Kenya Tribal and Sub-tribal maps 2017
Kenya Tribal Maps, a new approach
Roderic H. Blackburn
In recent years language maps for Kenya have become available, the most comprehensive are the Kenya Language Atlas publications with maps, beginning in 1980. Tribal/ Ethnic maps have been published over many years but with varying completeness and accuracy. Inspired by the former and frustrated with the latter, I began to produce a set of more updated and accurate tribal/ethnic map of Kenya. The process has proved much more time consuming than anticipated because the large number of prior maps proved to be less complete than expected and they often contradicted each other in terms of names, location boundaries, and/or time frame.
I decided to use Photoshop as the basis for making the maps as it allowed many layers of other maps to show through my working maps so that I could trace boundaries accurately. But first each of these older maps had to be scanned, then overlaid on an accurate Kenya map (taken from the Kenya Atlas of 1969), adjusting each scanned map so that it fit the Kenya map accurately. I found that most maps, even some recent high quality maps, needed to be so adjusted so that the recognizable features (national boundary, lakes, rivers, mountains) on each matched those of the base map from the Atlas. Only when this was done for all maps could I then see how language or tribal/ethnic boundaries differed among the maps. The differences appeared to depend on several factors: the time depicted (from pre-colonial to the present), the accuracy of the natural feature locations, the accuracy of the cartographers’ survey methods (some traveled through the areas they drew boundaries of, others seem to have done it from hearsay), and the purposes for creating these maps (language documentation, tribal/ethnic documentation, government policies, etc).
Kenya tribes and sub-tribes, the numbers
Another issue has to do with the number of tribes in Kenya. Most lists and maps enumerate about 45 tribes, convenient enough to depict this number on a printed page. The Kenya Government has followed this size list in its ten-year census, until the most recent census in 2009 when it listed 110 tribes in its instruction book for enumerators. The enumerators were instructed to ask each person what tribe they were from and to record the stated answer regardless of the instruction book list. This encouraged the output of even more tribal names in the final census, a majority have been characterized as sub-tribes of the initial 45 tribes. With the list of tribes/ sub-tribes becoming more extensive I created a database to record documentation on each and then sort out duplicates and add others not on the 2009 Census list. The result is a list of 180 tribes and sub-tribes of which 44 are the traditional list of main tribes. With so many sub-tribes a new mapping of all seemed appropriate and that has resulted in the attached maps
Drawing boundaries for each tribe and sub-tribe is subject to a number of variables. Older tribal maps, as mentioned above, often contradicted each other or not accurately relate to existing topography. Maps of different dates may partially reflect resettlement to nearby areas by some tribes at different times. Some resettlements were the result of government agreements (treaties) or decisions forcing resettlement without tribal agreement. The establishment of the White Highlands early in the colonial period caused the most extensive transplant of tribes out of a large portion of the Highlands to make way for colonialist settlement. Since independence the former White Highlands have been substantially resettled by tribal people, though mostly not by those who had originally lived there. On the Language Families map (No.4) the extended Highland area not surrounded by a color band was the White Highland, its resettlement suggested in smaller colored round dots. In the northeast portion of that map, several tribes are represented by name and boundary but others with boundary. These are Oromo and Somali- speaking pastoralists who must move widely during the seasons to find fresh forage. Their names are highlighted with a large color ball representing their language, its lack of edge definition to suggest that their locations vary widely with seasons.
No. 1 map of all tribes and sub-tribes in Kenya. Followed by a list of all.
No.2 are expanded details maps of several sets of sub-tribes to see more clearly their locations.
No. 3 is a map just of traditional hunter-gatherer tribes and sub-tribes as there are so many (over 50) that they would crowd the No. 1 map too much. As my own field work and publications have primarily been with the Okiek and Il Torobo (they share a common culture though the Il Torobo have adopted the Maasai language and call themselves by that term while maintaining they are the same as the Okiek who speak Kalenjin). The Okiek/ Il Torobo consist of 42 sub-tribes distributed through most of the Highland forests, the result of their dependence on a forest adaptation based primarily on the extraction of honey from natural and their own made hives. This is why they are separated into so many local groups, many of them unaware of the existence of other groups. The map is folowed by a list of all hunter-gatherer tribes and sub-tribes in Kenya.
