A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya

A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya

Language: Okiek (ISO639-3:oki)
Depositor: Jane Akinyi Ngala Oduor
Location: Kenya
Deposit Id: 0412
Grant id: SG0394
Funding body: ELDP
Level: Deposit

Summary of deposit
This is a preliminary Okiek language documentation project. The deposit contains audio and video recordings in a range of genres; conversations, songs, narratives, poems, proverbs and ceremonies associated with circumcision, bee keeping, etc. A good part of the audio / visual corpus is annotated, transcribed and translated into English, one of the official languages of Kenya.

Group represented
According to the Kenya Population Census of 2009, the Okiek number 76,000, other sources show a lower figure. They live scattered in Kuresoi, Narok South and in the region of Mt. Elgon in Kenya. They are also found in Tanzania. The Okiek generally, and especially those of Tinet (Kuresoi South where the documentation took place), are eager to preserve their language and culture despite linguistic diversity around them and socioeconomic changes to their way of life hinders this.

Language information
Okiek is one of the languages in the Kalenjin macrolanguage (Ethnologue). Okiek is a highly endangered, and so far unwritten, minority language. The project documents not only the Okiek language and its structure but also its cultural, social and political dimensions (as recommended by Bowern (2011) for highly endangered languages).

Special characteristics

The Okiek of Tinet are neighbours to speakers of different languages and are now mostly multilingual in Okiek, Kipsigis, Kikuyu, Kiswahili and English. According to the Okiek elders, the young Okiek do not speak pure Okiek and are slowly shifting to Kipsigis and other neighbouring languages such as Kikuyu. Their language is therefore influenced by those of the neighbouring communities especially the Kipsigis.

Interference with the traditional life of the Okiek is seen both during the colonial period and after. In 2009, the Government of Kenya took over the land of the Okiek. Following this government action, the Okiek who were in the forest were evicted. Settling permanently away from the other Okiek speakers and engaging in non-traditional work, like farming and beekeeping, (copying the Kipsigis’ lifestyle) may facilitate complete loss of their Okiek culture and language, thus further reducing the number of Okiek speakers.

Deposit contents
The deposit contains about 20 hours of audio / video recordings. A big percentage of the recordings are transcribed, annotated and translated into English. The data contains the socio-cultural practices of the Okiek such as circumcision ceremonies, economic activities (such as bee keeping) and the value attached to such activities. It also contains the names of the trees in the Mau forest and the values attached to them.

Other information

Several outcomes are expected from this project:

-A small dictionary of the common words in Okiek, words for various types of trees and words associated with bee keeping, hunting or gathering, as well as photographs (where possible) are compiled to preserve the Okiek traditional knowledge, a treasure to the Okiek community.

-The collected data will serve as source for preparing a multimedia dictionary.

-A small book containing narratives and other folk stories, poems, songs, and proverbs of the Okiek to facilitate language maintenance.

-Four Okiek persons were trained in fieldwork skills, including good practices in collecting data, tackling ethical issues carefully, using note books effectively, and using audio and video recorders effectively. The consultants also learnt to transcribe, translate and annotate data.

Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Jane Akinyi Ngala Oduor as data collector and researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the corpus, please cite the corpus in this way:

Oduor, Jane. 2016. A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1032020. Accessed on [insert date here].


Collection online
Resources online and curated


Jane Akinyi Ngala Oduor
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Affiliation: University of Nairobi

Deposit Statistics

Data from 2020 May 30 to 2020 May 30
Deposit hits:1
Downloaded files
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Showing 1 - 10 of 188 Items

This is a story session involving a conversation between the speaker and the audience. There are two stories. There first one is on a child who is being asked if he/she has locked up the cattle and another on a child who refuses to eat because her father is not there.

Recorded on: 2018-01-25

This is a song (by four singers) on a child crying to be educated. One singer goes on to explain how the only education that was their before was that of hunting in the forest and how the forest is depleted.

Recorded on: 2018-01-25

The speaker narrates a story in which a father asks his child to open the door for him and says that he had gone to search for food. The child responds affirmatively.

Recorded on: 2018-01-25

The four singers tell a story of a friend in the garden of their friend as they list some of the traditions of the Okiek. They sing of their forest which has been destroyed and they are pleading with the government to help them.

Recorded on: 2018-01-25

The speaker narrates about a man who went to the forest and met a cannibal. He was afraid that the cannibal would eat him so he went and killed an animal and threw it at the cannibal. The cannibal was so full that it fell asleep and the man killed it instantly.

Recorded on: 2018-01-25

The speaker narrates a story of some men who found flies in milk which they usually poured on meat. A man was sent to the forest to fetch water and never came back. He was followed by other men who never came back. Only one man remained. This man found out that an ogre had eaten up all the other men. He pretended to be its friend then he killed it. The men who were eaten came out alive.

Recorded on: 2017-07-22

This is a conversation between two speakers who are identifying various Okiek proverbs.

Recorded on: 2017-02-18

The speaker gives a few notes on how age-sets were formed in those days and now.

Recorded on: 2018-04-05

The speaker tells us how ailments were treated with herbs in the olden days and why people fall sick nowadays.

Recorded on: 2018-04-05

The speaker gives an illustration on how they hunted down wild animals. He goes on to narrate how honey birds were sent by God to help man harvest honey among others. He then goes on to say how the forests have been cleared and these birds and wild game have migrated. He concludes by saying how this deforestation is still going on.

Recorded on: 2018-04-05