Wild Safari to West Pokot County

Kenya is a beautiful country with unique diversity, rich culture and, beautiful countryside. West Pokot is such a place.  You all got it wrong that violence is the other word of Governor Lonyangapuo county. The gushing waters of Weiwei river, the rare striped antelopes of Saiwa Swamp National Park, the white sands of Ortum the sprawling Cherengani hills at Tapach and Sodany. What about the beautiful Merino sheep of Nyarukurian? Please accompany me!

We start our safari at “The Grill Park” Nakuru, Tuesday at 2:30 pm a five hour’s drive to Kapenguria.

Not much can be said of the stretch from Nakuru to Eldoret, only the famous Monumental memorial site of fire tragedy at Sachagwan erected to warn the public against illegal scooping of fuel where 113 perished and 1,200 people were critically injured on 3st Jan 2009. At around 5.30 we were at Burnt Forest. What could be seen along the road were shells of burnt-out houses resulting from the infamous land clashes of year 2007, thousands were displaced, death of young ones at Kiambaa church, are lessons to teach the youth the essence of peace.

 What a sumptuous meal we enjoyed at Eldoret “the home of champions” as we were hosted by a couple friend of ours the Karuri’s, from the traditional Ugali made of grounded millet, served with very delicious herbs and drowned with a glass of traditionally well prepared “Mursik”.  A signature meal befitting an honored visitor. We spent the better part of the evening chatting and occasionally marveling at the well-manicured lawns as the melodious voices of birds lent the air at the home of the couple.

The following morning after a salivating breakfast we were ready to hit the road. If the “Home of Champions “goes by its true meaning, then the couple were our great champions. We couldn’t leave the town without a brief familiarization, we drove to the Moi International Airport at Kapsaret, a ten-minute drive from CBD, the high altitude training center at Kimumu, and of course the Kipchoge Keino Stadium, what about the splashing waters of river Sossian?

Around midday, we bid Uasin Gishu county goodbye, with an extra gourd of “Mursik” it was the priceless gift we received from the Karuri’s. The massive corn plantations dotted the beautiful landscape of Mois Bridge indeed this was the Kenyan bread basket with conspicuously visible granaries. Farmers were busy either tending their crops or a tractor tilling the open fields. Our next stop that evening was at Kitale town, the headquarters of Trans-nzoia County. The same script was rewritten, if not a truck full of fertilizer then it was a van full of planting materials. An occasional buzzing of attractor hauling harrow or planters completed the sweet story.

We decided to drive direct to Kapenguria a stretch of around 30 Km snaking through Kesogon, Murkunjit to Kapenguria. At around 6.00 pm we checked in at Utulivu Resort, a local eatery at the heart of the town frequented by locals where they come to catch the latest news on current affairs. This was the exact place we had arranged to meet with Mr. Atundonyang, a teacher at Kaptabuk Secondary school who would host us for the night, he was to act as our tour guide of the area.

Prior to our visit the only encounter we had with the county was through the media which portrayed West Pokot as the most dangerous place on earth due to cattle rustling and armed bandits. What we knew was vicious cattle rustlers who believe cows belong to them and other tribes are just mere custodians and will not hesitate to pull the trigger. As we prepared for this wild safari, our families & friends were uncomfortable. On our minds we thought Kapenguria was a war field, but contrary to our expectations this were peace-loving people and too generous from the roasted meat we shared that evening and many tales we shared of the city and the countryside.  

We were convinced that we got it wrong on our perception as we told  Mr. Atudonyang of our fears,  he would laugh at our naivety and would dispel those narratives with contempt  “I am a Pokot elder do you see any gun around ”  he would say amid laughter’s “This are just media stories done by journalists who are either too lazy to research for their stories, we have as any other community thieves and witches who cannot define a whole community, we have isolated cases at Kacheliba between the Pokots and our Turkana brothers and Kamelei between the Pokots and our in-laws the Marakwets but those are just isolated cases” he explained as he took another piece of meat. We had to see off our friends back to our room a few meters away at the Resort. Now we were more eager to visit the expansive county the following day.

The following morning at Kapenguria our first stop with Mr. Atudonyang was the famous iconic cell, where our forefathers “the Kapenguria six” (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, founding father and the first president of Kenya, Bildad Kagia, Achieng Oneko, Fred Kubai, Kung’u Karumba and Paul Ngei) were held & detained in 1952. This is one of the spectacular places that any visitor should visit to have a glimpse of this great nation footprints. We embark to visit the vast county and sample their rich cultural heritage. From Kamatira the notorious black spot an ascent that meanders with dangerous bends we arrive at Chepararia Market. This is where we would meet Mzee Lollima the community spiritual leader who would give us a glimpse of the community background and cultural practices. We met him at his usual hut which was perceived as the most sacred place by the community below a huge fig tree in a secluded place, one of the elders instructed us to sit down on a dried piece of zebra hide.  There was no other seat. According to Pokot believes, it is a bad omen to the community to seek the wisdom of their spiritual leader on an empty stomach, as thus we served ourselves in traditional calabashes full of honey and dried roasted meat, with a glass of traditional brew, we were well satisfied. Women are not allowed in sacred places together with boys, they have no significance in the strict observed Pokot traditions. We had a brief

