Koitalel arap Samoei

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Right from the start, Koitalel arap Samoei was destined for greatness. Soon after his birth, some of his stepmothers denigrated him as an illegitimate son, but his father, Kimnyolei arap Turgat, the great Orkoiyot or Laibon among the Nandi, silenced the women making the snide remarks.

Ostensibly to verify his paternity, the Laibon ordered the toddler be placed at the entrance to his homestead as the cows were trooping home in the evening. If he was spared, then he belonged to the home. Koitalel was not trampled by the livestock and lived to inherit his father’s title of Laibon, the spiritual leader of the Nandi people.

As a young boy Koitalel prophesied about white butterflies that would dot the land, and a long snake that would wriggle through the land. As it turned, he accurately predicted the arrival of white colonialists, while the long snake presaged the railway line that the British laid from the Kenyan coast to the shores of Lake Victoria between 1899 and 1901.

When arap Turgat was killed in 1890, Koitalel took over and reorganised his troops into a formidable force that constantly disrupted builders as they laid the railway line across the Nandiland.

On April 5, 1902, the Kibigori Railway Station was raided by Koitalel’s men. When a deputy commissioner, C Hobley, visited Kaptumo, near present-day Nandi Hills, he was horrified to discover that part of strips of the railway had been torn and sold for smelting iron into farm tools and ornaments.

He demanded that the community surrender 300 cows or face military action. Instead, Koitalel intensified attacks in 1903, at times raiding railway camps in broad daylight.

The government mobilised an estimated 2,000 soldiers in an expedition against the Nandi who were armed with spears, shields and poisoned arrows. The British troops pillaged the community, killing an estimated 100 Nandi soldiers and confiscating 4,800 animals.

But the Nandi forces held on, forcing the British to call for back-up. On September 26, 1905, one of the biggest military operations against the Nandi was instigated by a cowardly British colonel, Richard Meinertzhagen.

Meinertzhagen’s tricked Koitalel by calling for truce, even as the colonial government amassed a force of nearly 8,000 troops and porters.

On October 19, 1905, when Koitalel attended the “peace meeting” called by Meinertzhagen, he was shot on sight, alongside 23 of his closest aides. It was cold-blood murder.

Even for a man known for displaying psychopathic tendencies, the gruesome murder of an unarmed man troubled Meinertzhagen. “My drastic action on this occasion haunted me for many years,” he wrote in Kenya Diary (1902-1906). “I murdered Koitalel Samoei, the Nandi Orkoiyot (leader).”

The Koitalel arap Samoei mausoleum was commissioned in Nandi hills in 2009.