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Little-known hero Barsirian arap Koitalel

Manuel Ntoyai @manuel_ntoyai

On Thursday, October 19, 1905, Koitalel arap Somoei was slain by British colonel Richard Meinertzhagen in a treacherous scheme that would pass for a war crime.

After a successful 10-year armed resistance, the British tricked the Nandi leader for a meeting to discuss peace terms. It is thus when Koitalel stretched his hand for a handshake, Meinertzhagen met it with a bullet from aconcealed gun.

The British then killed other members of the Orkoiyot family and went home with his head, certain the Nandi uprising had been vanquished.

Two decades later, Barsirian arap Manyei, a name rarely mentioned among freedom fighters by Kenya’s history books, took over as Orkoiyot. And since the apple rarely falls far from the tree, Barsirian’s policies instantly ruffled the colonialist’s feathers.        

“Barsirian was the second born to Koitalel’s second wife, Taparchook Chepo Chebwai. His fame grew immediately and he wanted the restoration of the Sagetap eito, the age set graduation ceremony. He knew this would be vital in bringing the Nandi people together, especially the warriors,” says David Sulo arap Somoei, a fourth generation descendant of the great Orkoiyot, Koitalel.

On October 20 1923, just three days prior to the ceremony, Barsirian was arrested and arraigned at the Eldoret Magistrate Court and charged with sedition.

“At first he was detained in Nyeri, before they transferred him to Meru where he stayed for seven years. Local elders petitioned for his release and he was taken  closer home and placed under house arrest at Kamatargui,” says Sulo. His health deteriorated while under house arrest and the British released him thinking he would soon die.

“His family took care of him and when he got well again, the colonial government went back for him, first they held him at Lessos and Kamartagui,” says Sulo.  In 1956, the British colonial government transferred him to join his brothers from Talai at Mfangano Island in Lake Victoria.

“It took the intervention of MPs and then Prime Minister Mzee Jomo Kenyatta for Barsirian and his brothers to be released in 1962,” says Sulo.

“Barsirian and Mzee Jommo were close because they shared an origin, as Kenyatta was from the Senteiyos in Maasai land, who were cousins to Koitalel arap Somoei. When Mzee visited Nakuru in 1964, Barsirian clothed him in Sambut (cloak made for leaders).

Barsirian died on April 10 1974 a poor man with no hopes of compensation from the government. He was buried at his wife’s (Taplelei) home at Lemoru Ngeny village, Uasin Gishu.

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