Reasons for migration of Plain-Nilotes

These were a section of the nilotes who prefered to settle in the large, open and vast areas of East Africa during their migration and settlement. Their life was characterized by cattle keeping and rustling. They include the Jie, Karamojong, Iteso, Turkana and Maasai.

Reasons for their Migration

Just like any other migrations, the reasons for the migration of the plain nilotes are not clear but based on their way of life

Increase in population. Land is assumed to have been small for their growing numbers forcing them to search for bigger areas for settlement.

It is probable that the plain nilotes migrated in search of fertile areas that could support agriculture. This could be true of the agricultural Maasai(Kwavi Maasai). The soils in their cradleland could have got exhausted.

it is also assumed that since they were pastoralists may be they were looking for pastures and water for their animals. '.

Their original homeland could have experienced the problem of overstocking. This created the problem of land shortage and later conflicts.

The plain nilotes also witnessed prolonged seasons of drought and the drying of water reservoir which might have forced them to move in search of water.

Epidemic diseases like small pox, malaria, river blindness and nagana may have hit their area due to overcrowding, forcing some to look for new disease free areas.

Internal conflicts are given as a probable cause for their migration. These may have possibly been family quarrels or clan feuds. Other conflicts may have been over land that was not enough.

It is also assumed that there were external conflicts and pressure from the neighbours especially the Cushites,

There were also constant internal hostilities and raids between Karamojongs themselves and sometimes between the Karamojongs and Turkana over cattle. More raids came from the Galla.

Others assume that their migration was just out of love for adventure and wandering. They may have just wanted to be in a new place.

Some might also have migrated because of group influence, i.e. simply because they saw others moving. Severe famine might also have hit their area forcing them to look for new areas that could give them food.

Some historians attribute their migration to the harsh climate

Their Migration and Settlement into East Africa (Course)

Their movements were slow and gradual, spreading over a very long period (1000 - 1800 AD) Sometimes these movements were also seasonal and usually in small family or clan groups.


Their migration is not clear but a large section of them are believed to have come from the northeast, probably the southern slopes of the Ethiopian Highlands (Abyssinia) .

'From Ethiopia, they moved southwards and by 1000 AD, they had reached and settled north of Lake Rudolf in Kenya

Lake Turkana (Rudolf) became their dispersal point from where they spread into various directions and this was because of epidemics diseases like nagana, river blindness, tsetse fly infection of the area.

They got divided into two major groups, the T eso-Masaai and Bari-speakers. The Ban-speakers moved into the Sudan while the Teso-Masaai spread into East Africa

The Teso-Masaai split into three small groups, the Lotuko, the Maasai, Karamajong and Teso. The Loruko moved and finally settled in Sudan

The Masaai moved southwards and settled between Mt Kenya, Kilimanjaro and Taita Hills. From here the Masaai expanded southwards along the rift valley.

The Masaai then established themselves in the area ranging from the Uasin - Gishu plateau in the north east Lakipie and Samara in southern Tanzania.

By the 17th century they had separated into 16 independent groups each with its own territory, source of pasture and water

During their migration they met with the Chagga and the Kikuyu onto whom they passed the Cushitic culture of circumcision, initiation and iron working.

The Iteso and Karamajong first settled on Mt Moroto before their major dispersal during 17th and 18th centuries.

Due to increase in population, the Iteso moved further Southwards into Eastern Uganda and western Kenya. In Uganda, the Iteso settled in present Soroti, Mbale, Kaberamaido and Kumi

The Karamajong first moved south westwards from Mt Moroto and then moved westwards settling into the present-day south and central Karamoja

The Dodoth and Jie moved northwards settling in present day Kotido.

The Turkana first moved north-eastwards into present day Northern Kenya but later turned south near Lake Turkana due to pressure from the Samburu

Their effect on the people of East Africa

Their coming increased warfare, raids and general insecurity in East Africa. For example there were wars between the Maasai and the Samburu, Maasai and the Galla, Pokot and Turkana etc

These conflicts and wars resulted into massive loss of lives and destruction of property.

Because of these conflicts, many people were forced to leave their original homelands for example the Kamba, Kikuyu and Kipsigis were all driven out of their lands.

They also brought pastoralism on large scale and many communities In East Africa like the Kamba and Kikuyu adopted this cattle culture.

They also introduced a drought resistant short horned breed of cattle. This breed spread to almost all the areas where they settled

Their migration also led to population increase in East Africa especially In areas like northern Tanzania, eastern Uganda and Western Kenya. This later led to land conflicts.

There were various intermarriages resulting into the birth of new tribes. For example the Iteso intermarried with the Luo forming the Kumam and the union of the Ateker pastoralists and Luo resulted into the Langi

Some of the plain nilotes copied the ideas of cultivation fro~e Bantu for example the Masaa. Who became mixed farmers.

They traded with their neighbours for example the Iteso bartered cereals with the Banyoro and the Kalenjin traded in iron articles for skins, butter and cattle from the Masaai

They copied the knowledge of iron working from Cushites which they promoted in the various parts of East Africa

The plain nilotes also took over control of many societies they came into contact with. The Masaai conquered the Kalenjin and absorbed their culture and also took over the Chagga