Kenya glossary


(KENYA 17)








Former preacher and religious teacher




November 1996



Section 1
Old man, could you start by telling me your complete names?
My full names are Silbabel Okadapau Chacha

Where were you born?

In which year did you come to this region of Mount Elgon?
I came here in the year 1941.

And you are staying...
I was staying in Kamneru.

When you look back on how things were at that time, could you recall and narrate to me how things were in Kamneru and Mount Elgon as a whole generally.
Generally, long time ago, things were good. We used to eat together with the people of Mount Elgon (the Sabaot). I came here in 1941. I became a football referee. At that time, chief Tendet, chief Hannington and chief Enock, the three people were the ones occupying this area. There was not much else. Even up to 1963, when there was a struggle for independence spearheaded by Kenyatta, us the Teso had never quarrelled with them (the Sabaot).

When you came to live in this place, had you undergone circumcision or did you get circumcised here?
Those days, us people (Teso) never used to be circumcised. Even long before then, the Teso never used to be circumcised. My age-mates and those older than us, we were never circumcised. This practice of circumcision started in 1954. That is when the Teso started to be circumcised together with their girls too.

What really happened in this year of 1954, that led the Teso to get circumcised?
The desire for ladies. It is the ladies who pushed these young men to get circumcised. The Elgon ladies (Sabaot women) told the Teso men that if they did not get circumcised, then they could not marry them.

Narrate to me, how circumcision was done.
These Elgon Sabaot would brew beer. Us Teso used to go to their bomas (homesteads) where we could be circumcised.
Section 2
How was the state of communication when you arrived here in Mount Elgon?
There were no roads. There were only tracks and footpaths

Where did you go for shopping?
Long ago, the market was at Otoya, down at Bungoma.

How did you used to travel there?
We used to go there on foot

How did it feel like travelling on foot for these long distances?
Travelling was exciting, there were no problems, there were no problems. You would just walk for a long time. If you got tired, you could go to a nearby homestead near your route and you would be properly accommodated till the following morning, when you would continue with your journey.

That is to say that people then were very hospitable.
Yes, people were very friendly just like the way you have come. You would be welcome, you would be given a place to sleep.

Can you recall the dates of your birth and what was happening at that time?
I was born during the German war (First World War).

Tell me of the things you saw in your life as a young man
After my birth, I witnessed the coming of the white man who came to heal our people

They came to heal the people and the land in which way?
The whites came with their religion. They preached against cattle rustling other tribes. They changed our mode of dressing from the ones we had and gave us their clothing.

For you had your own style of dressing, how did you feel during that transition from your way of dressing to dressing in the white man's way?
Most people did not like this. The Teso did not pick this up very fast. I was converted into this religion and I enjoyed dressing up in the white man's style.

When the white man came, how did you view them?
When the whites came here, they were feared. The people here feared the white soldiers who used to put on red berets. People would run away if they saw them coming their way, unlike these days when nobody fears them.

When would people run away from the whites?
Due to fear. They were not brave enough to free [themselves from] the whites.

Now that the people fear, how did they feel about the whites?
After the Africans regained their independence, it is when they realised that the white man was not superior.
Section 3
How did you feel under the leadership of the whites?
The white man ruled this part through another old man by the name of Murunga. Murunga was the chief of this area.

Now, you and others, how did it feel like being ruled by the whites?
The white man ruled by force. He used the cane. The white used to shave our people's long hair by force. This was no joke, they would pull out the Masaai’s (Sabaot) long hair. At that time, we were still stupid or ignorant. A white man could not sit with me the way you are doing. The only person who could sit with the white man was only his appointed chief, though the chief could not step inside the white man's house

The whites came to Mount Elgon at what time?
The white men came to this land in 1924. The white man came and colonised us. They took this land to be theirs. They put their boundary at Kuywa. The people here put up a sign to their boundary saying “Welcome to Kuywa”, and that is why that place is called Kamukuywa (welcome to Kuywa)

What kind of work were you involved in when you were staying in Cheptais?
In Cheptais, I used to preach and I was a religious teacher.

