the Sabaot moved away, then the Bukusu would invite their relatives to occupy the area. They used this tactic until they...dominated the area."
Hezron, M/48, village elder, Kenya 14

"...when the Bukusu came, they forced these people to stay in the mountain. And when these people tried to go to the forest...the government tells them no. Now they are living in a very narrow area all along the mountain. These people are growing....There will be need in future for these people to be allocated land somewhere..."
Robert, M/30, farmer, Kenya 22

key testimonies featuring land

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   11   Masai   Male/57   Retired primary school teacher   Kapsokwony  
Summary Transcript   12   Moses   Male/36   Teacher   Kibuk  
Summary Transcript   14   Hezron   Male/48   Village elder     
Summary Transcript   22   Robert   Male/30   Farmer   Cheptais