Impacts of Climate Change Among the Endorois Peoples in Kenya
The Endorois are an Indigenous Peoples living around Lake Bogoria, Mochongoi Ol-Arabel, and Marmanet Forest in the Marigat and Mogotio sub-counties of Baringo County, Nakuru, and Laikipia Counties within the Rift Valley of Kenya. We have always lived around Lake Bogoria and regard Mochongoi Forest and Lake Bogoria as sacred grounds. The 2019 Kenya government census reported us as numbering slightly more than 45,000, even though other estimates say our actual population could be higher than 60,000.
Our Peoples were forcibly evicted from our ancestral land in the early 1970s by the Kenyan government in the name of conservation, ultimately paving the way for the creation of Lake Bogoria National Reserve. This eviction has created generational trauma and intense loss of irreplaceable knowledge systems, culture, language, and eradication of identity. These deep-rooted challenges are compounded by emerging seemingly destructive, defining issues of our time, like climate change.
Climate change discourse is personal for me. I was born in a rural village near Lake Bogoria and have seen the effects of climate change first hand and the desperate measures taken to survive. I have seen community leaders and activists vilified by government propaganda and the heavy hand of reprisal. It has taken a lot of energy to combat the most pressing issues that were already threatening our very existence as a Peoples and the entire humankind.
I have had a noticeable scar on my left forehead since I was seven years old. My siblings and I had gone to the dried-up Waseges River with our mother. That day, my mom was washing clothes there as we waited to take a bath in the nearby thicket, and after that go home with as many liters of water as we could carry. Being the naughty boy I was, I climbed and fell from a six-foot fruit tree. The challenge of water continues to be dire and people still get snake bites or fall on the rocky terrain as they try to access water. Today, our pasture drylands are depleted and it is much hotter than it was in previous years. We know that our ancestors’ livelihoods were sustainable, as they incorporated biodiversity culturally. I have devoted my life to transmitting our Endorois knowledge because they are key in combating the world’s most pressing challenges.
Over the last nine years, Lake Bogoria and other lakes in the Great Rift Valley have seen water levels rise, displacing people and disrupting lives. Over the last two years, we have seen the worst. It has brought many conflicts over land and other limited resources exacerbated by the rising population.
We are traditionally a Pastoralist Peoples but have recently learnt to grow crops to diversify our livelihoods, encouraging rich biodiversity around Lake Bogoria. According to our customs, different animals, plants, and ecosystems are attached to totemic significance, for the ease of identification in our clans. These clans have lineages that are named after ancestors. Every clan has a name bestowed on their women. Tarkok is my clan’s women’s identity and the moon is our totem. We incorporate flora and fauna for the totemic symbol to also mark livestock.
More than 300 species of wildlife inhabit our land, and according to our Traditional Knowledge, their protection is intertwined with our totems and how we coexist with nature. That is how climate, food sovereignty, and our culture intertwine. We burn korosek (a sacred plant used as incense) when offering prayers, and everyone who attends is given a piece to take home as a blessing for their homesteads.
In the savanna plains at the bottom of the Laikipia escarpment, the area around the lake where my people currently live, experiences a sweltering climate and frequent droughts. Whenever our rivers run dry and grass diminishes for our livestock, we hold prayers at Loburu, the geysers of hot springs in Lake Bogoria.
My Peoples have had early warning signs against destructive climate patterns. Since the enforcement of the government’s previous inefficient and non-participatory policies, we have lost, and continue to lose, our knowledge systems. This is primarily due to the overreliance on western consumerism and production methods, which contribute to the warming of the planet through carbon emissions.
Flamingos on the shores of Lake Bogoria, Kenya.
We now experience nutrition-related diseases and medical conditions because we have increasingly turned away from our Indigenous food systems. The shift has occasioned massive cutting of trees, irrespective of revered links from our ancestors. We have scrambled for, subdivided, and destroyed sacred community land linked to living in harmony with nature and our livestock. In the process, we have seen many springs dry up and swamps and grazing fields disappear. These enormous climate change challenges have led to rural-urban migration, thus disdaining our People’s way of living and eroding our languages.
Global warming and its effects have hit the Endorois hard due to disrupted rainfall patterns. Our grazing fields shrink every day and our livestock numbers have been drastically reduced. Many die during dry spells that used to happen between January and April, but nowadays are unpredictable. The breeds of our livestock are not as pure as they used to be due to government efforts to introduce imported foreign breeds, which have not been able to adapt to our extreme weather conditions. Our pure heritage species could survive the harshest droughts because of their resilience and ability to adapt, but changing livestock breeds and unclear government policy support have left farmers more vulnerable.
The Paradigm Shift
Until the 1990s, the Endorois led a full time pastoralist lifestyle, raising the indigenous Zebu breed of cattle. The introduction of subsistence maize farming to address the increase in population has caused the diminishing of grazing fields. Endorois leaders and our entire community are grappling with resilience measures to adapt and survive as we mitigate the effects of climate change. At Jamii Asilia Centre, the Indigenous-led organization I founded, we engage the community to curb the situation. We have introduced household fodder farming (crops cultivated primarily for animal feed) within small-holder farms and homesteads. Fodder cultivation is resilient in arid and semi-arid areas where we live and cost-effective. Other activities include destocking (reducing in numbers) and grazing cows within enclosed farms where the grass is grown.
Small-scale farming incorporates agroecology such as fruit trees and vegetable farms. Drought-resistant cows give enough milk for the family and some extra so it can be sold. Several women and youth-led innovative community-based initiatives such as massive planting of trees, the introduction of agroecology, capacity building, and efforts addressing rising waters collectively tackle the issues brought about by climate change. We are learning the hard way about climate justice, but we believe that western systems and processes can be incorporated into our Indigenous livelihoods.
Having participated in UN processes over the last five years, and most recently at COP26, I am responsible for amplifying and representing the voices of our Peoples. I work closely under the counsel of my Elders in multi-stakeholder forums to influence policy. My focus is to build my capacity to intertwine cultural heritage and Traditional Knowledge with scalable, sustainable development.
Indigenous networks and caucuses build our strength to defend our collective rights. The Kenya Indigenous Youth Network and Global Indigenous Youth Caucus are crucial in my journey to better advocate for and participate in our self-determination. Solidarity in these networks has affirmed the strength of the right to self-determination as intertwined with our lands, territories, and natural resources. Self-determination is the power to decide on and continue our technologies, cultural education, and traditional life-ways bestowed unto us from our ancestors.
--Carson Kiburo (Endorois) is the Executive Director at Jamii Asilia Centre. He is currently studying law at Kabarak University in Kenya.
All photos by Carson Kiburo.
Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.