Kipkigey Arap Ayobei
My mum went to Iten yesterday and met a teacher from Kessup Girls. The teacher told her that he had seen her somewhere, and asked if she ever taught at Kessup. My mum said no, then added that she studied in Kessup primary school in the 1950s. As they spoke, the teacher told mum that he had heard of a renowned man who was in Kessup then, a man called Kipkigey, who spoke to his clan to donate land for the secondary school to be built. My mum smiled, because Kipkigey was her grandfather, and the husband to Kabon, my great-grandmother whom I often speak fondly about.
His real name was Chebii Arap Ayobei and this is how he came to be called Kipkigey. Just after the First World War, the colonial government pushed for the people in Elgeyo-Marakwet to grow bananas. They considered the Keiyo to be generally lazy with the habit of absconding manual work. Then, with falling world prices on wheat and maize, the Agricultural ministry was pressed to put the Keiyo to use, by having them grow a viable cash crop. Agriculturalists went to Keiyo reservations to test the soil and to grow banana saplings. One, was a botanist who walked around with Chebii to record native flora and their uses. The community grew fond of the English botanist and called him Kipkigey, and since he spent so much time with Chebii, they told Chebii that he was also another Kipkigey. At the mention of this, Chebii would turn furious, which only served to reinforce the name.
When AIC church spoke to Kipkigey about their intention to start a girls’ secondary school, to allow girls to have an education closer home as opposed to travelling all the way to Kapropita. Kipkigey spoke to his clan and influenced them to give off a section of the land on the second escarpment, for this purpose.
Kipkigey loved mum a lot. One time, as a young girl in class one, walking from Sergoit to Kessup for school, my mum met Kipkigey on his way to a wedding. He had smeared his face with white ochre and had a head adornment made out of ostrich feathers. He had even put on a cloak made from new velvet monkey skin. He saw my mother and smiled, then told her that he had nothing to give her then, but that she should wait for him before going home, because he was going to bring her honey and a little beer, provided that she never reported him to her parents.
Mum visited Kipkigey just after Kabon, his first wife, had passed on. Mum, afraid of witnessing his grief, was hesitant about going straight to his house and spent some time walking around Kessup instead, even buying mandazi. But eventually she walked to his compound. Kipkigey’s second wife, seeing mum’s anxiety, ushered her in, saying that Kipkigey yearned to see her. Kipkigey was infirm then, and mum found him alone in his hut, sitting on a skin mat with a skin plate beside him, which had his lunch. His eyes lit when he saw mum and he held his hands up and said, “Just greet me. I haven’t touched her dead body. I am clean.” My mum clasped his hands then and found them bony, the flesh sunk in. Despite having eaten, he ate mum’s mandazi heartily and asked her to always bring him more.
By the time he died, Kipkigey had turned Catholic. The priest at Iten told him every person baptised had to be buried at a mission. So his body was ferried to Sing’ore and buried in one of the open graves at the mission, which had been dug specifically for Christians.