Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

“Okiek” is a collective name for a number of dispersed groups who speak a common language and live in the highland areas of west-central Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Okiek are marginalized and looked down upon by larger groups such as the Maasai and Kipsigis, with whom they interact economically. Originally hunter gathers, the Okiek practice a diversified economy that also includes farming and herding. They are organized into lineages, clans and age-sets, which vary in their importance depending on the group. Traditional beliefs in gods and ancestral spirits have been complimented by a growing presence of Christian missionaries and settlers in the region since 1980.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa




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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The earliest document is by the traveler Hollis who writes on Okiek beliefs (1909, no. 13). The main ethnographers who did their fieldwork in three different periods are Huntingford (1920s and 30s), Blackburn (1960s) and Kratz (1970s and 80s). Blackburn returned in the early 1990s for some additional fieldwork. He has written an overview of the ethnography and origins of the Okiek (1974, no. 21). Lambert (1949, no. 8) also examined the history and origins of the Okiek. Huntingford provides a basic survey of the culture (1953, document no. 1), as well as more focused articles on economy and religion (1929, no. 3), social organization (1952, no. 4), and political organization (1949, no. 5). Blackburn’s other work focuses on economy and ecology, including resource use and intertribal relations (1982, no. 15), resource management (1986, no. 16), and dispute management and social change (1996, no. 17). Kratz‘s work focuses on changes in gender relations and ritual (1991, no. 18; 1990, no. 19; 1993, no. 20). Ashdown (2009, no. 22) discusses Ndorobo (Okiek) worldview and its affect on community morals and welfare.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

cemaasiit -- a wild creature; a monster -- Use Spirits And Gods ( 776 ) ; also used for secret knowledge revealed to initiates at the conclusion of the initiation ceremonies -- Use Puberty And Initiation ( 881 )

imbaret -- cultivated plots of land -- Use Tillage ( 241 )

kerepet -- basket making -- Use Mats And Basketry ( 285 )

keriet -- a post 1927 version of the house -- Use Dwellings ( 342 )

keytonik -- a lineage -- Use Lineages ( 613 )

kiruokindel -- a “chief” or leader -- Use Community Heads ( 622 ) with Status Role And Prestige ( 554 )

koconget -- a simple form of the house, still in use as late as 1927 -- Use Dwellings ( 342 )

konoito (konituek, pl.) -- lineage territories giving members rights to exclusive use for the purpose of gathering honey, hunting, collecting, or living -- Use Lineages ( 613 ) with Real Property ( 423 )

koret -- the division of the lineage territories into smaller units -- Use Real Property ( 423 ) with Territorial Hierarchy ( 631 ) and Districts ( 634 )

murenik -- young men who enforce the sanctions of the council -- Use Legal And Judicial Personnel ( 693 )

oret -- the clan -- Use Sibs ( 614 )

pesenweek -- confessions -- Use Purification And Atonement ( 783 )

tum -- circumcision -- Use Puberty And Initiation ( 881 ) and/or Body Alterations ( 304 )

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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