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The Nandi Warriors and their Impact on East Africa

The Nandi community is a significant component of the Kalenjin speakers. They emerged as one of the most prosperous communities in Kenya before the onset of the European invasion. “The Nandi community forms part of the highland Nilotes in Kenya, and they occupy the Rift Valley region” (Ember, 2007). The Nandi engaged primarily in animal husbandry, and some of them who inhabited fertile areas engaged in cultivation. This economic diversity enabled them remain stable for long. This is because they never experienced food shortages during droughts. Apart from economic organization, the Nandi people established proper social and political structures that enhanced their prosperity (Sobania, 2003).

The Nandi social organization was characterized by a series of initiation rites, which involved circumcision of boys who had reached puberty. The same principle was applied to girls. However, the culture of female circumcision has become less popular among the Nandi due to the challenges associated with it. Boys who were initiated together were categorized under the same age set. After initiation rites, boys and girls assumed various roles in the community. Girls could be married, while boys automatically joined the junior warrior class (Ogot, 1981).

The Nandi warriors were part of the Nandi political set up. The key responsibility of the Nandi warriors was to protect the community against any potential invasion from their neighbors. Besides offering security, the Nandi warriors conducted organized cattle raids from their neighboring communities. Through such raids, the warriors were able to acquire large herds of cattle, which made them wealthy. Animals acted as a measure of wealth among the Nandi people. Hence, if an individual had many animals, he was accorded a lot of respect and dignity in the Nandi society.

The Nandi warriors developed sophisticated military tactics, and this enabled them to win many battles.  The effectiveness of the Nandi warriors earned them a lot of respect, and many communities never risked fighting with them. The Nandi people also valued their autonomy, and they remained hostile to strangers who tried to encroach on their territory. The 1890s witnessed much European interest in Africa, and the East African territory was not spared.

Therefore, when the Europeans came to occupy Kenya in the nineteenth century, they were received differently by the communities that inhabited East Africa. The varied response by these communities to the European invasion was determined by their circumstances. For instance, the communities that were weak politically were often vulnerable to attacks. This made such communities to easily consent European rule. This happened because they wanted the Europeans to help them fight their enemies. On the other hand, stable communities like the Nandi strongly detested any foreign interference.

Consequently, the Nandi warriors started waging wars of resistance against foreigners who wanted to pass through their territory. For instance, they attacked caravan traders that travelled a cross their land instead of doing business with them. “During the 1890s the Nandi began raiding the telegraph line, which the British authorities were building on their borders, mainly because they valued the wire for making ornaments for their wives, and later they used the railway iron to make weapons” (Womack, 2001). With regard to this activity, the British conducted a series of punitive attacks against the Nandi especially from 1895.

In East Africa, several communities never welcomed the British, and the Nandi warriors played a significant role in dislodging the British from their territory. Their resistance also inspired other communities to do the same. “Their resistance lasted from 1897 to 1905, and took the form of attacks on the European traders, outposts and railway” (Hollis, 1971).

When conflict ensued between the Nandi warriors and the troops deployed by the British, the Nandi warriors demonstrated a great courage, and they never feared guns. The warriors seriously confronted the British soldiers. Several factors facilitated the long period of resistance of the Nandi warriors, and they included the following. The Nandi warriors ambushed the British soldiers through guerilla tactics. “A favorite Nandi tactic was to attack encampments at night, and several occasions their charges penetrated protective thorn barriers before they were repulsed” (Ember, 2007). The warriors had fairly refined weapons, but they could not match those used by the troops. The rugged terrain of the Nandi territory also favored the Nandi warriors because they were used to it.


The Nandi community has been received much scholarly attention owing to its high level of organization and prosperity. Indeed, the Nandi people were well known by their neighbors due to their military strength. Although they were finally subdued and conquered, the Nandi warriors did their best to contain several enemies that dared to attack them. Therefore, in East Africa, the Nandi warriors were in the mainstream in the resistance against foreign occupation.

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