The Kalenjin tribe (Kenya)

The Kalenjin tribe numbers around 3 million and are the 4th largest ethnic group in Kenya. This tribe is traditionally pastoralist and is made up of about 10 sub-groups. The largest sub-group is the Kipsigis.

The name "Kalenjin" is relatively new for these people, who used to be referred to as the "Nandi-speaking tribes" and not as one single group. They deliberately created a tribal identity for themselves in the 1950s to gain more political power from their numbers.


Because they originally were many different tribes, there is no one single history for the Kalenjin people. Overall, they are thought to have come to Kenya from Sudan and their territory is in the Great Rift Valley.

Family and Culture

The social structure of a Kalenjin village is based on the "age-set", like other tribes such as the Masai. Rites of passage, such as initiation and circumcision, take place every seven years. Young people tend to bond with others in their age-set, though the concept is not as important for Kalenjin who live in the cities.

Polygamy, or marriages with more than one wife, is allowed in Kalenjin culture but many men find that paying more than one bride price is too costly for them.

The Kalenjin have a very strong oral story-telling tradition, consisting of stories, proverbs, riddles and songs. Evenings would often be spent telling stories or singing as a form of both entertainment and education.


Traditional Kalenjin beliefs are monotheistic, with a belief in a single Deity called Asis (symbolized by the sun). The spirits of dead ancestors were also an important part of Kalenjin religion, as was the practice of sacrifice to the spirits. Modern Kalenjin are almost exclusively Christian, with some being Muslim. Even so, many blend their old beliefs with their new ones.

The Running Tribe

The Kalenjin tribe have the unusual notoriety as having a great number of members who excel at marathons and other running competitions. Since Kip Keino won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics for the 1500m race, Kenya has won 38 more gold medals in distance running. And 75 percent of all top runners in Kenya are from the Kalenjin tribe, including Kip Keino.

Scientists have long speculated that the Kalenjin people have some kind of genetic predisposition towards distance running, though no concrete evidence has been established.

Other Notable Kalenjin

Former dictator Daniel arap Moi was the second president of independent Kenya, between 1978 and 2002. He is a member of the Kalenjin tribe, and while in office he was a skillful manipulator of tribal politics. From the independence in 1963 on, the Luo and especially the Kikuya dominated the political scene in Kenya.

Related pages:

Tribes in Kenya - Introduction
List of the main Kenya tribes

From the Kalenjin Tribe to the Homepage

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