In the first ceremony of its kind outside of Kenya, the president of Kitwek Association, Mr Steve arap Sitienei was installed as a Kalenjin elder on 5th of December 2020 in Perth, Western Australia.
Mr Sitienei has been the Kitwek Association president since July 2018 and is serving his third term in office. The community accorded Mr Sitienei this singular honour for his outstanding contribution in enhancing unity in the community and professionalising the running of the Kitwek Association.
Among the achievements that Mr Sitienei has overseen during his three terms in office are:
Initialisation and growth of the Kitwek Association Welfare
Expansion of the Kitwek Association membership to the present 400+
Launch of the Kenya Australia Diaspora Investment SACCO
Launch of the Kiswahili Community Language School, Perth
Traditionally, eldership is bestowed on an individual by members of an older age group but in their absence, his age-mates are given the mandate by Kalenjin elders to perform the ceremony. An elder must be a family man; Mr. Sitienei is a husband and a father.
Mr Sitienei's age-mates, acting under strict instructions from elders in Kenya, led the colourful ceremony. During the installation, Mr Sitienei was solemnly charged with several responsibilities and presented with traditional implements to signify his new status as an elder.
These ceremonial rites were performed in a systematic manner and they included:
Sambut - a large coat to cover the children and the entire house of Kitwek and to bring everyone together. He is expected to listen and look after everyone well. His leadership should be inclusive.
Kuutwet - a headgear which is a representation of authority. This gives him the power to speak on behalf of the community and to lead and counsel with wisdom. He has the community’s blessing to lead them.
Sharit- a rounded spear-like implement which is a symbol of strength. In war and difficult times, the elder plants it on the ground for support so that he can stand firmly on behalf of the people. It is also used for herding cattle and is symbolic of shepherding the people with a heart of wisdom.
Kipkalyangit – a fly-whisk which represents authority. It is used when addressing the people and also used to confer blessings when stretched out and swung over them.
Makwachit– this is a walking stick which supports the elder when he tires. An elder is expected to stand upright and be fair to all.
Ng'echeret – this is the final step as the elder is finally eligible to sit on the chair. The stool represents the seat of power.
The community then joins in agreement to declare him their leader in a caller- response chant of ‘Sere kole sere! Baibai kole baibai! King kole king!’
Surrounded by his age mates, who are on bended knee and holding a ngotit (the spear) in support of their leader, the elder is given milk from a sotet (gourd). The milk is a symbol of strength and once sated, the elder is prepared to lead.
The moment is crowned with jubilant celebration from the community.
The Kalenjin are a group of Southern Nilotic people indigenous to East Africa, residing mainly in what was formally Rift Valley Province in Kenya. The Kalenjin comprise of nine sub-tribes namely: Nandi, Kipsigis, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet, Endo, Sabaot, Terik and Okiek.
Historically, the Kalenjin had a decentralised system of governance led by a council of elders. The community was and still is a social, diverse and cohesive group whose mantra is kibagenge ko kimnon meaning unity is strength.
In every social group, there is an elder who is sought for all the matters affecting the community. Eldership is conferred on to a person with inherent leadership qualities. He is chosen and installed by the men after careful deliberation. The elder may not have immediate answers to everything but he is expected to have the wisdom to direct who does what and how it is done.
He may consult with others, but ultimately, he holds the final word.
Elder Steve arap Sitienei is now a Kalenjin elder, recognised from Tulwob Kapkony to Kipsigis ne Tebes. The Kokwetab Kitwek sat and saw an Elder in him, a person whose guidance and wisdom can be sought for issues pertaining to members of Kitwek Association in Perth.
As residents of Perth, we in Kitwek are extremely proud to have been part of this sacred occasion. We feel enriched to have witnessed and participated in a deeply significant cultural event. We are honoured to have Mr Sitienei as our elder.
The title is deserved.
Watch the full installation ceremony on the official video below.
The Kitwek Communications team would like to appreciate all who contributed to this item.