Maasai - Feature articles

The Sleeping Warrior of Lake Elmenteita

Sorry, this article isn't finished! But for what it's worth...

The Sleeping Warrior of Lake Elmenteita, by Jens Finke

I'm thinking of Lake Elmenteita: it's extremely beautiful (and primeval - wonderfully strange mountain formations from a collapsed volcano caldera), lots of birds and gazelle. I asked the Maasai ornithologist and guide at Soysambu Lodge what those mountains were called, since not only are they impressive, beautiful and distinctive, but I recalled that I'd actually dreamed about them after having returned from my first trip to Kenya. He replied: "They are the Delamere Mountains." "No, no," I said, "what are they really called? What do the Maasai call them?" He didn't know the Maa word for them, but he knew that the translation was "The Sleeping Warrior" [I found out two months later that the Maa name is Elngiragata Olmorani].

I went there today for work, and admit I wasn't that impressed - the (rich) guests were entirely white, which even for Kenya is quite unusual. The estate, and three quarters of the land around the lake, belongs to one family, descendants of a very powerful colonial man [use more from research and RG], a certain Lord Delamere. Lord? The Maasai, whose land this all was, had had it stolen from them by this thief Delamere and the self-serving colonial administration.

One hundred years later, they still lack the basic right to approach the lake or its lands with their cattle. It's much the same story at nearby Lake Naivasha, whose water is a deal fresher than Elmenteita's. And of Kenya's other lakes, all bar two - Magadi, which is so full of soda that nothing can drink there anyway, and Turkana, also alkaline, but in the middle of the northern deserts - are now part of national parks or reserves, which also keeps out the original inhabitants.

When I leave the Delamere estate, turning left onto the old Rift Valley escarpment road, I pass a number of sheep and goats and cattle drinking from the muddy potholes or grazing by the roadside on the narrow margin of public land bordered by the estate's wire fences. Nearby, a man sits on the ground, wearing a pale blue nylon shirt. He doesn't respond to my short wave, but just scowls, and in that instant, I feel sure, he's feeling an old and burning resentment.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle - fine art photography