What church was this?
You called the late the church of politics (?). In the past, it was known as the Anglican Church.

Where did this Anglican Church come from?
It came from Butere, it was earlier in Kisumu, it came to Butere and then it reached here.

These people you were preaching to, how did they perceive you?
They loved it. The religion was very sweet, they liked me.

Were you teaching the Africans to put aside their traditions or how were you teaching?
We never told the people here to throw away their culture. Nobody is meant to judge anybody's culture or traditions. The Teso performed their rituals of raising up the dead, they were not told to stop.

How did the Teso raise their dead?
The Teso would exhume the remains of the dead from the graves. They would brew beer, slaughter cows, eat and drink in celebration of this ritual and hump and dance, and then exhume the remains of the dead.
Section 4
Tell me, if somebody died, he was buried, then what would follow?
He would be buried, the remains would remain in the grave for the accepted ten years, after which they would be exhumed.

Why was it that you had to exhume and remove the remains of the dead after ten years?
It was just part of the Teso customs from time immemorial.

How did this custom of exhuming the dead help the Teso, or what was its significance for the Teso?
If somebody got sick, the family members would consult a diviner. You know in the old days people used to use magic so much. So the magician would tell them that evil spirits from the unexhumed dead are the ones causing this sickness. So the magicians would instruct the family members to go and exhume the dead person's remains, which would then allow the sick to become well. So the people would do as they were told.

Where would you take these remains that you exhumed?
We used to take the remains to the forest. We would take these to live deep in the forest. Where nobody ventures easily.

And then?
We would leave these there. If later somebody became sick again, we would slaughter a sheep, and then take some sheep blood and faecal matter and go spill them there, and the person would get well. This was our ancient custom. At that time, people strictly believed in their tradition unlike these days where people do not seem to believe in our traditions.

Did the sick get cured?
Some would get healed and some would die.

When the white man came here, what changes did they bring?
They brought some commerce, they taught the people how to grow cotton.

When they came, they found you people involved in your own farming practices. How then did you feel about this infiltration with new farming ideas that were alien to you?
You know whites had their own supervisors. The work of this supervisor was to measure the quality of work and then assign it to you. Even if it was constructing a road, you had to construct the part that was assigned to you.

Is that to say that you were forced to work or how was it?
Yes, it was forced labour. We would be cowed to push us to do this work.
Section 5
How did you feel about this forced labour?
In the past, we were full of fear, at that time there were no trade unions that could fight for the rights of the workers, it is just recently that this came about. In the past, we would dig a road with jembes (hoes) and we would use sticks to make the road to be as compact as possible.

Did you like what you were doing?
No, but if God has not given you power, what could you do? People did this work out of fear. Even if we were angry, we could not show this to the white man for fear that the white man would kill us.

What other changes did these whites bring?
They brought their religion to heal people's souls.

Does this mean that you people did not have your own religion or traditions?
We in our culture believed that there was God. This is why in the morning, we would spit saliva towards the visiting sun, uttering akolong ngari giny (God take care of us).

Now that you had your own traditions, that you believed in God, how then did you view the white man's religion?
You know their religion taught us not to slaughter hens as we did in our rituals. Doing this to them was tantamount to doing evil things. This led to people moving away from their traditions and customs. Even so the people still believed in their customs and traditions.

Could you remember when the first roads were built in Cheptais?
The roads were constructed just recently. I can not recall the exact year but it is just in the recent past.

Could you tell me what you saw after the white man came to Cheptais?
The whites came to Cheptais through an old man by the name Muranga. The white man's baraza (gathering) was held in Malakisi.

How did you travel to Malakisi?
We would go there on foot.

How did it feel walking these long distances on foot?
It is only those with strong hearts (the brave ones) who would attend the chief's baraza. The cowards could not go.

What were the functions of the chief’s baraza?
The chief's baraza was concerned with deciding cases about people. If you wronged somebody, you could be either fined or any other punishment could be decided to be given to you.

