Akiek

Akiek / Ogiek / Okiek

The Akiek are an ethnic and linguistic group in Tanzania and Kenya, living in the Arusha Region in northern Tanzania and in southern Kenya, with an estimated population of 3,700 people.

The Ogiek live in and around the Mau Forest, an area of 900 square kilometers (550 square miles) about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and in the forests around Mt. Elgon at the border to Uganda.

The Akiek are a subgroup of the Ogiek or Okiek, who intermarried and lost contact with the core of the Ogiek. The terms Akiek and Okiek are sometimes used interchangeably and confusingly. The correct name of the original people is Ogiek.

The Akiek language is said to be a moribund language: only a few elderly speakers are left. The Akiek in Tanzania now speak Maasai, and those in Kenya speak kalenjin.

Okiek artistry produces a rich range of verbal art, oratory, and song as well as diverse material objects.

Okiek believe in a beneficent god (Torooret or Asiista) and ancestor spirits who can bring misfortune if they are forgotten or if wrongs are committed. Major Okiek ceremonies celebrate stages of social maturation: a headshaving ceremony where a child receives a new name; an ear-piercing ceremony at age twelve to fourteen (now rarely practised); and initiation into adulthood.

For decades, the Ogiek have fought with first the British colonial and then the Kenyan government over their right to inhabit the Mau Forest, where they have lived for hundreds of years. The Kenyan government insists that the area is a forest zone and environmentally protected under the Forest Act. Authorities have then ordered the Ogiek to leave the forest, saying that they had been allocated land years ago but had abandoned it and returned to the forest. The Ogiek believe that they have a right to live in what they consider to be their ancestral home and that the government is trying to force them out of the forest to give the land to private individuals.

 

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