search catalogue

A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya

Landing page image for the collection "A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya"

Landing page image for the collection “A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya”. Click on image to access collection.

Language Okiek
Depositor Jane Akinyi Ngala Oduor
Affiliation University of Nairobi
Location Kenya
Collection ID 0412
Grant ID SG0394
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle




Summary of the collection

This is a preliminary Okiek language documentation project. The collection contains audio and video recordings in a range of genres; conversations, songs, narratives, poems, proverbs and ceremonies associated with circumcision, beekeeping, etc. A good part of the audio / visual corpus is annotated, transcribed and translated into English, one of the official languages of Kenya.


Group represented

According to the Kenya Population Census of 2009, the Okiek number 76,000, other sources show a lower figure. They live scattered in Kuresoi, Narok South and in the region of Mt. Elgon in Kenya. They are also found in Tanzania. The Okiek generally, and especially those of Tinet (Kuresoi South where the documentation took place), are eager to preserve their language and culture despite linguistic diversity around them and socioeconomic changes to their way of life hinders this.


Language information

Okiek is one of the languages in the Kalenjin macrolanguage (Ethnologue). Okiek is a highly endangered, and so far unwritten, minority language. The project documents not only the Okiek language and its structure but also its cultural, social and political dimensions (as recommended by Bowern (2011) for highly endangered languages).


Special characteristics

The Okiek of Tinet are neighbours to speakers of different languages and are now mostly multilingual in Okiek, Kipsigis, Kikuyu, Kiswahili and English. According to the Okiek elders, the young Okiek do not speak pure Okiek and are slowly shifting to Kipsigis and other neighbouring languages such as Kikuyu. Their language is therefore influenced by those of the neighbouring communities, especially the Kipsigis.

Interference with the traditional life of the Okiek is seen both during the colonial period and after. In 2009, the Government of Kenya took over the land of the Okiek. Following this government action, the Okiek who were in the forest were evicted. Settling permanently away from the other Okiek speakers and engaging in non-traditional work, like farming and beekeeping, (copying the Kipsigis’ lifestyle) may facilitate complete loss of their Okiek culture and language, thus further reducing the number of Okiek speakers.


Collection contents

The collection contains about 20 hours of audio / video recordings. A big percentage of the recordings are transcribed, annotated and translated into English. The data contains the socio-cultural practices of the Okiek such as circumcision ceremonies, economic activities (such as beekeeping) and the value attached to such activities. It also contains the names of the trees in the Mau forest and the values attached to them.


Other information

Several outcomes are expected from this project:

-A small dictionary of the common words in Okiek, words for various types of trees and words associated with beekeeping, hunting or gathering, as well as photographs (where possible) are compiled to preserve the Okiek traditional knowledge, a treasure to the Okiek community.

-The collected data will serve as source for preparing a multimedia dictionary.

-A small book containing narratives and other folk stories, poems, songs, and proverbs of the Okiek to facilitate language maintenance.

-Four Okiek persons were trained in fieldwork skills, including good practices in collecting data, tackling ethical issues carefully, using notebooks effectively, and using audio and video recorders effectively. The consultants also learned to transcribe, translate and annotate data.


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Jane Akinyi Ngala Oduor as data collector and researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by name. Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Oduor, Jane. 2016. A preliminary documentation of the Okiek language of Kenya. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2023