Some of these systems are either territorial regimental, comradeship or kinship. Each of these cultural systems has a fundamental role they play in the well being of the community and their very existence.
A clan (oreet) or clans (ortinweek) are people who are related by blood and are symbolized by a totemic animal, an object or a thing. It is a permanent non political entity that regulated marriage, arbitrated in murder cases, propitiated for curses and payment of blood money.
The number of clans within different Kalenjin sub communities varies both in number, description, roles and in type. There are some common clans and totemic symbols across the wider Kalenjin community while certain clans are only found in some few sub communities.
The Kalenjins clans are each identified by an 'animal' that helped prevent inbreeding since marriage within clan was prohibited. Clan totemic symbols ranges from, planets, birds, wild animals, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Although the sun is not an animal, it has a clan and is regarded as a totem in the same sense as a lion.
The genesis of the Kalenjin totemic system of identity seems obscure but some traced it to the biblical times while most point to African mythology, a subject that is still full of lacunae and unknown territory.
Those who embrace the biblical view argue that the progenitors of the nilo-hamites interacted with the Semitic descendants who later produced the Hebrew breed that occupied some parts of ancient Egypt and later most region of Middle East. They further posit that Jacob the father of the Hebrew family before dying described characteristically his twelve sons by the use of totems like water, lion, serpent, and horse among others. In fact, it is here that the famous descendants of Judah got lion as their totem.
Those who believe that the Kalenjin totemic system has its roots in the African mythology have displayed an interesting argument and seem to have swayed the schooled. As the back born of African mysticism mythologists have held Totemism with high regard just like any religion. But research has shown that Totemism is just a part of religion, one segment of the total tenets.
Totemism is a belief that there is a special, supernatural relationship between a human being and another thing, usually an animal, sometimes a plant or another natural phenomenon, such as a river or lightening which are also living or spirit beings. It is believed that the strength and power of the totem-being flows into the human being protected by it so that the latter’s life is closely tied to his totem, without it he cannot prosper.
African mythologists believe that everyone is accompanied by his totem all the time, like shadow, and when he transgresses against the laws of his totem’s taboo, it will punish him. This belief is explains the reason why the Kalenjin people abstain from wrongs whether alone or with others.
No one was allowed to eat his totem animal or plant. Since a totem belongs to a clan which comprises people who are related to each other through a common ancestor, it was therefore inherited from ones’ father, and will continue to protect his children even after his Totems can be compared to a national emblem or a logo that whenever you see the same the concern country comes into your mind.
Modern nations have their emblems. For instance, the Tanzanian Giraffe, the Elephant of Natal, the Zairean Leopard and the Lion of Ethiopia.
Moreover, a totem is something much more intimate to the members of a clan than a national symbol. Clan members refer their totem as relatives who are at par with either brothers or cousins. Communication between clan members and their totem was and is still possible. In case of bees’ attack, the Kipkenda clan members are usually called upon to convince their totem to stop the attack and they would heed.
They trust and believe that their totems cannot harm them unless they are wronged. This strong bond between clan members and their totems is alien to a western thinking because westerners have lost the closeness to nature, the intimacy with the source of life itself.
We have fairy tales in our Kalenjin folklore of a virgin beautiful lady betrothed to a thunder in exchange for the rain which had disappeared. No sooner than the girl disappeared into the deep waters than there was heavy downpour.
Every clan in the Kalenjin community had special tasks and responsibilities that served the wider community. Some were leaders, foretellers and fortune tellers, the role usually associated with the once powerful Talai clan whose totem is the king of the jungle. Several clans produced seasoned judges and arbitrators who were given roles of deliberating on judgments and legal affairs of the community.
Others like Tungo were usually called upon to administer justice, penalties and even capital punishments in form of curses.
Certain clans were good in specialized duties like blacksmiths, hunting and trap setting. Clans who were charged with religious rites and cultural worship produced priests and prophets. The priests appeared before God Assiis on behalf of the community while prophets or 'maotik' ministered between the people and the chief.
The main significant issue about the Kalenjin clan system revolves around betrothal and marriage. As said earlier, marriage within same clan was prohibited. No wonder traditional Kalenjin people were of great stature, agile and sharp. Cases of albinism, idiocy and nincompoops were unheard of.
There were some clans within the Kalenjin community in spite of the fact that there were not related never entertained any marital links. This might have been as a result of certain historical relational event like bad blood, murder that has not been cleansed and common cases of bareness.
So prior to any engagement negotiations, the two families must state both their clan and totemic symbol for some totems have several subdivisions sharing one clan name but with several totems. A good example is Moiy clan among the Nandi where we have totems inside it like crested crane, buffalo, duicker and buzzard. Teriki clan among the Elgeiyo comprises of the elephant and hare while Kaboon among the Marakwet has monkey, frog, mouse and quill as its totemic divisions.
It is also vivid and explicit that certain character traits whether good or bad have been associated to some clans and their subdivisions. So some people normally decline to disclose their clan and totemic symbol on such premises especially when the tag is evil. Nonetheless our clans are just like our temperaments, they are part of us whether we like it or not.