The Kalenjin Ethnic Group


The Kalenjin ethnic group are Southern Nilotic peoples native to the East African region. According to the 2019 census in Kenya, the number of Kalenjin was over 6 million. They are divided into more than 6 clans, with the Kipsigis and Nandi being the 2 largest sub-groups of the Kalenjin people. Other clans or sub-groups are Keiyo, Sabaot, Marakwet, Tugen, Terik, Ogiek, and Pokot.

The History of the Kalenjin people

In the 21st century, people refer to the Kalenjin as the running ethnic group. Since the 1960s, Kenyan men have won the biggest share of awards in international sports. Many of these Kenyan running superstars have been the Kalenjin people. Since 1980, the Kalenjin people have won top awards in various international competitions. In 2008, Pamela Jelimo became the 1st Kenyan woman to earn a gold medal award at the Olympics.

One of the most epic moments in the history of the Kalenjin people was during the Nandi resistance. The resistance was a conflict that took place in Kenya between 1890 and 1906. Koitalel Arap Samoei, the Orkoiyot of the Nandi then, led the Nandi resistance. In 1905, Arap Samoei was to meet with Col Richard for a peace arrangement, but Richard Meinertzhagen killed Samoei.

Examples of Remarkable Kalenjin Runners

Here, we will discuss more Pamela Jelimo, Mercy Cherono, Paul Tergat, and Moses Tanui.

Pamela Jelimo was born in Kiptamok village in the Nandi District. Esther Cheptoo Keter was her mother, and she was a promising 200m and 400m runner. Pamela Jelimo started running in 2003 at 13 years at Koyo Secondary school in the division of Kaptumo close to Kapsabet. Jelimo established herself as a successful athlete, winning at schools’ championships events in the 100, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800m, and heptathlon.

Philip Ng’eno, her secondary school games instructor, said that Jelimo used to compete with the males in sprint competitions. Girls were no match for Pamela Jelimo. Jelimo’s family was poor and found it difficult to pay school fees to send Jelimo to high school. Pamela refused to give up and started selling milk from the family cow to pay for her school fees.

By 2004, Pamela Jelimo had successfully reached the local provincial championships in the 400 meters. In June 2007, she finished 5th in the 400 m race at the Kenyan Championships event with a time record of 55.82s. Jelimo continued to improve throughout the season, winning the 400m gold award at the African Junior Championships with a time of 54.93 seconds. She set a Kenyan national record in the 200 meters with 24.68 seconds.

Zaid Kipkemboi Aziz, Jelimo’s coach, advised her to change to 800 meters races. She started working for the Kenyan police force and was training with Janeth Jepkosgei. Pamela ran her 1st 800 m race in 2008 at the Kenyan trials for the African Championships, recording a time of 2 minutes, 1 second, and 2 microseconds.

Mercy Cherono Koech was born on 7th May 1991 in the town of Kericho. She is a Kenyan long-distance runner. Mercy Cherono was the silver medalist in the 5000 m at the 2013 World Championships in Athletics. Cherono Koech is a 2-time World Junior Champion in the 3000m and has also attained gold awards at the 2007 World Youth Championships in Athletics and 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.

Paul Tergat has won more than 3 straight IAAF World Cross Country Championships titles from 1995 to 1999.

Tergat says:

“Cross-country is what I always loved the most. It was my world, my passion. Before the IAAF launched the short course in 1998, all the world-class athletes from 1500 meters to the marathon were in the same race.”

Paul Tergat won the Lisbon Half Marathon in 2000, setting a record and personal best (PB) of 59:06. He won the race again 5 years later with a record of 59:10. Paul’s successes also include more than 4 victories in the Saint Silvester Road Race, the most vital function in Latin America street racing.

Tergat has had an intense competition with his ally Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia. Gebrselassie defeated him in the Olympic Games of 10000 meters finals of 2000 Sydney Olympics and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Paul finished at the 2nd position after Gebrselassie in the 1997 and 1999 World Championships in Athletics at 10000 meters and finished at the 3rd place in the 1995 race.

