Koitalel Arap Samoei: Leader of the Nandi anti – colonial resistance


Koitalel Arap Samoei (1860 – October 19, 1905) was an Orkoiyot, the supreme and political leader of the Nandi people of Kenya. He led the Nandi resistance against British colonial rule. The Nandi Resistance was a military conflict that took place in Kenya between 1890 and 1906. It involved the Nandi community – a section of the later politically-constructed Kalenjin ethnic group – who fought against elements of the British Forces of Occupation.

The Nandi resistance was one of the longest, toughest and most enduring resistances at the close of the 19th century against the British occupiers in Kenya.  The Nandi had already established a fearsome reputation for resisting invasions of their country by unscrupulous Arab traders, fortune hunters and adventurers. From the middle of the 19th century, the Nandi made their homeland impenetrable to Arab traders and British occupiers venturing into the interior. Their bravery was reinforced by the prophecies of their Laibons, such as Turugar and Kimnyole who had warned against the intrusion of the country by the Europeans (“the white tribe”) and the railway (“the Iron Snake”); the two events that were to forever alter country.

Kimnyole Arap Turukat was the father of Koitalel among other four sons who were to play a leading role in Nandi anti – colonial resistance. Koitalel was the last of the four sons and belonged to the Kaplelach age-set. He was born at Samitu in Aldai. Kimnyole had told his son Koitalel that if any attempt was made by the Europeans to intrude their country, he must be ready to fight these occupiers. This caution came in handy when Koitalel succeeded his father as the Orkoiyot of the Nandi people in 1895 at the age of 25. When the construction of the Kenya–Uganda Railway began across Nandi land, Koitalel led an eleven year resistance against the British from November 1896 to November 1907. In retaliation, the British mounted a punitive military expedition against the Nandi under what was referred as the Nandi Field Force, the largest “punitive expedition” assembled by the British forces of occupation then, only equal to the forces the colonial government put together to combat the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, popularly known as Mau Mau in the 1950s.  But Koitalel and his troops were not deterred and continued with the resistance. The Nandi were brilliant fighters, even in the face of British guns. Samoei was also a very strategic military leader, planning attacks on the railroad workers and the British when they least expected. He not only resisted the British fearlessly but also carted away the rail construction materials and used them for making ornaments and more weapons for the resistance.

The British were exasperated.  For more than eleven years they could not capture Koitalel nor could they stop the Nandi resistance and were therefore humiliated. To end the resistance, the British Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen invited Koitalel to negotiate a truce. Meinertzhagen was that mercenary soldier of fortune who had ravaged Iriani in Mathira, conducted a massacre in Kihumbuini in Murang’a and had terrorized the Embu people. The peace meeting between Meinertzhagen and Koitalel was to be held on October 19, 1905. Suspecting that he would be killed as his father Kimnyole had feared, Samoei instructed the British Colonel to come with five companions to meet him at Ketbarak, what is now known as Nandi Bears Club.  Samoei was also to come with five aides.

During the talks, it was agreed that no side was to bear any arms or bring their fighters anywhere near the venue of the meeting. Contrary to the agreement, Meinhertzhagen marched from the fort at Kaptumo with 80 armed men, 75 of whom hid near the venue of the meeting. In an act of perverted brutality and treachery, Meinhertzhagen shot and killed Koitalel in cold blood. Koitalel had stretched out his empty hand to shake Meinhertzhagen’s hand as a greeting and a gesture of reconciliation. Meinhertzhagen’s soldiers who had taken ambush nearby then executed everyone within range and 23 members of Koitalel’s family, including women and children. Meinhertzhagen and his soldiers then cut –off Koitalel’s head and returned to their base at Kaptumo singing the Queen’s anthem. Only one of Samoei’s soldiers escaped to tell of the incident.

Koitalel was succeeded by his brother, Kipeles Arap Tamasun, while his son, Barsirian Arap Manyei (Born 1882 – Died 10 April 1974) was the last widely recognized Nandi Orkoiyot from 1919 until 1922 when he was detained by the British. Arap Manyei was detained from 1923 to 1964 at MeruMfangano Island and in Kapsabet making him the longest serving political prisoner in Kenya’s history.

mausoleum has been built for Koitalel Arap Samoei in Nandi Hills, Kenya. Construction of Koitalel Arap Samoei University by the local government in collaboration with the University of Nairobi is currently underway.  Recently, elders from Koitalel’s Talai clan have renewed demands to have his skull returned from Britain. They have also demanded the return of his regalia including Sambut (gown made from monkey skin), a sword and other ornaments taken away after his killing by colonial imperialists in 1905. Three leadership batons traced to a museum in Britain were returned and are currently kept at Koitalel  Arap Samoei Mausoleum in Nandi Hills town.

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  1. Githinji Kamotho

    This is a coup de tat , granted that yestarday William Ruto participated in 100 years coronation of colonial master King, I hope this will be addressed in traditional way.