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Chief Kimurguk Tiwas: The Story of the Powerful Ogiek Botanist

Created by Agnes Karuku In History 26 May 2022

Chief Kimurguk Tiwas of the Ogiek loved Mother Nature. He knew far better than most that she speaks to us in many ways. Listen to the whisper of the wind. See how the rain makes things grow. Warm to the rays of the sun. Observe the flowers and you will know when the honey is sweetest.


Chief Kimurguk Tiwas of the Ogiek was born in 1870 in Mariashoni into the Kapyegon clan. Later, he became an Orkoiyot, that is a hereditary chief, and took on the role of passing on knowledge and wisdom to the rest of the community.


The Ogiek, one of the oldest communities living in the Mau forest holds the forest in high regard. The forest not only provides them with food and shelter but also with, the beloved kumiat or honey.


Being what today would be called an ethnobotanist, Chief Kimurguk was an avid teacher of beekeeping and the making of hives from mature cedar trees. He also taught the young how to use honey as a preservative for smoked meat. For example, a single buffalo preserved in honey could feed a family of five for up to three years.


Chief Kimurguk knew that in periods of scarcity of meat, honey could be used as a nutritional additive. However, honey was mainly traded with neighboring communities and used for payment of bridewealth.


Kimurguk led the Ogiek’s resistance to colonial rule. He also ensured that the Ogieks’ demand to retain their land rights was heard and respected.


When he appeared before the Carter land Commission in Molo on October 17, 1932, he said, "We are different from the Lumbwa". This was a reference to the neighboring Kipsigis. “They have their land and we have our own,” he continued. “We are not going to leave our land under any circumstance…” he said, categorically.


Under Kimurguk’s leadership, the Ogiek were not forcefully moved from their land in Mariashoni to Narok as had been planned.


Despite how bright and beautiful a flower may be in its bloom, a time must come when it withers and dries up. For Chief Kimurguk, the flower of the Ogiek, the end came in 1947. He died a superhero whose example and leadership continues to inspire.


Kimurguk's legacy lives on

The Mau Forest is a globally recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. It comprises 22 forest blocks and is a key water catchment area, with 12 rivers feeding into major lakes and parts of Western Kenya.


The Mau Forest is home to several tree species, endemic birds, and wildlife. The forest has been traditionally inhabited by the Ogiek people, whose hunter-gatherer lifestyle is sustainable. However, the forest has been at the center of news on forceful evictions. Large parts of the forest area have also been cleared for settlement due to immigration from other ethnic groups.




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