Tribes of Mount Elgon

The people living around Mt. Elgon appeared to be physically similar to the Maasai, and for some time that is how they were known. In fact, these people were not Maasai. There were members of four very small tribes, the Kony, Sapei, Pok and the Bungomek. These tribes are known collectively as the Saboat, and are also part of the Kalenjin collective.

The Saboat people have many cultural ties to other Kalenjin peoples, chiefly the Nandi. They called Mount Elgon Masop and made excellent use of this mountainous region. Agriculture was practiced on the slopes, and herds of cattle were kept. The many caves of Elgon were used as granaries and stables for cattle. In addition, the Saboat themselves sometimes used the caves as a refuge from weather and inter-tribal conflict.

The Saboat took advantage of the nightly visits to the caves by herds of elephants. The elephants were attracted to the caves by salt, which they scraped from the walls with their tusks and licked from the earth. The Saboat took salt from these pachyderm mines and used it to preserve food. Hunting was also common in Saboat culture, and pit traps for elephants were dug at the entrances of the caves.

Mount Elgon is also an area of great importance for the Teso people (sometimes referred to as the Iteso). The Teso originate from the Karamajong region in Uganda, and while they may or my not be direct descendants of the Karamajong, they certainly still have strong linguistic and cultural ties to the region. While they have been influenced to some degree by their neighbouring cultures including the Luo, the Teso’s closest Kenyan relations are the Pokot, a Kalenjin tribe found throughout Western Laikipia and the area north of the Cherangani Hills.

Mount Elgon lies directly on the Kenya-Uganda border, a line of recent and insignificant importance in the cultural history of the region. Both the Saboat and the Teso therefore have many bonds and cultural ties to Eastern Ugandan tribes, including a tribe of close relations also called the Teso.

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