With heartfelt gratitude and a profound sense of shared accomplishment, we pause to reflect upon the recently concluded 5th Ogiek Cultural Festival. This extraordinary event, themed “Ogiek Cultural Linkage with Nature,” served as a lasting testament to Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) resolute commitment to cultural preservation, the cultivation of unity, and the empowerment of the Ogiek community. As we navigate through the defining moments that shaped this unforgettable festival, we invite you to immerse yourself in the memorable experiences that capture the very essence of the Ogiek identity.
Embracing culture and community unity
Set amidst the embrace of our ancestral echoes and surrounded by the thriving Maasai Mau Forest ecosystem—one of the 22 forest blocks of the Mau Forest Complex—unfolded the 5th Ogiek Cultural Festival. It surpassed a short-lived moment, evolving into a timeless connection that shall resonate across generations. Guided by the theme “Ogiek Cultural Linkage with Nature,” we embarked on a journey to explore the profound relationship between our Ogiek heritage and the environment, all the more significant in the face of climate change and the urgent call for sustainable practices. Over three days, 2000 Ogiek community members, friends, and partners converged at the Ogiek Cultural Centre in Nkareta, Narok County, from August 23rd to 25th, 2023. Notably, the Commission on Administrative Justice established an information desk to engage the Ogiek community on matters of seeking justice, further emphasizing the significance of the occasion.
“Uniting to celebrate our heritage and safeguard our culture is not just a duty—it stands as a testament to our resilience and a commitment to our collective future. As the Ogiek community, let us stand together, weaving the intricate threads of our traditions into a tapestry that endures through time. Let us be the guardians of our ancestral wisdom, diligently passing down the torch of our traditional knowledge to our children. In this unity and preservation, we secure our identity, honour our ancestors, and pave the path for a vibrant legacy that will flourish for generations to come.” – Daniel Kobei, Executive Director, Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP)
Day 1: Excursion through the Maasai Mau forest ecosystem
The hike started at 9 a.m., flagged off by OPDP’s Board Chair, Mr. Christopher Kipkones. Infused with an adventurous spirit, 75 participants embarked on a captivating 30-kilometer hike into the heart of the Maasai Mau Forest. This enchanting expedition culminated at a majestic waterfall, where the harmonious fusion of traditional and contemporary melodies echoed in symphony with the natural ambiance. This meeting of culture and nature emphasized the inherent bond that unites the Ogiek community with Mau ecosystem. Throughout the hike, participants engaged with Ogiek elders who imparted wisdom about the forest’s significance, sharing insights about herbal medicine scattered across its expanse. As the sun set, weary yet fulfilled hikers made their way back to the Cultural Centre, wrapping up an eventful day.
Igniting ancestral wisdom: Tales by the fireside
As the sun dipped below the horizon, a captivating aspect of the 5th Ogiek Cultural Festival took place. Each night, around the warmth of a crackling bonfire, the Ogiek village transformed into a haven of shared wisdom and ancestral tales. With undivided attention, community members of all ages congregated around the fire, as esteemed elders took centre stage, narrating stories of day gone by. These storytelling sessions held a profound purpose—to facilitate the transfer of traditional knowledge from one generation to the next. As the elders skilfully wove intricate narratives of history, culture, and life experiences, the youth absorbed these cherished lessons, forging a connection with their roots and embracing the very essence of being Ogiek. This cherished tradition not only illuminated the rich tapestry of Ogiek heritage but also ensured that the flame of ancestral wisdom continues to burn brightly within the Ogiek community, fostering a bridge between generations and safeguarding the legacy of the Ogiek people.
Day 2: Enjoying Ogiek cultural essence with distinguished guests
The second day unveiled the core of Ogiek cultural heritage through vibrant traditional dances adorned with modern melodies that permeated the air. Esteemed guests, including Honourable Florence Kajuju, Chairperson of the Commission on Administrative Justice (CAJ), and Dr Raymond Nyeris, Vice Chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), graced the festival with their presence, amplifying the significance of the celebration. Their commitment to supporting the Ogiek community in advocating for the implementation of judgments by the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights resonated deeply.