Could you tell me about your life and especially how you got married up to date?
I married late. I married in 1940.
Section 6
How many women did you marry?
Two wives

At that time, was it tradition that people had to marry many wives?
In the past, if you had wealth, you could marry as many as five or ten wives. The rich men could marry up to 12 women, but the poor would marry one, two or three wives if your libido was high.

What is the significance of polygamy in your community?
Many wives could help in the digging of vast land. It was also easy to expand the homestead and the homestead could be looked at as being rich. So people would say that the man is rich and that is why he has many wives.

When you came to Cheptais, was the land communally owned or individually owned?
That time, there was no land boundaries. You could just come and build. The number of people at that time was small. Just like you have come to see me. I could tell you to go and build at a place I would show you, and I could not charge you any fees.

This idea of individual land ownership, how did it come about?
It came about in 1950.

How did people feel about this change of land ownership?
They followed the command. People liked the idea and others looked at it and said, “Oh, I can see that I have many children, I would not like anybody else to come and occupy my land”. That is how boundaries came in.

Who gave the directive that land be demarcated?
It is the whites (the colonial government).

You said earlier, that the Elgon (Sabaot) ladies are the ones who pressed you people into being circumcised.
Yes, these ladies used to be circumcised, so they would not agree to having sexual relations with the uncircumcised men (the Teso).

So, the ladies despised you people just because you were uncircumcised.
They despise us completely. The older ladies would look at the younger ones and tell them, “Stop talking to that man for he is uncircumcised”. This led to the Teso starting to be circumcised.

You mean to say that you started being circumcised just because of these ladies’ influence?
That was the only reason why Teso started being circumcised. My age-mates and those before me were not circumcised. Even in Teso land, people do not circumcise but the ones living in Mount Elgon all get circumcised.
Section 7
What you have said is that your customs could not permit circumcision. If you got circumcised, how did your people back at home (Tesoland) view you?
Back at home, you could not be given a normal welcome. If some rituals were supposed to be done, then you could not perform it, for you had broken the taboos of the community. So, somebody who is uncircumcised would be called to do the ritual on your behalf.

You are saying that a circumcised man could not perform a ritual?
You would not be allowed to perform any traditional ritual.

Tell me how things changed when land was demarcated and individuals now owned their own land.
People started farming, everybody in his own piece of land.

These Elgon people (Sabaot) what were they involved in…
They never used to farm their land so much. It is the Teso who came to teach them on how to farm their land.

When was formal education brought to this side?
The whites first taught us how to write on the soil using our finger. People used to pay very little money as fees.

At what age did people go to school?
People could be rounded up by the askari (police) and they could be taken to school.

Why was it that they had to be rounded up by the police to be taken to school?
Because they were fearful. Most children did not like going to school. The headman would order the police to round them up and take them to school.

When people got sick, how did you get treatment?
Our old tradition was that we would make some small cuts on the patient and rub some herbal drugs on these cuts. Us Teso, we would also slaughter a hen's leg then tie it round the neck of the patient.

What did you believe this would do?
We believed in God, that God would heal this person. If the patient got well, then the people would say that it is the feathers or the hen's leg that cured this person.

When the whites came with their modern medicine and hospitals, how did you perceive this?
You know God gave the whites knowledge. They came and told us not to follow our traditions. 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. If you could take two or three tablets, you would get well. People discovered the goodness of these drugs. They started going to the hospital. People loved these drugs.
Section 8
How was the state of education in the fifties in Mount Elgon?
There were not many schools in this part. Most of the schools were in Butere and in the area referred in the past as Kavirondo. Schools were built very recently, by 1960. In Mount Elgon there were only two secondary schools. That is Kaptama and Kapsokwony Secondary Schools. They were later followed by Cheptais Secondary School and the latest was Kimobo which was built in 1980. Long ago, we used to learn under a tree.

