Meet the Terik Community from Kenya

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Talk of being anonymous and the Teriks know it all.

Terik is a language in Kenya amongst the 42 tribes popularly known. The Terik language was registered in 2013 given the code standard ISO 639-3.This people have mostly been identified as Nandis,Kalenjins and even Tirikis(who are known to be a sub-branch of the luhyas) yet it’s a tribe on its own, having their unique way of life, traditions and also taboos.

As we have all learnt from the primary historical background of the different tribes in Kenya and their origins, the Nilotic people originated from South Sudan. The Teriks are Nilotes who moved from South Sudan and headed on to Mt. Elgon together with their ‘cousins’ the Bongomek.

Their stay at Mt. Elgon however was short-lived at one time when elephants trampled on their food crops; this forced them to move as they were avoiding being hit by hunger. They then went and settled at Nyang’ori leaving behind the Bongomek. Presently, they occupy the Nandi and Uasin Gishu counties: west of Eldoret. There’s also a Terik speaking clan living among the Tugen of Baringo and Koibatek.

The teriks are related to the Bongomek, they refer to them as cousins; Teriks also have ties with the Pok, both of which are Elgon languages. The Terik headquarters had been previously located at Kapsengere but currently it’s at Nandi Hills.

The Terik language family include the Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Sudanic, Nilotic, Southern Nilotic, Kalenjin, Nandi- Markweta and Terik.

The first missionaries came to terik speaking land in about 1908 and settled in the modern place called Nyang’ori. The terik people gave them free land to start up a mission centre. Later the missionaries brought in Luhya groups to work there as their servants.

It was the mixing that brought in a lot of problems as the missionaries later gave their priority to them and ignored the terik hosting them. The Missionaries were against the terik cultural practises and they condemned them in their teaching and preaching as very satanic and chased them from the mission centre. The missionaries also used Logoli, the language of their servants as a medium of instruction at the mission school.

The Teriks had circumcision into practice. They circumcise both male and female.

Teriks participated in wrestling competitions. They would be up against the Luos or even the Luhyas to wrestle. In these competitions if there was to be a winner, he would snatch away the loser’s tribal name.

For example if Ragor was fighting against Ondiek, and the former won he would snatch away his identity. This is why some teriks have luo names others have luhya names, just from their wrestling activities. However, it’s only few teriks who would own these names as it’s mostly the older generation who had participated in such an activity that is, wrestling.

Koitalel Arap Samoei, the Nandi leader, who fought the colonialists to protect the Nandi’s rights and lands, was a Terik. Can you believe that? Yes, I know it’s somehow interesting.

Most Teriks have migrated to Nandi where they have become leaders and administrators. Teriks are known for their brevity this is one of the sole reason most of them end up occupying most Nandi leadership positions. With the Nandis, one will only be their leader if he has assimilated into their culture. Only 'Nandidized' leaders get to rule them. So the Teriks assimilated into Nandi leaving their Terik origin in the past. This has also accelerated the demise of the Terik identity.

The Terik and Nandi are mutually intelligible. The on-going assimilation to Nandi way of life has led to the decline in the use of the Terik language in favour of Nandi. About 50,000 Terik(less than half of the total population) still speak Terik but all are middle aged/older. Most children as a result grow up conversing in Nandi and not Terik.

Terik language is still a small language. The Terik people have a population of 300,000 based on the 2009 census conducted. Terik therefore has to be retained. It’s now being taught by retired teachers in Kemeloi Location. This is really good as the children get to grow up knowing how to converse in their own language and can even identify with their cultures.

The only book that talked about the Terik language was ‘ONETGE OSOMAN’ which when translated means learn to read. The book however is no more, some teacher had the wordings written down in counter books which they currently use to teach. Nandi language is still lingua franca in lower classes instead of Terik language. That’s the problem being experienced. Children are just misguided.

The Terik people request for the writing of Terik textbooks, dictionaries and the Bible. The Terik people also need the Bible in their language so that sermons will be in Terik. This will enable smooth preaching of the Word of God. With all this, I also believe that will help promote the Terik identity as a distinct group of people as teachers are willing to educate the Terik children on their language.

The Teriks and Kalenjins have a difference in their languages. Teriks have a nasal while Nandis have a lateral.

For example, ‘Laakwet’ is a baby in Kalenjin while in Terik ‘Naakwet’ is a baby.’Ilion’ is ‘how are you?’ in Kalenjin while ‘Inion’ is ‘how are you?’ in Terik. ‘Kaararan’ means good in Terik while ‘Mye’ means good in Nandi.

Teriks and Nandis too have a cultural difference. With the Nandis a childless woman can ‘marry’ another woman to bear children for her; this cannot be condoned in the Terik culture as it’s considered to be a taboo.

On a weighing scale to gauge the differences between both the ‘Teriks and Nandis’ and the ‘Treiks and Kipsikiis’, we will have the Kipsikiis and Teriks difference being the most ‘weightiest’ difference. Some words in Kipsikiis can mean a different thing in Terik. This is the sole reason why mostly when a Terik goes over to visit the Kipsikiis area, they need a translator for communication to be meaningful and purposeful. The translator is vital because their languages are so different from each other.

The future is bright for Teriks.

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