No.4 is a map of Kenya language families overlaid on the boundaries and names of tribes and sub-tribes. It visually emphasizes not only the distribution of languages but the propinquity of tribes which share the same language. I am especially indebted to B. Heine and W. Mohlig’s Geographical and Historical Introduction Language and Society, Selected Bibliography, known also as the Language and Dialect Atlas of Kenya (1980, Vol. 1) for their comprehensive treatment of the subject and their excellent maps.
The use of the term Tribe and sub-tribe
I make use of the traditional terms tribe and sub-tribe with the understanding that these are terms with a history of use to identify long-standing ethnic groupings which most citizens of Kenya continue to use to self-describe themselves, as evident in the 2009 census. The related term, tribalism, has taken on a pejorative meaning - that the continued designation of ethnic groups as tribes or sub-tribes encourages discrimination and competition among them to the detriment of a desired shared national identity by all. That understood, I prefer to not throw out (with the bath water) the long established term tribe (and sub-tribe), that it may continue in use without negative connotations into the future.
The importance of forest adaptation by the Okiek/ Il Torobo
My more extensive treatment of the Okiek / Il Torobo - a separate map for instance - needs explanation beyond my personal acquaintance with these people. Despite their extensive settlement throughout the highlands of Kenya for centuries, both the colonial and the independent governments have never recognized them as a tribe with the same rights to their own territories as others have received. The Carter Commission in the 1930s decided that since they are composed of scattered local groups or sub-tribes, each closer to adjacent main tribes than to most other groups of Okiek/ Il Torobo, they should not be treated as a single tribe but each local group be subsumed under an adjacent main tribe, whose language they already knew (and in a majority of cases had lost their original Kalenjin dialect). That may have seemed administratively practical to the government, then and now, but not to the Okiek/ Il Torobo because it caused them to be forced out of their forests with the expectation they would become agri-pastoralists. Evicting them from their forests started in the 1930s and, off and on, has continued to today. It almost always fails, they return to their traditional forest habitations, rebuilt their houses and continued their forest way of life. The essential reason for being forest foragers has to do with a simple commodity - honey. But in their culture honey is not simple, it is the basis of a complex culture involving all aspect of their life.
To paraphrase from my PhD thesis:
Honey is the central symbol in Okiek culture. The significance of honey derives from the multiple meanings which are attached to it and these meanings integrate all categories of culture at the highest level of abstraction. as a cultural symbol it also supports the personality and social systems. Honey is frequently utilized as a means for articulating relations between persons, both Okiek and non-Okiek. Honey is a significant variable in the maintenance of social relations and especially of social control. Honey is also central to Okiek ethos. It is a major part of what the Okiek feel is their distinctive character and quality of life. Because the theme of honey is a major part of the principles which direct Okiek thought and behavior, it is the most appropriate illustration of how the Okiek personality, cultural and social systems relate to each other, and how these systems, in turn, relate to the natural environment. The Okiek use of and belief in honey satisfies both intended and unintended functions for the maintenance of each of these systems. The use and belief in honey, per se, exists because the system of meanings which the Okiek impute to honey is self-fulfilling and therefore these meanings confirm in their minds the truth of honey’s value. The use of and belief in honey is maintained by the capacity of honey’s multiple uses and meanings to satisfy personality needs and drives of the Okiek.
In other words, the meaning and uses of honey for the Okiek/ Il Torobo are central to their life - their economy, social life, beliefs, and ceremonies. It is their entre into the cash economy so they can buy supplies from the shops; their ability to make mead (an alcoholic drink) from honey insures the success of ceremonies; their exchange of honey with the Maasai insures the success of the latter’s ceremonies; and much more. I think you get the point - separating the Okiek/ Il Torobo from their forests and thus their honey, alters their life as negatively as depriving the Maasai of cattle.
The importance of sub-tribes
Until recently publications on the many sub-tribes of Kenya has been minimal. The fact that the 2009 census came up with 110 tribes and sub-tribes brought to public recognition the importance of acknowledging the existence of so many sub-tribes. As the census did not differentiate all the sub-tribes of the Okiek/ Il Torobo, I knew that the total list would expand beyond 110 to at least 150. I then went through more recent ethnographic and linguistic literature for other overlooked sub-tribes and came up with an additional 30, a total of 180.
The next step
My approach to the subject of Kenya tribes and sub-tribes - and their mapping - will be an ongoing process subject to additional information and correction of data listed in the current draft. To that end I invite response from anyone who can improve what has been done so far, which I will acknowledge in the next draft. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2/26/17 draft 1