If you can remember the Teso marriages, how was it done in the old days (during your time)?
The Teso marriages were like - me and you become friends, we drink together, you visit me and I visit you. At one time, I would tell you to give me your daughter for my son in exchange for dowry. I would bring the cattle [as dowry] to your home. You would stay with the cattle for a long time. Later I would come to you and tell you that I am interested in your daughter marrying my son. If you agreed, then my wife would come to your home and discuss the same with your wife. I would then tell my son that I need him to go and marry from a particular family and he would accept. 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.

How has this changed from the past?
The marriages today are bad. These days, the girls and boys have become bad. If for example a young boy decides to marry a particular girl, the other friends discourage the girl so much by the use of false accusations.

How do you feel about these changes?
The old ways were good. I as a father could choose my son to marry from a particular family, for I knew that I would be well fed by this girl and even the father to the girl would look at that. But presently, even that man has a terrible grudge with you. You will realise that your son or daughter will marry or be married there (?).

Why did you move from Cheptais to Kamneru?
I left Chepatais for Transzoia where I stayed for two years and came back. I wanted to go to Cheptais but I did not manage. So I decided to remain in Kamneru.

What happened that caused you not to make it to Cheptais?
Things were not that bad, especially in relation to land. Land ownership had not been sanctioned, so I decided to remain here in Kamneru, for it was easy to get land.

How were you received in Kamneru?
I was received by my fellow Teso by the name of Joseph Odera.

You said he was from your tribe.
Yes, he was a Teso who had settled here earlier.
Section 9
If we can talk about your marriage, you said that you married two wives.
Yes, two wives.

What do you feel about the present marriages?
The marriages of these days have changed a lot from those of the past. These days marriages take place in church, where the wedding is done. In our time, things never used to be like that.

In the past, you did not mind your girl child being married as second or tenth wife. What is your feeling on the same in the present day?
It is difficult. There is no land. If you have one or two acres of land and have children, where will you take these children? Where will you get enough food to feed them?

So you feel people should not…
People should not marry many wives.

People should marry one wife?
Only one wife.

When you married two wives, how many children did you bear with them?
Twelve children in total.

In your time, how many children would a woman be expected to bear?

If she bears only girl children, what would have been your feeling?
You feel hurt in your heart, so you marry another woman. You say, “now that this lady has only born female children, I would rather marry another woman who will bear me a son”.

Why do you have to marry a second wife and yet you have girl children with your other wife?
It is inside a man's blood. For me, I could look and say, “Oh, my wife has only given birth to two girls, can't I look for a son”. So I marry another woman to get a son.

And how did the society view the boy child?
Those years, there was no much love between members of the same clan. When my clan would realise that I had not had a son with my wife, they would be annoyed with me. They could say, “Brother look for another wife, now these girls that you have, what will they do? Look for a second wife”.

You Teso, what was the role of a boy child in your community?
The role of a young man was to help in farming land. Us Teso would till the land by the use of our hands, real digging. The Teso can dig a big portion of land within a short time.

What were the boy’s duties when they were at home?
Just tilling the land.
Section 10
What about the times of war?
During the war, even the girls would join the men in the war.

You mean even the girls?

What did they use to fight?
Shindi (shield) and spears.

The girls could go to battle?

Who was the head of the family?
The man (husband) was the head of the family.

What was the role of the woman in the society?
The woman was charged with the responsibility of tilling land, weeding and taking care of children.

What about the other chores like milking the cows, clearing bushes round the house...
She would do all the work of the house.

How do you see the state of things at the moment?
Things have greatly changed. The women have now seen the white man's plough, they have refused to till the land using the jembe. If you tell a woman to dig using a hoe, she refuses, for she wants you to use the plough and bulls to till the land.

