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THE MIGRATION OF THE PLAIN NILOTES
These were a section of Nilotes who preferred to settle in the large, open and vast areas of East Africa during their migration and settlement. Their life was characterized by cattle keeping and rustling. They include the Jie, Karimajong, Iteso, turkana and Masaai.
Reasons for their migration
Increase in population. Land is assumed to have been small for their growing numbers forcing them to search for bigger areas for settlement.
It is probable that they migrated in search of fertile areas that could support agriculture. This could be true of the agricultural Masaai. The soils in their cradle land could have got exhausted.
Since they were pastoralists, may be they were looking for pastures and water for their animals.
Their original homeland could have experienced the problem of overstocking. This created the problem of land shortage and later conflicts.
The plain nilotes also witnessed prolonged seasons of drought and the drying of water reservoir which might have forced them to move in search of water.
Epidemic diseases like small pox, malaria, river blindness and nagana may have hit their area due to overcrowding, forcing some to look for new disease free areas.
Internal conflicts are given as a probable cause for their migration. These may have possibly been family quarrels or clan feuds. Other conflicts may have been over land that wasn’t enough.
It is also assumed that there were external conflicts and pressure from the neighbours especially the Cushites.
There were also constant internal hostilities and raids between Karamajongs themselves and sometimes between the Karamajong and Turkana over cattle. More raids came from the Galla
Others assume that their migration was just one out of love for adventure and wandering. They may have just wanted to be in a new place.
Some might have migrated due to group influence, i.e. simply because they saw others moving.
Severe famine might also have hit their area forcing them to look for new areas that could give them food.
Some historians attribute their migration to harsh climate.
Their Migration and settlement into East Africa (Course)
Their movements were slow and gradual, over a very long period (1000 – 1800 AD). Sometimes these movements were also seasonal and usually in small family or clan groups.
Their migration is not clear but a large section of them are believed to have come from the north east, probably the southern slopes of the Ethiopian highlands (Abyssinia).
From Ethiopia, they moved southwards and by 1000 AD, they had reached and settled north of L. Rudolf in Kenya.
They got divided into two major groups, the Teso-Massai and Bari-speakers. The Bari-speakers moved into the Sudan while the Teso-Masaai spread into East Africa.
The Teso-Masaai split into three groups, the Lokuto, the Masaai, Karamajong and Teso. The Lotuko moved and finally settled in Sudan.
The Masaai moved southwards and settled between Mt. Kenya, Kilimanjaro and Taita Hills. From here, the Masaai expanded southwards along the rift valley.
The Masaai then established themselves in the area ranging from the Uasin-Gishu plateau in the north east Lakipie and Samara in southern Tanzania.
By the 17th century they had separated into 16 independent groups each with its own territory, source of pasture and water.
During their migration, they met with the Chagga and Kikuyu onto whom they passed the Cushitic culture of circumcision, initiation and iron working
The Iteso and Karamajong first settled on Mt. Moroto before there major dispersal during 17th and 18th centuries.
Due to increase in population, the Iteso moved further southwards into eastern Uganda and western Kenya. In Uganda, the Iteso settled in present Soroti, Mbale, Kaberamaido and Kum.
The Karamajong first moved south westwards from Mt. Moroto and then moved westwards settling into the present day south and central Karamoja.
The Dodoth and Jie moved northwards settling in present day Kotido.
The Turkana first moved north east wards into present day northern Kenya but later turned south near L. Turkana due to pressure from the Samburu.
Their effect on the people of East Africa
Their coming increased warfare, raids and general insecurity in east Africa. There were wars between the Masaai and the Samburu, Masaai and the Galla, Pokot and Turkana etc.
These conflicts and wars resulted into massive loss of lives and destruction of property.
Because of these conflicts, many people were forced to leave their original homelands. For example the Kamba, Kikuyu and Kipsgis were all driven out of their land.
They also brought pastoralism on a large scale and many communities in East Africa like the Kamba and Kikuyu adopted this cattle culture.
They also introduced a drought resistant short horned breed of cattle. This breed spread to almost all the areas where they settled.
Their migration also led to population increase in East Africa especially in areas like northern Tanzania, eastern Uganda and western Kenya. This later led to land conflicts.
There were various intermarriages resulting into the birth of new tribes. For example the Iteso intermarried with the Luo forming the Kumam and the union of the Ateker pastoralists and Luo resulted into the Langi.
Some of the plain nilote copied the idea of cultivation from the Bantu. For example, the Masaai who became mixed farmers.
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