What Koitalel arap Samoei Mausoleum will teach you about African history

Maosoleum of Koitalel arap Samoei, Nandi leader in Nandi Hills Town. Photo | Rupi Mangat

What you need to know:

The Nandi chief who resisted their land being grabbed at the turn of the 20th century is celebrated here

The mausoleum was opened in 2005 by the then President Mwai Kibaki.

It’s a cool afternoon atop Nandi Hills. While the golfers take to the first tee at the picturesque Nandi Bears Club boasting the most scenic fairways lined with towering indigenous trees, we walk the short distance into the museum dedicated to the famous Nandi leader, Koitalel Arap Samoei.

Portrait of Koitalel arap Samoei, Nandi leader in the museum in Nandi Hills Town. Photo | Rupi Mangat

The mausoleum was opened in 2005 by the then President Mwai Kibaki. Stepping inside the impressive building, it’s large but empty, save for the four pillars and the grave of the chief. 

Killed in cold blood on 19 October 1905 by the British administrator, Colonel Meinertzhagen near the mausoleum on the grounds of the present-day golf club, Koitalel’s head was severed and sent to England. It hasn’t been returned. The Nandi were opposed to their land being taken for the railway, understandably so. 

The curator, Francis K. Thalam escorts us around the single-storey colonial house by the mausoleum which served as a court house before being turned into a museum.

At first glance, the single-room museum looks completely uninteresting with the few artefacts and pictures – and if you don’t know anything about the history, it’s easy to ignore it.

But Thalam narrates the events from the past. The three long staffs that belonged to the Nandi leader still stand encased in the glass and metal box that I saw on my first visit, more than a decade ago. They were symbols of Samoei’s government, each representing the administration, military and religion. Taken away from the community to England by the colonial power, the three staffs were returned after many decades.

The house is now called Barsirian Manyei, named after the leader’s son who became a freedom fighter. Barsirian Arap Manyei (1882 – 10 April 1974) was the last widely recognised Nandi Orkoiyot (leader) and Kenya's longest serving political detainee.  Captured by the colonial British, Barsirian spent 40 years in exile, shuttled from prison to prison to places like Mfangano and Rusinga, the islands of Lake Victoria, Kapsabet and the far-flung Meru.  

Maosoleum of Koitalel arap Samoei, Nandi leader in Nandi Hills Town. Photo | Rupi Mangat

When Barsirian was supposed to be brought back to Nandi Hills, the colonial government sensed trouble – the Nandi would demand the release of their leader. Hence, Barsirian was shipped back to Mfangano Island – and only released after Kenya’s independence. In 1974, Barsirian moved to Uasin Gishu.

An array of sepia images show the Nandi men who played a part in history with artefacts collected by Thalam dating back a century or more like the 500-year-old buffalo hide shields. A clawless African otter on display was an animal revered by the Nandi because it led the people to clean water – remember in those days there were no taps or indoor plumbing.

An Ethiopian jiko resembles the Nandi jiko which Thalam has a theory about, that the Nandi followed the Nile into Kenya.

A keen anthropologist, Thalam a Kalenjin has published two books about his community. 

A slight drizzle begins as we walk back to the golf club. This time we vanish into the pine woodland being cleared. We’re searching for the spot where Koitalel was murdered in cold blood.

Our guide stops at a huge boulder in the planted forest of tall trees. “This is where the Nandi leader used to hold court,” tells our guide. The place where Koitalel Arap Samoei was murdered is not the same spot but in another area unknown to our guide.

Driving down Nandi Hills through the long winding road wedged between the steep hills and valleys, there’s a spectacular show of rain and lightning from Tinderet, turning the skies an electric white with fiery red rods.


Fact File

Check in at Kweisos House or Nandi Bears Club for golfers, exploring the many sites on the long stretch of Nandi Hills like the Bonjoge National Park also called the Nandi Rock, South Nandi Forest for hiking, birding and cultural tours like the museum dedicated to the Nandi leader Koitalel arap Samoei, the prehistoric sites of Songhor and Fort Ternan, including the 1903 Uganda Railway relics at Fort Ternan.

You can also drive on to Kisumu, Kericho or Eldoret.

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