Indigenous Endorois had inhabited Lake Bogoria for centuries when, in the 1970s, the Kenyan government forcibly removed them from their ancestral land. Their eviction brought to an end a unique way of life rich with culture and tradition, and they have been advocating for the rightful return of their land ever since. Despite a 2010 ruling by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in their favour, secured with MRG’s support, the government has yet to comply.
In October 2014, MRG spent three weeks visiting the areas near Lake Bogoria where the community is now based, and interviewed nearly 500 Endorois about their lives. Many Endorois described how, while living at Lake Bogoria, they engaged in a variety of cultural and religious activities, such as worshipping at the graves of their ancestors, collecting herbs for medicinal purposes and practising initiation ceremonies. As pastoralists, they followed the natural grazing patterns of their livestock, and maintained beehives to collect honey.
In the 40 years since their displacement, however, the Endorois have been struggling to maintain their traditions, while living in marginal areas with extremely limited access to health care, basic infrastructure and education. As a result, younger generations have made efforts to better their lives by heading to cities such as Eldoret, Nakuru and Nairobi. Their reasons for moving are varied: some are in search of higher education, others are looking for employment, while many are also seeking to escape frequent outbreaks of violence as a result of cattle-rustling carried out by neighbouring communities.
Some Endorois youth, frustrated by their marginalized status, also leave in the hope of securing greater recognition within Kenyan society. One Endorois attending law school in Nairobi discussed the numerous challenges facing young Endorois, such as ongoing government repression, exclusion from local job recruitment, leadership problems and their continued stigmatization. He explained that these factors ‘have caused the youth to move away from Endorois land in order to disassociate from the community and be given greater consideration by Kenyan leaders’.
Migration to urban areas has produced benefits and challenges for Endorois families. On the positive side, it has given young Endorois access to higher education and frequently the skills they gain may be used to improve the lives of their community as well. Endorois who find employment in cities are also able to send some of their wages home to their families, where they are desperately needed.
At the same time, Endorois who move to larger cities report that they face discrimination based on their minority status and often are only able to find employment in non-permanent or contract-based jobs, usually in private security or domestic work. Endorois employed in this way are rarely given time off by their employers to visit their families, who often can only be reached after a long journey through remote and potentially dangerous areas. The result is that many young Endorois end up not returning home for extended periods, and find themselves increasingly out of touch with day-to-day life within the Endorois community.
Endorois tradition is passed down from elders to youth, with frequent interaction between the two groups. With more and more from the younger generation leaving their rural communities, however, this chain has been broken. Almost all Endorois surveyed, both elders and youth, reported that they felt the younger generation were losing their culture. One Endorois woman remarked that it was sad to see so many Endorois leaving at a young age for cities, because ‘this is the time when the younger generation is expected to learn how ceremonies are conducted. Generations to come will lose the unique Endorois culture and livelihood as they are continuously exposed to urban culture.’ Endorois also find that it is frequently those who might become Endorois leaders who are most likely to leave. ‘The community is affected when the youth move out, leaving them without energetic and visionary people,’ said one Endorois man. ‘Those with ideas do not share them with the community and the community is left behind.’
Endorois are therefore struggling to develop a way to maintain their traditions in the face of the strong draw of the cities, but many feel defeated. A majority of those surveyed believed that the only way to ensure Endorois youth remained in the community was to regain access to their territory at Lake Bogoria, where they could fully reinstate their traditions and offer a more attractive future to the next generation. Despite the government’s obligation to restore their land, return remains a distant reality for Kenya’s Endorois, who must now struggle with the loss not only of their culture, livelihoods and traditions, but their youth as well.
This case study was originally published in MRG’s State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2015
Photo: Lake Bogoria, Kenya. Credit: MRG.