Photo Source: Jeff and Lindsey Hallett
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It is believed that the Kipsigis originated from the north, and were originally part of the Pharaoh's army in Egypt. They became concerned that Pharaoh was not able to win wars reliably, so they parted ways, with an "us against the world" attitude. They started pushing south, raiding villages for women, cattle and grazing land. Eventually, the Kipsigis displaced the Luo, Kissi, and Maasai. These tribes are now their neighbors to the west and south.
There has been a population explosion of the Kipsigis since 1950; current estimates stand at 2.5 million. The Kipsigis are one of nine distinct subgroups of the Kalinjin people group. The Kipsigis are the largest subgroup of the Kalingin, which is the third largest group in Kenya (5M). Each of the Kalinjin peoples is distinct, with distinct languages, but they do share some cultural roots.
The vast majority of the Kipsigis live within the Kericho District, an area of 5,000 square kilometers in the highlands of southwestern Kenya. The Kipsigis are the southernmost of the Kalenjin peoples. The terrain is hills and streams, which give way to grasslands. Elevations reach nearly 2,100 meters. There are two rainy seasons, with annual rainfall of 180 to 190 centimeters in the high country to 100 centimeters in the grasslands. Temperature is moderate in the equatorial highlands, with daytime highs averaging about 30°C and nighttime lows of about 9°C.
Kipsigis country is a patchwork of contiguous small farms. There are also many cottage industries such as butcheries, restaurants (called "hotels"), and cell phone shops (charging stations). It has been said, "In Africa, you're not a man if you don't have a cow." Livestock remains part of dowry payments. Milk is a staple, as well as tea which is grown privately and on large, long established plantations dating back to colonial days. The mid-morning Chai break is a universally accepted event; Chai consists of tea brewed in boiled milk, with copious sugar added when available. It is served and consumed piping hot.
Men inherit land; women do not. Men clear the land and build fences and homes. Women are responsible for raising the kids, running the house and sometimes holding the only paying job. Men often feel a certain sense of entitlement, because men are seen as holding the preeminent position of protector.
The neighborhood elders settle disputes. There is a justice system of restitution at this level. Difficult cases are referred on the government agencies. Church groups and bible studies cut across neighborhood loyalties and are becoming important forms of association. The large holes in Kipsigis earlobes are a fashion statement and have no other significance
Shortly after puberty, boys and girls undergo separate initiations, which coincide with a month long break in the school calendar. A certain amount of shame-based hazing goes on. Boys are circumcised, and so are girls with parts of the clitoris and labia removed. Theoretically, boys go in as boys, and come out as men. After initiation, boys are expected to remain aloof from their mothers and sisters, who in turn treat them with respect. A sister respects her brother by dropping her playful attitude toward him once he is initiated.
Girls return from initiation with the expectation they will soon be married. Menstruation is regarded as a shameful thing. This disrupts school attendance and leads to a high drop-out rate among girls.
The initiation also imparts traditional morals--do's and don'ts such as "never kill a surrendered enemy" and "the loot should be abandoned if blood was shed in its procurement." Young men are taught they are the people's defense from the rest of the non-Kipsigis world. The Kipsigis believe that having no morals can do more harm than good. The Yabei episode in the 1800s, when Kipsigis warriors without morals massacred the Masai--including mutilating the women by cutting off their hands--still causes some corporate guilt. Kipsigis people believe they deserve it when bad things happen to them.
Kipsigis do not mix their ideas of supernatural powers with other everyday affairs. Non-Christians believe in a watchful but distant god, whose main manifestation is the sun, called Asis. A plurality of names of Asis' attributes does not mean a plurality of deities.
Many Kipsigis are nominal Christians--they hold their faith with varying degrees of orthodoxy. The traditional ways, taught from childhood, still compete successfully with a biblical worldview. Most Kipsigis feel their teachings are a better system than Christianity--"We are already better Christians than the Christians," they say. However, old ways teach a morality of good works, not of grace.
The traditional ways can instill an attitude of entitlement that dodges the responsibility of becoming a sanctified Christian. The traditional ways avoid the truth--that we all sin. Some seem to use the old ways as a way to keep drinking alcohol. Once through the initiation, one thinks he is good enough, and doesn't need Jesus. Christianity is viewed as unattractive and weak because it doesn't really influence the behavior of its adherents.
There is a taboo about sinning against your own tribe but you can get away with sinning against an outsider. The Kipsigis view outsiders as terrible sinners who are supposed to die anyway. The suicide rate amount the Kipsigis is quite high, because the rate of guilt and hopelessness without Jesus is quite high.
Kipsigis Christian women often do not send their daughters for initiation; some are developing a "Christian" version of initiation for their sons. A high percentage of men still value the traditional initiation of boys. The elder women still push for initiation of female youth, including circumcision.
Islam presses into Kenya from the north and east, and the Kenyan population is about 10% Muslim. The Kenyan government struggles with the balance between allowing religious freedom and suppressing violent radical Islam.
Pray that the shame and hopelessness of the Kipsigis people would be washed away by the blood of Jesus and they would find hope in the resurrection of Jesus.
Pray that young teens would be drawn to follow the teachings of Jesus rather than the traditional initiation ceremonies and teachings.
Pray that the Kipsigis people would recognize that their morality and good works are nothing but dust without the eternal significance of Jesus Christ.
Pray that the Holy Spirit would sanctify Kipsigis Christians in unmistakable and meaningful ways, while preserving the true culture and strengthening the good hearts of the people. Pray that they would stand boldly against the advance of radical Islam.
Pray that Kipsigis Christians would realize that in Christ there are no tribal distinctions, and no male or female. May they realize that all Christians are of unsurpassed and eternal value in the eyes of God.
Pray that the Biblical view of family would infiltrate the Kipsigis people. Pray that husbands would love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, and that wives would submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ.
Pray that a Biblical Worldview Initiation (BWI) curriculum for young people would rise up from the local Kipsigis churches to overtake, surpass and supersede the traditional initiation ceremonies and teachings.
Pray that though this same Biblical Worldview Initiation, young Kipsigis women would see their worth as disciplers of Godly offspring. Pray that they would be elevated and celebrated among their own people for this high calling. Pray that they will receive the boldness of the Holy Spirit to continue their schoolwork through puberty, with support and understanding from their families, teachers and classmates.