“At CAJ, we stand at the forefront of addressing the critical matter of Ogiek land rights. Our discussions with relevant government authorities including, the Attorney General, the National Land Commission (NLC), and the Ministry of Forest—to underscore the importance of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights rulings on Ogiek land rights case. These rulings illuminate the path ahead, guiding the government to rectify historical injustices faced by the Ogiek community. I have steadfastly urged the government to allocate a budget for compensating those who were forcibly evicted and their rights violated. It is paramount that the Kenyan government acknowledges the hardships endured by the Ogiek community and takes resolute action to rectify these injustices. CAJ stands unwaveringly alongside the OPDP in seeking justice and restoring the ancestral lands of the Ogiek community back to them. I have consistently advocated for prioritizing the implementation of the African Court’s rulings and advocated for compensating the Ogiek community for their grievances. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate your culture. I am honoured and I promise to remain steadfast in support of Ogiek transformative journey.” Hon. Florence Kajuju, Chairperson, Commission on Administrative Justice said.
Empowering the future through side events
Health and Education: The second day of the festival not only celebrated Ogiek cultural heritage but also delved into pivotal community initiatives. Amidst lively traditional dances and melodious songs, a remarkable side event unfolded—a sharing of experiences on health and education. A collaborative project between OPDP and Minority Rights Group International (MRG), funded by the European Union in Kenya, culminated in this side-event. The highlight was the collective community spirit as the participants rallied for the recognition of their Community Health Volunteers (CHVs). Through this side-event, a resolute commitment emerged to attain recognition for the CHVs by both County and National governments, paving the path for their integration into the esteemed role of Community Health Promoters. This initiative highlights the connection between cultural preservation and community well-being, capturing the very spirit of the 5th Ogiek Cultural Festival.
Nurturing agro-ecology and sustainable agriculture: The second side-event pivoted around agro-ecology—an essential facet of our endeavour to complement tradition with the environment in a sustainable manner. During this session, participants delved into the principles of agro-ecology, merging indigenous wisdom on food systems with modern ecological insights. As discussions delved into the details of establishing a kitchen garden, the dialogue shifted toward the significance of organic practices. This engagement transcended theory, transforming into a practical exercise in adopting sustainable agricultural methods. At the Ogiek Cultural Centre’s learning section, participants immersed themselves in the agro-ecology setup. This side-event resonates with our commitment to not only safeguarding cultural heritage but also nurturing a resilient and ecologically aware community—one rooted in tradition, inspired by nature, and at the vanguard of sustainable farming practices.
Exploring climate change and renewable energy: Another enlightening side event unfolded—one that delved into the urgent theme of climate change and the transformative potential of renewable energy. This session offered participants a unique opportunity to interact with a biogas plant and solar energy installations at the Ogiek Cultural Centre. Through witnessing these sustainable technologies in action, the community gained insights into how renewable energy can mitigate environmental challenges, steering us towards a greener tomorrow. This side-event underscored the Ogiek community’s commitment to actively address climate change and embrace innovative solutions, in harmonious alignment with our traditional heritage of coexisting with nature.
Embracing herbalism and traditional remedies: A dedicated side event delved into the realm of herbalism and traditional remedies. Participants explored the Ogiek herbarium—a living embodiment of ancestral wisdom in utilizing native plants for health and healing. This session shone a spotlight on the profound interconnection between Ogiek culture and the land’s bountiful resources. As participants unearthed the age-old knowledge of herbal medicine, the event emphasised the importance of safeguarding traditional healing practices—a delicate equilibrium between nature, culture, and well-being.
Empowering young girls for a radiant future
The final side event pivoted towards the empowerment of young girls aged 12 to 20. This inspiring session provided a nurturing platform for these young minds, offering guidance on education, personal hygiene, and self-prioritization. With the presence of mentors and role models, 45 girls embarked on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. This initiative echoed the festival’s overarching mission of empowerment, ensuring that the values and aspirations of the Ogiek community are seamlessly passed down to forthcoming generations, cultivating confident and resilient leaders.