introduction of ourselves and our mission to the sacred place. We were given a special stick since we couldn’t be addressed without one. Mzee Lollima clears his deep voice and says “the Pokot people are known as the Suk, they belong to the Nilo-hematic group of the Kalenjin community” he pauses “They are mostly found in West Pokot, East Baringo, and East Uganda. The community has fifteen different clans, they are known for their strong cultural and social traditions that give identity to every clan. As we continue with our conversation Mzee Lollima laughs “know the history before you visit a Pokot” this is an old Pokot saying.

Along the way, from Mzee Lollima’s hut, we couldn’t stop admiring the vast Cherengani Hills, we visted Saiwa Swamp National Park and had an opportunity to see the rare stripped Sitatunga antelopes. We visited Sina trading center, the home of the most notable marathoner and legendry Tecla Lorupe. We saw the serene area she grew in, a wonderful woodland hidden in the remotest part of West Pokot county. The merino sheep doted the area as Mr. Atundonyang explained that their wool is the best renown world brand in the major textile industries across the world.

From Sina we drove to Kapsangar via Kaptabuk to Murkokoi thanks to the modern day technology we meet Mzee Murwasi waiting for us and after a lot of hearty discussion on the political organization of his tribe. We try to retrace the conflict that resonates with Pokots and their Turkana brothers; he looks at the sky spits on the ground and says “My sons the Pokots belongs to two groups, the Kassaurias found along the Turkwell Gorge and the Katiati found in East Baringo. Before settling in Kenya a story passed down too many generations the Pokots were agriculturists who believed in farming, only under the recent hematic influence did they develop the pastoralist ways as for Turkana and Pokots lived in a peaceful co-existence but the recent political greed has divided the two communities. Whoever invented politics did us a disservice, we have married our young men to Turkana beautiful lasses but politicians back in your big city will incite people to fight, latter they will come pretending to be mediators only for them to get votes to their political offices. My grandmother was a Turkana who was married to my grandfather after successful raids” He again spits on the ground clenching his fist in anger.

Pointing with his walking stick “If you look at those distant ridges on your way to Sodany those are our in-laws the Marakwets we have intermarried with them for generations, but when that person called a politician got into the picture we are now great enemies a few weeks ago my neighbor was shot at close range,  were it not for quick interventions from elders of both sides our young men will be in that Muino forests fighting their in-laws, my sons be good ambassadors of peace if you taste war, the community deteriorates drastically until it is forgotten. Peace is the only shield of a vibrant community, to a nation blossoms in peace in the absence of war” he says. 

It Is late in the evening but we cannot leave the coldest place without being installed as Pokot elders as the old man points out “You are our voice my sons through you, our story will be told to the whole world” He quips. It is not far from Kaptabuk and our friend Mr. Atudonyang who has not uttered a word in the presence of elders will host us for the night. Interestingly a few trucks loaded with potatoes passes, our friend explained to us that away from pastoralism the new generation was embracing modern-day farming. Were it not for the collapse of Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, the area was renown for its pyrethrum that produced the best pyrethrin. The more we chatted along the way the more the menacing cold bite us, the least we needed was warmth.

The climax of the visit was our installation as Pokot elders at Kabibich.  A modest shopping center priding itself as the center for academic excellence of West Pokot, and this Friday morning as we sipped the last sip of a richly made soup, the young as well as old men dressed in their traditional regalia were ready to escort us to the shrine. Old men in animated debates welcomed us. Before the ceremony started traditional prayers were offered and a moment of speeches deeply laced with spiritual intonations were offered, a large cauldron was steaming in a hearth at the middle. It was surrounded by men according to their ages. Closer to the burning fire were extremely older men, the pattern was repeated to the youngest men who faced the knife a few years ago. Notably, boys and women are prohibited from attending the ceremony as Mzee Murwasi explained. If by any chance a boy is spotted, the ceremony is observed but no installation would be undertaken, men will only celebrate and go home with their full tummies, but if a woman is slightly spotted the whole ceremony is called off.

Seated in the furthest corner with my friend Simon and the teacher clutching our symbolic sticks, blood is sprinkled on our feet and fermented milk is smeared on our foreheads we are fully dressed in special regalia’s. The whole exercise is led by an old man who as per my estimation is a centenarian. Now we are given special names.  My new name is “Sapalimuk” Simon from now will be “Kukai” as long as we visit the county those will be our special names.

As we leave West Pokot we have to Camp at Ortum, we have come, we have seen everything and now it is time to bid the land of Lonyangapuo goodbye as we put our tents for the night we concluded, we were all wrong about our people of Pokot, as I close my eyes I wished if we had a chance to visit many more places!                    

We start            

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