Children of no country: Inside the agonised lives of biracial Kipsigis
The lush green highlands of Kericho are always breathtaking to the first-time visitor. But underneath this beauty lies the painful lives of biracial Kipsigis.
Ms Elizabeth Chepkurui, 65, is among those unlucky to have been born at the height of the hate and segregation of biracial people in colonial Kenya. Her mother was raped by a European farmer known as “Kamundu” in Rongai, Nakuru County. On the fateful day, in 1953, her mother Langok neb’araap Kemei left her matrimonial home in Kericho to visit her mother-in-law, who was a squatter on a farm owned by a European.
As she crossed into the farm, the mother of eight encountered the settler inspecting his farm on horseback. He dismounted and confronted her, eventually forcing her into a sexual act on the fringes of his farm.
With no recourse and no one to report the incident to, she quietly returned to her home in Kericho hoping to forget the shame of her ordeal. Not long afterwards, she discovered that she was pregnant. This marked the start of all her troubles.
Early in 1954, she gave birth to biracial twins, sending her husband into a fit of rage. He furiously accused her of being a prostitute and threatened to kill her if she did not leave immediately with the babies. With nowhere to go, Langok left her other eight children, the youngest barely two, and went far away, living in abandoned houses with the twins.
According to Elizabeth, her mother struggled to feed them. She begged from house to house, often being sneered at because of her biracial children. She often left them unattended to look for temporary work.
“We had no clothes save for a sheet that barely covered our nakedness,” says Elizabeth. They often went for days without food. So severe was the situation that her brother became ill and died at the tender age of five. Her brother’s death affected her mother so much that she mourned him for months.
Missing her other children, she went into depression, often talking to herself. “My mother eventually died when I was 13. I was taken in by kind strangers who gave me food. I was too old to start school so I never got educated,” she says. Elizabeth later moved to Chemaner in Molo, Nakuru County, and got married to her husband, Stephen Koech, at a tender age. Now a mother of ten, she lives in squalor on a tiny piece of land where she struggles to educate her children.
“In my difficult situation, I often wonder who my father was and why the British authorities never cared for us after causing the break-up of my mother’s marriage and the death of my brother,” she says with teary eyes.
Another victim, Ludiah Tapsagaa, now 99, gave birth to three biracial children in her early life. Born in 1920 in Kericho, she was only 14 when she was quietly taken in by a European man in Kerenga in Kericho, who kept her as his concubine.
In 1935, she discovered that she was pregnant at only 15. When she told the British man, known only by his Kipsigis nickname, Kipyabusit, that she was pregnant, he severely beat her up and kicked her out of his house.
The following year, she gave birth to biracial twins — a boy and a girl.
“I suffered greatly with my children and I moved from one place to another, begging in order to fend for the children,” said the nonagenarian. She eventually settled on a tiny piece of land in Chesingoro village, Chelilis, Kericho County.
There were tough miscegenation laws in colonial Kenya that forbade Europeans and Africans from marrying.
A good number of Europeans secretly kept African women as concubines even though they risked being excommunicated from their society.
The Kipsigis called biracial children chebisaginik or “weaverbirds”. Chebisakiat is a yellow-feathered bird with plumes of black and was used in derogation to describe the biracial heritage of the children, leading to social stigma and segregation.
In Nandi, biracial persons have since adopted the name “Sal’chumba” meaning “originating from the Europeans”.
In an upcoming book documenting the movement of Kalenjin women to urban and settled areas in colonial Kenya, authors Godfrey K. Sang and Hosea Kili describe the harrowing experiences of women in the hands of Europeans. Some were taken in as domestic workers and subjected to sexual assault by European settlers.