NANDI (Kenya)


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An uncircumcised Nandi boy rarely has an opportunity for intercourse, due to the strict controls of the warrior age set (Huntingford, 1973:p410[1]; Brockman, 1997)[2]. Nandi boys thus practice masturbation (De Rachewiltz (1963 [1964:p151]). Bryk (1928:p118)[3]:


“It is common practice among the Nandi for the boys to smear sticky, milky juice of the euphorbiaceous plant yeptiringuet on the glans and to masturbate (lat pertit)with it. The juice of this plant is quite caustic and causes the glans to swell up strongly, so that the foreskin can easily be drawn back; which is what is wanted. During the process the boys call out, “Suren suren, ce kwamon pek a metet” (Become big and I’ll give you something to eat). The blossoms of this plant are usually stuck into the hair, the separated milk serving as the agglutinant. Now the little fellow can go to a girl and try it”.


Huntingford (1972:p789-91)[4] states that “a boy’s sex life begins as soon as he has emerged from the seclusion of circumcision (kakoman tum) and a girl’s when she reaches the age of puberty, i.e. about twelve. Girls do not normally begin younger; but boys, who sometimes may not be circumcised until they have reached the age of 17, 18, or even 20, often do, though they are not supposed to do so, and must make love in secret, risking punishment from the warriors if caught”. A favourite game played by small children is house-keeping, an openly performed mock marriage, “but often a sexual element enters into the game which must be kept secret. For this they go into the bushes and play with each other, imitating as far as they can the actions they have seen and heard performed in their parent’s hut at night. The parents of course know that such things are done, but they do not seek for offenders, and only if actually caught would a boy be slapped by his parent, with an admonition to mind what he did or he would have the warriors after him”. A circumcised boy may have intercourse with uninitiated girls, who form lasting couples (mureret-sandet, beloved-lover). The boy may, first at age 7 or 8, find himself in various configurations of sleeping naked in the same bed as naked girls their age. The close and unfair competition for girls is illustrated when a warrior is also present, and the boy may attempt to cor tipik “steal girls” by pressing himself as close to the girl’s back as he can when the warrior is asleep.


“The girl often allows this, though she dare not turn toward the boy for fear of disturbing the warrior. The warriors of course know that this goes on, since they have all done it themselves, but as long as they do not actually see or feel anything they take no notice. But if the boy should forget himself and move too much, he is likely to pay for his fun with a sore back”.


Langley (1979:p46, 71)[5] states that in former days a boy’s sex life began at the end of initiation (circumcision), which may be as late as at age 25. At the time of writing, boys were entitled to sexual (intercrural) intercourse with uncircumcised girls at age 15. Thus, “[s]eduction of an uninitiated girl was not a tort provided pregnancy did not ensue […]” (Snell, 1954:p31)[6].

Long before initiation (about age 14), and beginning when the girls are about ten years old, they must obligatory life in a mixed gender places called sikiroino, an institution meant “to teach the girls how to behave towards men and how to control their sexual desires. No sexual intercourse is permitted when the boys and girls sleep in this way. At a later stage the girls would be examined for virginity, and it is great shame and anger to the girls and their parents if any are found to have lost their virginity. In some cases such girls would be speared to death; while virgin ones would receive gifts of cows and sheep” (Cherotich, 1967[7]; Mbiti, [1990:p124]; Nyangweso, 2002:p584)[8]. After clitoridectomy, during seclusion, sexual instruction takes place, including “how to sleep with their husbands, when to refrain from sexual intercourse during pregnancy and up to the time the child begins to walk, how to be attractive wives, and how to bring up children”.

Child marriage (Huntingford, 1953:p29)[9] may have been no more in 1973 (Langley, p72). A prepubertal girl could be tied to a rich man; consummation is delayed until she is grown up (Huntingford, 1923/3:p53; 1927:p434)[10].


Among the Nandi and Masai of the Uganda Protectorate, the younger professional warriors, who live with immature girls as a regular and sanctioned practice, can do so only until the girls attain the age of puberty. After puberty the girls must either be married or sent home to their mothers” (Margold, 1922/3:p50-1)[11].


“At ten years old, girls begin [to] sleep in a house (sikiroino) built for this purpose with boys of their age or slightly older. This obligatory practice is meant to teach the girls how to control their sexual desires. No sexual intercourse is permitted, as the girls are examined for virginity just before circumcision. To refuse to sleep in the sikiroino would earn a girl a beating from boys without any interventions from her parents. Loss of virginity could earn her death by a spear. […] They are also told that the removal of the clitoris is important because if not removed it could make their husbands impotent when it touches the penis. They are also told that a girl who refuses to be circumcised will have her clitoris grow very long and develop branches. […] They were also taught to refrain from sexual intercourse during pregnancy until the baby is able to walk. They were also taught how to be attractive wives and how to raise children. […] Sexually, it [circumcision] is meant to control female sexuality by enhancing marital chastity. It thus limits possible enjoyment of sex for women. Traditionally it was explained that while men were allowed to have as many women as they could afford, women are not expected to be wayward. This practice was expected to help control their sexual desire. Some women approve of this practice since in deadening sexual desire they have no problem even when they are frustrated with their husbands. [note omitted] It served as a source of implanting fear of pain and promotion of virginity among girls and chastity in women”[12].


 [Additional refs.: Hollis (1909:p16, 58)[13]]











Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Huntingford, G. W. B. (1973) The Nandi of the western Kenya highlands, in Molnos, A. (Ed.) Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. University of Nairobi, Institute of African Studies. Vol. 3, p406-14

[2] Op.cit.

[3] Bryk, F. (1928) Neger-Eros: Ethnologische Studien über das Sexualleben bei Negern. Berlin & Köln: A. Marcus & E. Weber’s Verlag

[4] Huntingford, G. W. B. (1972) Nandi kinship and clans (Kenya), Anthropos 67:771-821

[5] Langley, M. S.. (1979) The Nandi of Kenya. London: Hurst

[6] Snell, G. S. (1954) Nandi Customary Law. London: MacMillan & Co.

[7] Cherotich, S. (1967) The Nandi female initiation and marriage and Christian impact upon it, in Dini na Mila, Kampala 2,2/3:62-77

[8] Nyangweso, M.  (2002) Christ's salvific message and the Nandi ritual of female circumcision, Theological Studies [Washington] 63,3:579-600

[9] Huntingford, G. W. B. (1953) The Southern Nilo-Hamites. London: International African Institute

[10] Huntingford, G. W. B. (1932/3) The significance of the bride-price with special reference to the Nandi, J East Afr & Uganda Nat Hist Soc 45/6:51-5; Huntingford, G. W. B. (1927) Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Nandi and Kony Tribes, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 57:417-61; Kyewalyanga (1977:p24)

[11] Margold (1922/3) Racial factors in desertion, Family 3, Oct/Jan. Quoted by Frazier, E. F. (1930) The Negro Slave Family, J Negro Hist 15,2:198-259, see p201

[12] Nyangweso, M. (2002) Christ’s salvific message and the Nandi ritual of female circumcision, Theolog Studies 63,3:579-600

[13] Hollis, A. C. (1909) The Nandi.Oxford: Clarendon Press