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Ogiek Land Cases
Historical Injustices

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Chapter 3: The Economy

     The indigenous peoples’ economic systems were designed to mediate between the needs of an individual, the collective stability of the nation and the respect and conservation of the environment. The interconnectedness between these three factors, the individual, the community and the environment formed the core values of our political, economic, cultural and religious national systems prior to the British and their successor’s intrusion and interference.

     The Ogiek derive their livelihood mainly from trade comprising the sale of surplus honey, animal products such as hides and skins, iron ore products such as arrow heads, bows, spears and knives, and pot-making. They also generate income from trading in herbs and herbal skills, and to a large extent, from offering services for the initiation of young men into adulthood, mainly within the Maasai community. The Ogiek, who have livestock, have a strong defence system against attacks by wild animals. However, there is a long history of raids on Ogiek animals by pastoralists and agriculturist neighbours. One such raid by the Maasai took place in 1856.

     Biodiversity being a source of cultural development, plants and animals play specific major roles in the cultural evolution of many societies. The complexity and diversity of the traditional socio-economic systems of the hunters can also be measured by the range or diversity of both animal and plant genetic resources utilised. This makes the Ogiek true paracticle adherence of biblical teachings, see Genesis 1 verses 29: “I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creation that move on the ground, everything tht has the breath of life in it. I give every green plants for food.” By the following the good news in the Holy Scriptures, then the Ogiek are dong justice to nature, and are enforcing God’s order.

     Between 1897 and 1963, the colonialists were out to destroy the Ogiek by defaming their economic livelihoods. They were branded hunters, meaning that they move within the forest and plains in search of wild animals for food. They were also branded honey gatherers instead of bee keepers. Although the Ogiek had very organised animal, land and tree tenure systems, the colonialists described them as people with no fixed abode. Since the colonialists knew the real truth about the Ogiek, they planned to justify their allegations by mistreating the Ogiek, as they felt threatened. Hence, the Ogiek were declared landless and became trespassers and squatters on their ancestral lands in what later became Government Land, originally Crown Land.

     The current structure puts bee keeping under the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Insects Physiology, wild animals under the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife. The Ogiek way of life is put under the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Social Services. The demand for Ogiek constitutional rights is treated as ungratefulness; the real position being, they are reduced to mercy seekers from this arrangement.

     Historically, the Ogiek are accepted as hunters and gatherers. This was before the Kenya nation was born in 1895. Our ancestral land has been intact ever since. The Kenya government banned game hunting in 1977. This further increased Ogiek problems with some people viewing Ogiek as lawless poachers. Guy Yeoman has answered this false charge as follows:

How can you poach game on your own ancestral land? It was the introduction by the British of inflexible and insensitive game laws that made the Dorobo a criminal in his native heath.
               — Opcit

     Today, about 10% of Ogiek rely on game meat, about 50% on bee keeping and honey collecting. They hunt gazelles, antelopes and tree hyrax. Honey is sold in the market while livestock is an additional source of income. Some of Ogiek have taken up employment, while others are practicing peasant farming and traditional agriculture. In early 1960s, growing of crops started among a few Ogiek. Guy Yeoman has described the changes in these fortunes as follows:

The above description of the essential qualities of the Dorobo, whilst still valid, must be modified by the severely damaging effects of the (to them) catalytic political, social and above all, ecological areas of the past century. This has combined to restrict their traditional sources of food and compel an increasing dependence on arable cultivation and cattle keeping. The limited areas at their disposal, the absence of secure land tenure, and their own tradition have prevented them from becoming very successful arable farmers.
               — Opcit

     Despite this, while other more established communities occasionally rely on relief food, the Ogiek have been able to sustain themselves without any external assistance. They have been able to lead their normal way of life despite the pressure from hostile quarters and the successive regimes that have institutionalised marginalisation. Being self-sufficient in forest products except for some few irons to make arrow heads, spears and knives. The secret of their skills and expertise lies in their:

     All this is done in a wasted slope of the Great Rift Valley, littered with charred and jugged tree stamps, with islands of lone clumps of cedar. Somehow, the Ogiek manages to get enough food for his family and surplus for the market. The culture of begging and destitution are unheard off in the Ogiek world.

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Copyright © 2004, Ogiek Welfare Council and Towett J. Kimaiyo.
Reproduced with permission of Towett Kimaiyo.
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