Paul broke Gebrselassie’s 10000-meter world record in 1997 in Brussels with a time record of 26 minutes, 27 seconds, and 85 microseconds. A year later, Gebrselassie broke the record again with a time of 26:22:75.

Tergat broke the half marathon world record title in 1998 in Milan by running at a time less than an hour (59 minutes and 17 seconds).

Moses Tanui was born on 20th August 1965 in Marakwet District. He is a former Kenyan long-distance runner who attained the gold medal award over 10000 m at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics.

At the 1993 World Championships in Athletics in Stuttgart, he finished in the 2nd position after a debatable occurrence on the last lap. In 1996 he won the 100th Boston Marathon and 2 years later he also won the 102nd Boston Marathon. A year before he won the 100th Boston Marathon, Tanui won the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

Tanui was the 1st star to run a half marathon in less than 60 minutes by running at a time of 59:47 in Milan on 3rd April 1993. Paul Tergat broke his time record after 5 years. The athlete was still active in 2004 when he participated and competed at the Seoul International Marathon. Later he retired due to an injury on the knee. At the present time, he manages and operates a training camp site in Kaptagat.

He was involved in a grievous car accident in the Nakuru region in 2010, suffering serious injuries to his body. David Lelei, who was a former athlete, was the one who was driving the car of Tanui and he succumbed in the fatal car accident.

The Culture of the Kalenjin people

Under the culture of the Kalenjin ethnic group, we will discuss various topics. Some of them are language, names, customs, religion, folklore, music, literature, and among others.


The Kalenjin people speak Kalenjin languages as their vernacular or mother tongues. Most Kalenjin speakers are in Kenya. A small number of the Kalenjin speakers are in TZ and Uganda. Most Kalenjin speakers speak English and Kiswahili, which are the 2 main Kenyan national languages.

Kalenjin Names

The Kalenjin people of Kenya, Sebei of UG, and the Akie of TZ use mainly the names of the Kalenjin. Traditionally, the Kalenjin people had only 2 names for a person. In modern times, the Kalenjin will give an individual an Arabic or Christian name at the stage of birth. Many Kalenjin today have more than 2 names.


Here we will talk about the aspects of initiation and marriage among the Kalenjin people. The process of initiation is an important factor when it comes to the Kalenjin identity. Among males, the processes of initiation and circumcision are very serious, and they represent an individual’s change from boyhood to adulthood.

Modern Kalenjin wedding has lesser ceremonies compared to old times. There are usually about 3 ceremonies. The 1st ceremony is known as the proposal or show-up ceremony. Here, the man who wants to marry will tell his parents of his plan and tell their relatives. The potential bride and the future groom take no role in this ceremony.

The formal engagement is the 2nd ceremony whereby the groom’s family goes to the home of the bride to meet her family. The bride’s family invite the groom’s family for introductions and dowry talks. The last ceremony involves the wedding or tunisiet.

Religion and Elders

Most of the Kalenjin people are Christians, and a few of them are Muslims. In olden times, the Kalenjin ethnic group had a traditional religion. The Kalenjin people have a council of elders comprising participants of the different Kalenjin groups or clans.

Science, Arts and Crafts among the Kalenjin

Traditional Kalenjin information was complete in the study and use of plants for medicine. The employment of arts and crafts makes up a part of the Kalenjin way of life, with decorative bead-work being the most advanced visual art. Women create and sell decorated calabashes made from gourds.

The gourd calabashes are known as sotet. People rub them using oil and decorate them with colored beads. They are like those calabashes that people use for keeping mursik.

More Facts about the Kalenjin people

Just as the Maasai, the Kalenjin also practiced pastoralism and kept cattle as a way of life. According to history, they never adopted to iron weapons. The most interesting historical fact about the Kalenjin people is about their origin. They claim to have an Egyptian origin and their elders give information concerning the reasons they left the Egyptian land. There are similarities between the Kalenjin God Asis and the Egyptian god Isis.

In concern to the Kalenjin diet, their major food is ugali, kale, and milk.



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