These side events transcended mere information dissemination; they served as bridges between tradition and progress, culture and sustainability. Each event cast a unique spotlight on a facet of the Ogiek community’s journey, symbolizing our commitment to not only safeguarding our heritage but also to actively create a future that pays respect to our roots while nurturing the environment.
Day 3: Embracing Ogiek blessings, wisdom, and gratitude
The festival’s culmination on the third day was marked by blessings, wisdom, and gratitude. A heartfelt blessing ceremony, led by revered elders, set the day’s tone. Guided by the esteemed elder Sanare Loboo, traditional prayers bridged the divide between the past and the present. The Wiser Girls, through a poignant poem, expressed their gratitude, acknowledging the pivotal roles of OPDP and Professor Corrine Kraft in their educational journey. The festival culminated with impactful speeches by Director Daniel Kobei and Dr Raymond Nyeris, encapsulating its profound significance and indelible impact.
During the final moment of the festival, an inspiring moment unfolded as a beacon of progress indicating the ongoing commitment to uplift the Ogiek community. Amidst the blessings, wisdom, and gratitude that filled the air, a pivotal development took centre stage. The Ogiek herbalists, custodians of age-old healing traditions, were gifted with a transformative gift—the much-awaited herbal medicine processing machine from OPDP. This valuable machine marks a milestone in the journey of these dedicated herbalists, offering them a powerful tool for value addition and modernization of their craft. The honourable task of handing over the processing machine was entrusted to MCA Honourable Sulunye. This gesture highlights OPDP’s unwavering commitment to harmonizing tradition with innovation, ensuring that the rich legacy of Ogiek herbalism evolves seamlessly into the contemporary world. As the processing machine changed hands, it symbolized not only a mechanical transfer but also a bridge connecting the ancestral wisdom of the Ogiek with the potential of progress, further enriching the cultural heritage of the community. This addition not only celebrates the invaluable role of herbalists in preserving Ogiek culture but also reinforces the shared commitment to weaving the tapestry of tradition into the fabric of a thriving future.
The chief guest, Dr. Raymond Nyeris, Vice Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, emphasized, “Empowering our future hinges on educating our girls—an undeniable pillar of progress for the Ogiek community. Let us invest in our girls’ education, for within their knowledge resides our community’s future. I beseech you to stand against early marriages, understanding that such unions risk our children’s dreams and set us on a path we must avert. Remember, nurturing their aspirations today ensures the safeguarding of our community’s tomorrows.”
As the curtain falls on the 5th Ogiek Cultural Festival, our profound appreciation extends to our partners, supporters, and every Ogiek community member who breathed life into this event. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Christensen Fund, the County government of Narok, CAJ, KNCHR, and all contributors stood as pillars of support, collectively shaping this celebration of unity, tradition, and empowerment.
Bound by our dedication to preserving our cultural heritage and safeguarding our environment, we journey forward with renewed determination. The stories exchanged, the wisdom imparted, and the bonds forged during this festival propel us towards a future where our traditions thrive, our community flourishes, and our natural world is cherished. Through the echoes of ancestral voices and the flames of unity, we continue our expedition, ever steadfast in honouring our roots and nurturing a legacy of sustainability for generations to come. “Congratulations OPDP for organizing such a wonderful event. It was a great opportunity to learn more about our culture and history. I am proud to be Ogiek.” Said an excited Ogiek youth at the end of the festival. “Thank you OPDP for bringing us together to celebrate our culture and identity. The festival was amazing and very educative. I enjoyed every moment of it.” Yet another youth shared.
On Facebook, youths are still sharing about the festival. Here are two comments that we highlight: “This was the best Ogiek Cultural Festival ever. I loved the dances, the songs, the food, and the exhibitions. The Ogiek culture is beautiful and unique. We should preserve it and pass it on to our children.”
“The festival was a success and a milestone for the Ogiek community. It showed our strength and unity as a people. It also raised awareness on our rights and challenges. We thank OPDP for their support and advocacy.”