culture and customs
family life
social relationships
spiritual beliefs


introducing the area

social change

 quotes about social change
 key testimonies featuring social change

Kenyan man and womanAs a glance at the other themes in this collection will show, many are dominated by the issue of how the Sabaot are negotiating difference and change, and the tensions that sometimes result. Christianity, access to education, intermarriage with non-Sabaot communities and the growing influence of "western culture", are all identified as instigators of change. In addition, pastoralism has given way to farming as the primary occupation. Some traditional customs, such as circumcision, are being questioned, while others, such as polygamy, make less economic sense in the modern world. Women's roles and opportunities are also changing, particularly as a result of education but also wider economic factors. As a result, some are finding their relationship with their husband is becoming more equal; others are encountering resistance. Finally, many older narrators express some distress at young people's behaviour and what they perceive as a loss of respect for their own knowledge and experience.

One major force for social change in the other collections on this website is migration - permanent, seasonal, temporary, ever increasing. By contrast, it appears not to be a significant factor in Mount Elgon. However, several narrators recognise that exposure to the world outside Mount Elgon can "open the eye" and two women specifically mention the value of travel and encountering outside influences. Indeed, they warn of the danger of being too closed a society: "You also know the consequences of sowing the same tree each planting time" and "if you just stay in one will know nothing". There is a clear tension among the narrators between those who think that Sabaot society is in danger of losing its way and who favour less contact with outsiders, and those who feel the only way forward is to be more open to change and outside influence. Whatever their position, however, most narrators wish to retain a distinct identity as Sabaot and to feel pride in their culture.

quotes about social change

"When we talk. [my husband] listens because he doesn't follow the old customs. Our life is modern, so we must be [as] one in our sharing."
Beatrice, F/43, chief's wife/businesswoman, Kenya 6

"...there is the element of western culture coming in. Okay, we have had to maintain some of the traditional ways, but there are those that are fading very fast."
Wycliffe, M/37, schools inspector, Kenya 19

"[We have experienced] the flooding of our society with western culture....Anything new to the Sabaot represents civilisation as far as they are concerned." "
Moses, M/36, teacher, Kenya 12

key testimonies featuring social change

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   10   Ann   Female/47   Farmer/housewife/widow     
Summary Transcript   12   Moses   Male/36   Teacher   Kibuk  
Summary Transcript   18   Ben   Male/59   local KANU Chairman   Kopsiro  
Summary Transcript   22   Robert   Male/30   Farmer   Cheptais  
Summary Transcript   5   Beatrice   Female/53   Retired headmistress   Kapsokwony