The term Ogiek means “the caretaker of all”. It is in reference to the community’s social and economic connection to the forest as honey gatherers. The alternative ethnonym, Dorobo, is in fact derogatory. It was given to them by their neighbours and perennial enemies, the Maasai.
“Dorobo” is an umbrella term that is found in both Kenya and Tanzania, but always in reference to small hunter-gatherer groups living next to the Maasai. It originates from the Maa phrase, “il-torobo”, which literally translates to “the ones without cattle”. The pastoralist Maasai viewed any other lifestyle as abject poverty.
Another tribe that has been referred to as Dorobo is the Sengwer ethnic group. According to tribal legend, Sengwer is the name of the father of the tribe. He had two sons, Mitia and Sirikwa. Sirikwa owned the Soi planes. He named his first son Chepkoilel. Sirikwa and Mitia’s children formed the 13 sub-tribes of the Sengwer community.
loosely translated, El Molo means “the people who eat fish” in Maasai. The full phrase is “loo molo onsikirri”, which loosely translates to “those who make a living from sources other than cattle”. In some contexts, the autoethnonym of the community is Gurapau, which means “people of the lake”. This etymology was triggered by the fact that the El Molo is different from their Cushitic cousins. The small ethnic group’s economy is almost exclusively fishing, while their cousin communities are semi-nomadic. They also rarely eat red meat, an oddity given their cousins’ preference for the delicacy.
In some contexts, the Illchamus community is referred to as the Njemps, a name given to them by colonial administrators. According to the Ilng’arua Maaraifa Centre website, Illchamus is Maasai for “people who can see into the future”. The community is made up of about 35,000 people. They are a sub-group of the Maa community and are closely related to the Samburu.
The Burji community introduced agriculture to northern Kenya. Before their arrival in the early 20th century from Ethiopia, the northern parts of Kenya were occupied by groups that were exclusively nomadic pastoralists.
Today, the Burji in Kenya are estimated to be about 15,000 people. It is actually part of a larger East Cushitic group in Ethiopia, where there are even more Burji speakers. All the groups trace their history to Liban and then to Gara Burji in Ethiopia. The Kenyan sub-group left Ethiopia as Emperor Menelik II annexed their territories.
The Burji belong to the same family as the Burji dynasty that ruled Egypt for nearly two centuries (1382-1517). Their shared name means “of the tower” in Arabic. It is in reference to the Burji dynasty’s seat of power, which was in a citadel in Cairo. The most famous ‘‘burj’’ is the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, in Dubai.
The Endorois are perhaps the most famous of Kenya’s marginalized communities. From 1973, they were evicted from their ancestral lands around Lake Bogoria and the Mochongoi forest in Laikipia to create game reserves and conduct ruby mining. They embarked on a three-decade fight to get restitution for this violation of property rights.
When their pursuit of justice in Kenyan courts failed in 1999, the community filed a case against the Kenyan Government before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
The ACHPR ruled against the Kenyan Government. This was the first time that an international human rights tribunal had found a violation of the right to development. The ruling was adopted by the AU Heads of State Summit in 2010, further strengthening the community’s claim to restitution and compensation.
There is no official data on the Waata because they are not recognized as a distinct ethnic group. They are treated as a sub-unit of the Wardei, the Borana, the Mijikenda, and the Oromo despite their strong distinct dialect. The Waata’s ancestral home was the area now covered by the Tsavo Reserve and the Arabuko Sokoke forest. They now live in the periphery of the Tsavo East National Park and are dispersed in other areas around the coast.
To the coastal Bantu (Kamba and Mijikenda), the Waata people are the “Walingulu” or “meat eaters”. They are “Wasanye” or “forest dwellers/foragers” to the Swahili, “Boni” to the Somali, and meaning “people without cattle”. The Amhara know them as the “Weyto”