The Dorobo Peoples of Kenya and
A people profile
Orville Boyd Jenkins
Status: 1% Christian
The "Dorobo" are not one tribe. Rather, the term
Dorobo referred to the original forest-dwelling hunters in the
Rift Valley of what is now Kenya and Tanzania. These peoples
live in scattered groups in the plains of the Rift Valley and the
forests of the neighboring escarpments.
Southern Cushite peoples, followed by Eastern Cushites, settled in
East Africa's Rift Valley during the first millennium after
Christ. They found San (Bushmen) peoples already here.
Bantu traditions refer to these early peoples whom their ancestors
found there. Early Nilotes, then various waves of Bantu and
later Nilotes subsequently came into the area.
The Kikuyu refer to a people in
Central Province as the Athi (the ground people), after the source
the names Athi Plains and Athi River. Oral traditions say
the Kikuyu paid the Athi to move into their land. The Athi
seem to be either the Cushites or the original San people.
(The Sandawe and the Hadzapi in northern Tanzania still speak San
languages. The Bantu name "Twa" for the pygmies in
Rwanda-Burundi-Zaire is the same word the Zulus use for the
Khoisan click-language speakers they found in their early
migrations into what is now Natal Province. There is still a
San tribe there today called Twa.)
The San were the first people we
know of in the Rift Valley. Southern Cushites then Eastern
Cushites were followed by the Highland Nilotes (Kalenjin Cluster),
then the early Bantu. It was from later intermingled waves
of Plains Nilotes (Maasai-Teso-Karamojong-Turkana) that the
Cushite peoples got their common name Dorobo.
The various Dorobo groups have
associated themselves with various Nilotic groups, notably the
Nandi, Kipsigis and Maasai. The largest group of the diverse
Dorobo are the Okiek, who are widely dispersed, but have
maintained their cultural identity.
The British colonial government
recognized this Okiek unity and dealt with the "Dorobo"
as one "tribe." Unfortunately, the British also
grouped many "Dorobo" groups of diverse origin and
culture together. The Dorobo groups have been outside the
mainstream of development and education in modern times.
Various old Cushite groups in the Rift Valley of Kenya and
Tanzania are called Dorobo. The Maasai called these
hunter-gatherers by the name Torobo (Il Torobo), pronounced very
like the word Dorobo. The term means poor people (who do not
have cattle)! The Maasai term was taken into Swahili in the
form Dorobo, and into Kikuyu and Kalenjin as Ndorobo. The
term is applied to peoples of both Eastern Cushite and Southern
Cushite origins. The Maasai-speaking Dorobo refer to
themselves by the Maasai word Torobo.
Most Dorobo groups have become
affiliated with various Nilotic tribes as clients, mostly as a
self-defense for their own preservation under the various waves of
Nilotic migration into their ancestral area.
Various peoples called "Dorobo"
are the Okiek, the Mukogodo, the Mosiro, the Aramanick, the
Kisankasa, the Mediak and the El Molo. Most of these peoples
speak the various languages of their Nilotic neighbors. In
addition, there are Dorobo sub-tribes of the Kipsigis and Maasai.
The El Molo are an Eastern Cushite group, related to the Somali
and Rendille. The "Dorobo" Maasai (Okiek) are the
metal worker clan of the Keekonyokie and other Maasai tribes.
The widely-scattered Okiek are the most populous among the "Dorobo"
groups. The Digiri (Il Tigirri) group of the Okiek
live near Mount Kenya and some have now migrated to Maasai areas
near the Tanzania border.
Most of the Dorobo people have been completely absorbed into the
culture and language of their Nilotic patrons. Some groups
have accepted the name Dorobo as an identifier to distinguish
themselves as a separate group even though they no longer speak a
unique language. Most Okiek are bilingual in Kipsigis and
Maasai with one of these languages being more the mother tongue
and the other the second tongue. The "Dorobo
Maasai" in Narok District are actually a group of Okiek who
have taken up speaking Maasai and lost the Kalenjin language, but
clearly identify themselves with other Okiek groups. The
Mukogodo Maasai consider themselves a sub-tribe of the Maasai and
speak the Maasai language (Maa). Many also speak Swahili.
The Mediak and Mosiro of Tanzania
speak languages related to the Nandi language in Kenya, probably
from the original form of the early Kalenjin settlers. Many
of the Mosiro now speak Maasai. It is reported that 8 El
Molo (Ol Molo) still speak the old language, while a few dozen
more speak Samburu or Turkana.
In Tanzania, the "Dorobo"
groups Aramanick and Kisankasa still speak Cushite languages, but
many are bilingual in Maasai or Swahili. The Chamus (Njemps)
are another of these old peoples. The Chamus speak Samburu,
as do the Ariaal Rendille, who are Eastern Cushites now speaking
the Nilotic Samburu language. (The "Rendille"
Rendille still speak Rendille, a language related to Somali.)
The Ariaal are not called Dorobo, but share a similar cultural
history. Related peoples in Tanzania still speak Southern Cushite
languages, like Mbugu and Iraqw.
The different peoples need to be
targeted in the languages they now speak. In some cases
"Dorobo" groups of one language see themselves as a
separate people from others speaking that language, like the
Dorobo and Kipsigis, who both speak Kipsigis. The various
widely-dispersed Okiek family units, however, consciously maintain
their identity with other Okiek groups.
The customs vary, with the "Dorobo" peoples in most
cases following the dominant culture patterns of the Nilotic
peoples they are "client" to. The Maasai Dorobo,
however, constitute an ironworkers clan of the Maasai, while the
Mukogodo Maasai are herders and raiders in the central Maasai
tradition. More research is needed to better understand
The various peoples called Dorobo maintain various forms of
traditional animistic religion, while some have accepted the
Christian faith as their Nilotic neighbours have. Many of
the Okiek groups use the word Tororo for God, from the word tororr,
meaning "very high." Some living among the Nandi
and Kipsigis use the name Asis, the Kalenjin name, related to an
ancient Egyptian god.
Since 1975 the gospel has been accepted by some Kipsigis-speaking
Dorobo. More recently churches have been started among the
Dorobo by Pentecostals and Baptists. It seems, however, that
ministry to the Dorobo groups has been incidental rather than
intentional. Mukogodo, Chamus and Tanzanian groups have had
little Christian witness and remain traditional.
Kipkorir, B. E. and F. B. Welbourn.
The Marakwet of Kenya: A Preliminary Study.
Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1973.
Mwanzi, Henry A. A History
of the Kipsigis. Nairobi, Kenya: East African
Literature Bureau, 1977.
Ochieng', William Robert. An
Outline History of the Rift Valley of Kenya. Nairobi,
Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1975.
Ogot, B. A. (ed.). "The
Kalenjin," Kenya Before 1900: Eight Regional
Studies. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing
History," Kenya Before 1900: Eight Regional
Studies. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing
Orchardon, Ian Q. The
Kipsigis. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature
Toweet, Taaitta. Oral
Traditional History of the Kipsigis. Nairobi, Kenya:
Kenya Literature Bureau, 1979.
Link : http://www.geocities.com/orvillejenkins/profiles/dorobo.html