How Maasai legend Paramount Chief Lenana became Laibon

Paramount Chief Olonana. Photo/Courtesy

By Fred Biketi

Oloiboni Olonana (paramount Chief Lenana) was born in 1870 and later graduated into a brave warrior between 1881 and 1905 after he had been initiated into the Italala age set before succeeding his father Mbatian as the Oloiboni of the Maasai community in 1887.

Born in a prophetic lineage of the Inkidong’i group, Oloiboni Olonana belonged to the Ilaiser clan and was the only son from Mbatian’s marriage with his mother who is said to have been from the Ilkaputiei section.

Documents retrieved by Kioki from the National Archives, show that Olonana died at Kiserian on March 7th 1911 at 3pm and his body was later carried by a donkey to the foot of Ngong Hills where it was buried.

Retired Commissioner Kiok writes that during his childhood, Olonana spend more time in his mother’s house, helping her with chores as was required of him and in the process she taught him how to respect his seniors.

Following the advice, he became respectful to all and grew up a peaceful young man in accordance with the Maasai customs, getting officially appointed the Paramount Chief of the Maasai at Kajiado by the British administration in 1898.

He also inherited the role of the medicine-man from his father, although his brother Sendeu ole Mbatian, the favourite son of their father Mbatian had been widely expected to be his successor.

Sendeu, Olonana’s elder brother from a different mother, is said to have requested their father Mbatian to bless him with leadership powers and was told to come the following day to go through the ritual that would have enabled him become the Oloiboni.

He was to be given the medicine man’s insignia but Olonana who was nearby at the cow shed overheard the discussion and pulled a first one on him, by rising up early to go and meet his ageing and frail father who was partially blind for the blessings.

He unknowingly blessed Olonana and gave him the medicine man’s insignia, the iron club, the medicine horn, the gourd, stones and his bag thinking he was Sendeu.

Sendeu later visited their father and after learning what had happened, became so furious and promised to do all he could to kill his young brother.

He was so determined to kill his brother after the succession and said:  “I will not be subject to my brother. I will fight with him until I kill him” and when Oloinana died, it was said Sendeu used his wife to kill him.

Olonana was however endorsed by the majority of the Maasai clans except the Loitai who recognized Sendeu as their Oloiboni, but that was not the end of the Sendeu – Lenana power struggle.

Before his death, Mbatian made a prophesy warning the community to change their grazing fields or otherwise, all their cattle would be killed by strange flies.

“The community will first see flies which make hives like bees, then wildebeests will die followed by cattle,” a premonition that came to pass when the flies infested the area, making the community lose thousands of animals to the disease he predicted.

Mbatian also foretold the coming of the Europeans and urged Olonana to make peace and be friendly with them, a prophesy that was also realized as evidenced by the many meetings he held with local British administrators.

The colonial administration also helped him deal with the problematic Sendeu, when they relocated the brother and his minders to Samburu and later Loita in Narok County after Olonana complained that the elder brother had bewitched him.

Sendeu ole Mbatian, born in 1850 was a warrior between 1866 and 1886 and belonged to the Ilaimer age set and as earlier pointed out was Olonana’s half sibling because he was from a different mother.

According to Kiok’ submission, from his boyhood, Sendeu was deceitful and quarrelsome and thus his father at times felt uncomfortable at handing over his reigns and powers to him.

George ole Kiok, a former public servant who has been researching on Maasai Patriach, Olonana.Photo Courtesy

Sendeu died in 1934, and in 1946, his eldest son Karambu ole Sendeu speared to death Commissioner Hugh Murray, the then colonial era District Commissioner of Narok.

Olonana died before nominating the person who was to succeed him as the Oloiboni of the Maasai because his son Seki was only 13 years old and could not take over because of his young age.

After Olonana’s death, the then Kajiado Assistant District Commissioner said: “The death thus ended the life of one of the most powerful and intelligent natives that this country has known.”

He explained that the cause of death was presumably dysentery from which he had suffered in a virulent form for 30 days.

“It is said that Sendeu bewitched him. His death was however sudden and he failed to name his successor according to the Maasai customs,” said the administrator from the documents attached by Kiok from the archives.

Writing to his senior, he explained that the succession being hereditary and it being known that he favoured his eldest son Segi meaning Seki, the boy would undoubtedly succeed his father in the Laibonship.

“I visited the scene of Lenana’s death and further held a meeting with Marmoroi Menyeimbiki and other of Lenana’s elders who were present at his death.

They are said to have assured him that Lenana failed to name his successor but his partiality for his son Segi (Seki) was well known and therefore his succession to Laibonship could not be disputed.

Olonana proposed shrine near Kona Baridi Kajiado West.Photo/Fred Biketi

The elders proposed that Marmoroi, Lenana’s half-brother be appointed as his advisor until such a time that he was old enough to assume the reigns of chieftainship.

The Assistant Commissioner told his boss that he agreed with the proposal “subject to the confirmation by his excellency” and further meetings of representatives of all clans at a future date.

“I reported the action to the Provincial Commissioner, Naivasha, who approved the appointment of Marmoroi as the temporary advisor to Segi,(Seki)” he wrote.G

Rituals at Olonana’s blessing ceremony

  • He took off his right sandal and put it on Olonana’s right foot to show that he would follow his footsteps.
  • He then unbuckled his sword and placed it in Olonana’s right hand indicating that his battles would be Olonana’s.
  • He also took a strip of the skin garment he was wearing and fastened it round Olonana’s neck as a symbol that his posessions were handed to Olonana.
  • Finally the royal medicine was handed over thus completing the ceremony.
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