Are you suggesting that women are protesting?
Yes. These days, women can not take a hoe and go and till the land. Like this daughter of mine, she can not take a hoe and go to the shamba (small family plot). Only those ladies from families that use hoes to cultivate can do the same. As for the rest, they would prefer to come and wash clothes, wash their legs and just relax like I am doing presently. But those Teso ladies of our time, their work was to till the land.
The olden marriages were good for there was an understanding between the parents. But these days, it is the children who organise their own marriages. You as a parent may not even now that your daughter or son is married except only they have a big problem when you may be told about it.
We were in good terms with all those around us. We were made to understand that our forefathers slaughtered a dog and took an oath after the old tribal wars not to fight one another again. But up to recently, when there arose these tribal clashes, we even do not know why this cropped up. Others say that these clashes started due to people not following the oath of our forefathers. Others said that Nambale and Katakwa diocese strugglers (protestors) were the perpetrators of these clashes. For us, the Teso during the clashes, we never burnt down anybody's house. We just moved out of the district and went away. It is recently that we came back, but many of the affected victims have never come back.
Section 11
How were you affected by the 1991-1992 clashes?
In 1992, we were just surprised, when they came and told us, “You Teso go back to your home in Busia”. We were perturbed by these words. They told the Bukusu, “You have given us enough problems in Bungoma district. You have denied our boys and girls chances of employment”. Then us the Teso said, “We have never fought against you, we do not need to lead you, we do not need any political office, ours is to dig our land and get food and money to educate our children”. They told us, “You people of Katakwa, go back to Busia”. That is how the clashes began. They destroyed our peaceful stay here. Even now, some Sabaot say, “The Teso should not come back here”. These are the people who want to occupy the Teso land. They would have taken our land for no proper reason.

What did you lose due to the clashes?
I lost a lot of property. All my cows were stolen, my corrugated house was destroyed, my grass-thatched houses were burnt down. They harvested all the maize that was in the shamba and took away all the beans, tomatoes and even onions. I even did not want to come back, for I had lost everything that I had. I do not have the energy to go back and till the land, but the government appealed to us to come back to our land. That is why I came back, but to regain my wealth is impossible.

For those people that you lived with, how were their lives changed?
We people 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 in the past, we had not fought with them, the ancient wars were all forgotten.

And now, the government has asked you people to go back to your land, has everybody come back?
Not all people have come back.

Why do you think people have not come back to their land?
The reason for not coming back to their land is fear. These people here, the Sabaot, have threatened that come 1997, they will shoot all of us dead. They do not want to see us. The brave ones have come, but those fearful ones have not yet come back.

What do you feel about what has happened in relation to the clashes?
I feel that the government should take charge. Us the Teso, have no powers to fight, for there is nothing that we are demanding. We do not desire for leadership over these people (Sabaot). We just want to be left alone to farm our shambas. If it is employment in the civil service, the government should hold interviews to select by itself the proper people to employ. If it is voting for a political office, we are not interested in any political office.
Section 12
How did these clashes start?
These clashes started in 1992. We Teso were completely unaware of what was happening. These Sabaot planned the clashes secretively. I can not recall which month they begun. We saw houses being burnt down, they raided and took our cattle and other livestock. We were caught unaware by the raiders who came to torch our houses. They came armed with bows and arrows, pangas (swords), spears and drove away my cattle. There is nothing I could have done. I had no strength. I had nothing to fight with. They were really prepared for war.

I am sorry for what happened. Now you have gone back to your land?
I am in my land now.

Have you gone back to your normal lifestyle or you are still scared?
I am trying to but I still have a lot of fear. I have decided to wait for 1997, if things will be okay, then I will not have much worry. Presently, the government has beefed up security. The security personnel have been instructed to shoot and kill any troublemaker. That is why we feel fairly safe. The government is committed to our resettlement. The government is giving us nails, thatching grass, posts, doors, windows. It is giving these things to the tribal clash victims who have come back to their land. So there are people saying, if the Sabaot want to burn the houses, they will be burning the government. Whoever will want to burn my house will do it at his own risk. He will have to face the government. I am staying in my land as a squatter in this house. If they want to burn the house, let them do it. I will just run away and leave the house here

Thanks for all that you have told me and the wonderful discussion that we have heard. If there is anything that I may need from you, I will be back.
You are welcome, I am always here.