The Ogiek – Kenya’s largest forest-dwelling hunter-gatherer community – were badly affected by the violence which engulfed Kenya earlier this year. And they continue to suffer.
Images by Ishbel Matheson
On January 29th, 11 Ogiek houses in the hills above Nakuru in the Rift Valley were burnt to the ground. The family, who lived here, reported being attacked by a Kikuyu mob. Their attackers were accompanied by armed Kikuyu police officers, who were shooting to chase the Ogiek away.
Livingstone Ngiria holds up a bullet casing found in the ashes of his house. When the Ogiek went to police headquarters in Nakuru to complain about the police action, they were told, "Everyone is complaining about police harassment, what is so special about you?"
Livingstone sleeps in this makeshift shelter, made of twigs and branches. He is anxious that the violence may not yet be over. He is regularly woken at night by the sound of gunfire. He has sent his family away to live with relatives.
All this land used to be forest – the Ogiek's traditional territory. But rapacious logging and illegal land seizures mean many Ogiek have had to abandon their hunter-gather lifestyle, and turn to farming. Ogiek activist Daniel Kobei (on the left) says, "You can be alive, but sick". He is fighting for official recognition of the Ogiek.
The Ogiek say the attacks on their property were in revenge for the attacks on the Kikuyu further north in the Rift Valley. The Ogiek supported the opposition ODM, whilst the Kikuyus backed President Kibaki's PNU during Kenya's hotly contested election campaign.
Francis Chege holds up the blood-stained shirt of his 34 year old son. He says his son, Kennedy, was seized by police on January 29th, before the mob torched the family’s house. Kennedy was beaten badly, before being arrested on charges of murder. His family claim he is innocent, but they can't afford a lawyer to defend them.
Kennedy's wife Milika has given birth to her sixth child, since her husband's arrest. She is staying with her in-laws. Ogiek traditions mean that they help each other out in times of hardship. But the Ogiek feel their plight has been overlooked. Kenyans who were housed in IDP camps (mostly Kikuyus) have had food and tents donated to them. The Ogiek received nothing.
Inside this shed was one family's stores of maize and beans, as well as household goods. The family estimate they lost property worth £3,000 (approx 3 million Ksh) – a large portion of their annual income. Although the government is considering compensation for Kenyans in IDP camps, the Ogiek fear they will once again be forgotten.
Dorcas Chamutay has only just started to send her children back to school. But four-year-old Sammy (closest to the camera) has to go to a different nursery now. Their Kikuyu neighbours – with whom they previously got on well – have blocked off the path, and refused to allow Ogiek children in. No-one knows when – or if – things will get back to normal.
FACT: The Ogiek are Kenya’s largest forest-dwelling hunter-gatherer community. Numbering around 20,000 their traditional territory is on the Mau Escarpment and Aberdares around the Rift Valley, as well Mount Elgon in Western Kenya.
For more information, read MRG’s Kenya’s Castaways: The Ogiek and National Development Processes by Nyang’ori Ohenjo.