Who are the Terik People?

The Terik people originated from South Sudan and moved to Mt. Elgon before settling in western Kenya.
The Terik people originated from South Sudan and moved to Mt. Elgon before settling in western Kenya.

Terik is one of the Kenyan languages registered in 2013 as one of the languages spoken by the 42 tribes in the country. The Terik are the group of people speaking this language, and they are part of the Kalenjin community. They live in the western part of Kenya, in the Nandi and Kakamega districts, and their population is approximately 120,000. The Terik people form a tribe of their own with unique traditions, way of life, and taboos. However, to most people, they are the Tirikis, Kalenjins, and Nandis.

Origin and History

The Terik people are the Nilotic people who originated from South Sudan and moved to Mt. Elgon alongside the Bongomek people who were their “relatives.” They stayed at Mt. Elgon for a short period following the trampling on their food crops by elephants. As a result of the crop destruction, they had to move to avoid the risk of hunger. Therefore, they left their “relatives” to head to Nyangori, and then to their current place of residence.

Before the colonial times, the relationship between the Nandi and the Terik people began from the interactive activities such as cattle, women and land raiding. However, after the colonial times, the perception of the Terik people have increasingly changed and they now take Nandis to be loving relatives.

One of the factors that led to the change in their perception is the expansion of the Luhya (Terik people’s neighbors) territory. The expansion has resulted in the development of Terik-Luhya relation whereby the reduction of intermarriage between the two communities was perceived to be a threat by the Luhya. As a result, during the 20th century, the Luhyas expanded their territory to into that of the Terik people, making them move towards the land of the Nandi to avoid the population pressure.

The Nandi people welcomed the Terik people, and after time, they assimilated them into their culture, resulting in the change towards the Nandi’s age set system. Before assimilation, the original number of age sets for the Terik people was twelve, while that of the Nandi people was seven. Since the 1950s, the growth of a collective Kalenjin consciousness has accelerated the Terik assimilation.

Facing Extinction

It is important to note that the assimilation of the Terik people is only affecting the Terik people who moved to the Nandi land. In recent years there has been a decrease in such movements since the few pure Terik people want to strengthen their language and cultural practices so that they avoid becoming extinct. Therefore, Terik schools are rising to teach both Terik cultural and traditional practices, as well as the Terik language. It is an exception for this community since the country is getting rid of vernacular classes in schools where the only acceptable languages are English and Kiswahili. The main reason for this exception is to ensure that these people who are facing extinction are recognized, and the possibility of their extinction decreases.


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