‘Tulwoop’ the Sacred Hillock Which Tells the History of the Kalenjiin People

As you approach Londiani junction from Nakuru, a few metres to your left is a magnificent evergreen dome-shaped hillock around whose innocent serenity abounds the history of the Kalenjiin people.

Despite its significance to the community in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, majority of the Kalenjin people seemed to have forgotten the hill that had just remained another lone monolith in the rift valley.

Lately however, Kipsigiis council of elders, led by chairman, Paul Leleito, have appeared determined to ‘resuscitate’ the hill and the Kericho and Bomet County governments have disclosed that they had set aside funds to build a museum at the foot of the hill.

The disclosure was made by Kericho and Bomet governors Paul Chepkwony and Isaac Ruto during recent interdenominational and traditional prayers held at the hill side.

This hummock is the point where the first Maina age group was circumcised around the 1650s according to oral Kipsigiis history. The hill is known by many names all of which point to the important role it played in circumcision ceremonies in which the community has placed great emphasis to this day.

It is alternately called Tulwoop Laagooi (the hill of children), Tulwoop Ng’eetiik (the hill of the uncircumcised boys), Tulwoop Monyiis (the hill of the phallus or penis) or Tulwoop Sigiis (the hill of birth or fertility.)

The hillock, according to Historian Dr. Kipkoech araap Sambu, is the point where Kalenjiin boys were circumcised and blessed to “go out and give birth to many offspring”. It was a place of fertility for both mankind and his livestock and crops.

Dr. Sambu extensively wrote about the hill in his book, “The Kalenjiin Peoples’ Egypt Origin: Legend revisited, 2007”.

According to Kipsigiis historian, Bill Ruto, sometime in 1898 a group of British surveyors named the hill Mount Blackett after their team leader. The surveyors were on a mission to map out the Kenya-Uganda Railway route.

During their south easterly and westerly migration from the sixteenth through to the seventeenth centuries, the Kalenjiin (also called Myoot at the time) found the neighbourhood of Tulwoop Sigiis suitable for livestock and human habitation and they settled here and made this

hill one of their sacred places. It was, according to oral history, one of the biggest Kaapkorosuut (place of worship or altar) of the Kalenjiin people where they regularly met and gave sacrifices to their god Asiis, ‘the Sun god’.

Asiis was also called by many other names: Cheepopkoiyo or Cheepongolo or Cheepkelien Sogool or Chepanamuunei or Chetaleel). Elders used to go and pray at the foot of the hill for rains (in a ceremony called Soosimo) and make peace during the many wars between the Kalenjiin and the Maasai who used to terrorize them.

The Kalenjin community, according to Sambu and Ruto used to live around this sacred hill before they dispersed into their present day districts. These were the Kipsigiis, Nandi, Tugen, Keiyo, Terik, Kimugoon (Pokot), and the Merkweta. The Sepeis (or Sabaoot) had been left behind in Mt. Elgon around the fifteenth or sixteenth century during the eastward migration of these Nilo-hamites.

In their book “The Kalenjiin Heritage-1996” Gerald and Burnette Fish assert that The Kalenjiin continued holding solemn ceremonies like the Sageet aab Eeito ( a ceremony held to invite a new age set to the land) around Tulwoop Sigiis until 1905 when the British colonial

government banned them saying they interfered with the administration. This is also supported by Professor Henry Mwanzi in his book The History of the Kipsigis-1977 who said the last Sageet aab Eeito in the Kipsigiis land was held in 1905 at the foot of Tulwoop Sigiis.

To the south east of Tulwoop Sigiis is another benign hill called Tulwoop Kipkoiyo (meaning the hill of God the Creator). At the foot of this hill, girls were circumcised at about the same time men were being circumcised at Tulwoop Sigiis. This hill, residents say, should also be preserved.

Tulwoop Sigiis therefore, is the nucleus of the Kalenjiin peoples hence the awe that surrounds this hill. The name Tulwoop monyiis is often said in whispers as it mentions the man’s private parts. It is an abomination among the Kalenjiin to loudly mention private parts especially in the presence of children and women. That is why this name is often silent.

In an interview some time back, the late Kalenjiin oral historian Daudi araap Lasoi said Tulwoop Sigiis was a sacred site which should be preserved for posterity. And as if to commemorate the late oral historian who died in 2004, in his early hundreds, the government gazetted this knoll as a historical site in gazette notice number 6 of 2006 titled “ Kenya Subsidiary legislation legal notice number 37” under the National Museums and Heritage Act.

The gazette notice indicated that the site covering some 375 hectares of indigenous forest land be protected by the government and nobody should encroach it. This hill is an extension of the tip of the west Mau forest.

The gazettement of Tulwoop Sigiis site was a welcome move to the residents of Kericho and Bomet counties. In the front line to hail the government’s move were: Secretary of the Kipsigiis council of Elders, former PS Josiah araap Sang’, former Ambassador Joshua Terer (council’s chairman), renowned historian Bill Ruto, Paul Kiget and Araap Chelule (council members). These leaders called on the government to ensure the sacred hill is protected from hungry timber harvesters.

The sentiments were echoed at the recent prayers by the two governors (Chepkwony and Ruto) who asked residents to report anyone found harvesting the indigenous and exotic trees that thrive side by side at the sacred hill.

They asked the forest department to deploy forest guards to the hill to guard it daily in a bid to safeguard the site from encroachment. The two governors assured area residents that once the proposed museum is complete, Kalenjin artifacts, oral literature and complete history of the community will be installed for posterity.

Tulwoop Sigiis is just one of the many sacred hills in Kalenjiin land. Mt. Elgon or Tulwoop Kony was a circumcision point for many years when the Kalenjiin settled there after their migration from Egypt.

Another hill where Kipsigiis people used to converge for prayers during drought or famines was Kiptororo in Kuresoi constituency of Nakuru County. In all these hills, an altar (Kaapkorosuut) was erected around where the solemn ceremonies were held. In most Kipsigiis households, such miniature altars are still erected on the left side of the main house and all traditional ceremonies are held there.

By Moses Marta