The reality of death is sometimes a dreaded thing. Well, at least for most people I have interacted with. While it is not something that we can run away from, its reality is still most feared. While growing up, I had many questions about what happens to people when they get old and die. As a young child, I did not understand death; it just occurred to me that I stopped seeing some of my relatives and heard people saying they were gone. “Gone where?”, I would ask myself. Living with my grandmother in the remote village of Nandi, I witnessed and attended many burials. Growing up, the curiosity to know why and how people died never left me.
I remember this event too well when I was 16 years old. My grandmother, who was 80 years old then, had begun losing sight and used a stick to walk. One day, she called me to join her in her room. When I entered her thatched hut, she asked me to help her cut her nails. Well, this is something that I used to do for her every month. I took a nail cutter and began with her fingernails. Suddenly my grandmother told me that she would be going somewhere very far. Hearing this was unusual since she rarely left the house due to her advanced age. So I asked her when she would be coming back. She looked at me directly in my eyes, pressed her hands tightly on my hands, and went quiet. Her reaction made me panicky, so I kept asking her what she meant. “Sheu Morobi,” she answered quietly.
My curiosity about Sheu Morobi began on that day. The Sheu Morobi is a cliff at the Nandi escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. It is a place where Nandi elders committed suicide by jumping into it. From their beliefs, this was an honourable way to die other than being dependent on their relatives. The community believed that when one became old, their value decreased, and the only decent thing to do was for them to die. Therefore, an elder would bless the relatives before jumping off the 450-meter-high cliff, never to return. Rituals would be performed for them to have a peaceful send-off.
I became more curious to find out if only the Nandis practised this nerve-wracking end-of-life practice. My exploration of the matter led me to discover another similar cliff, the Koromosho Chepkit. At this cliff, older Kalenjin men who had lost hope in life would gather here, hold hands, and sing their last songs before they could jump into it and die. For the same reason as the Nandi, they never wanted to burden their relatives since they get too dependent on others as they age.
Shocking as it may sound, these practices were practised by these two communities in the past. I could not bring myself to the reality that my grandmother could experience such a death. Thankfully, the practice has long ceased, especially with the coming of the colonials. Families now accord the elders their deserved respect and take good care of them until they die naturally.