By Fred Biketi
He has hosted many senior politicians among them President Uhuru Kenyatta and Governor Samuel ole Tunai who have either sought wise counsel or blessings from his divine powers.
Books documenting his life and lineage have been written by scholars who travelled from as far-off places as Chicago in Illinois to meet him at his home in Loita, Narok County.
A family from the Netherlands took many months filming the life and work of perhaps the most storied Maasai leader, but whose exploits remain largely unknown in Kenya.
The man is Laiboni Mokompo Senteu ole Simel, a towering figure over 6ft tall, who wears a snuff stained moustache with long square shaped bead made earrings dangling on his stretched earlobes.
Wearing wool made beanie hat, popular among the Maasai in cold seasons, Mokompo was dressed in Shukas, dark brown plastic shoes with heavy woolen socks, an assortment of beads around his neck and a black PVC plastic snuff pipe that was hanging on his chest.
The kingmaker, seer, high priest and medicine man, whose other role, includes healing, divination and prophesy has blessed many politicians, who often visit his home.
“Uhuru landed in this compound with a helicopter and took me to his home before the 2013 elections where I blessed him abundantly,” said Mokompo through a translator.
Armed with a beaming smile, the man who only communicates in Maasai tells me that many other leaders most of them politicians have visited his home to seek divine intervention since he became Laiboni in 2003.
It was that year, that his father Simel Olongawuarak, the preceding Laiboni bequeathed him with the three-legged stool with its characteristic deep concave surface and elegantly curved legs, the magical horn, mystic stones and other instruments of divine powers.
Mokompo’s home is near the Kenya – Tanzania border, on the south – eastern end of Narok County, neighbouring the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
It takes an enduring two day journey using public transport to reach his home. Only two public service vehicles ply the Narok–Ewaso Ng’iro – Narusura – Entasekera earthen road.
The heavily loaded Toyota Probox carrying 10 crates of soda and other merchandise in its boot, building materials, potatoes and other food staff on its roof top.
The journey is wearisome and adventurous at the same time. We left Narok at 12pm.
The driver made several stops along the road to recover luggage dropping from the roof rack and to refasten loose ropes as the Probox hurtled over stones and little furrows that keep both the vehicle and its occupants bouncing like a tennis ball on hard court.
As the vehicle approached Narusura trading center at around 4pm, I asked the driver how far Kisokon was.
“It is still far because we have not even reached the escarpments and then from there it will take us another 40 minutes or thereabouts to get there,” the driver said.
The question draws the attention of an elderly but sprightly light skinned man sipping a can of Guinness as the journey progressed, sitting at the back squeezed in between three well-endowed women of Somali descent.
After explaining my mission, the man, himself a descendant of the large Laiboni family, which also applies to almost all inhabitants of the Loita plains, offered to call Mokompo’s son to meet me at the Ilkujuka Primary School road junction.
“Have you carried anything for him? People normally take beer, sugar and any other presents for him and his family. I think he has five wives,” he said.
After explaining that I didn’t carry anything, he suggested that we stop at the fairly busy Narusura trading centre, where I purchased beer cans and five kilogrammes of sugar.
The next phase of the journey became more exciting as we headed towards the escarpment with the road winding up through forested hills whose beautiful scenery in the undulating valleys is a complete contrast of the antelope grazing fields down the hill.
The road became slippery because of some light showers as the driver successfully maneuvered his way to another flat stretch at a higher altitude for about 30 minutes and stopped
“This is Kisokon, the houses you see across those ridges, in those trees are at Laibon Mokompo’s home. Wait here, his son has told his brother who has a motorbike to pick you,” said my new friend from the back seat.
There are no homes or people in sight, apart from a sign board reading Ilkujuka Primary School 12km, with an arrow pointing to a path leading to the Laiboni’s home.
After enjoying the fresh air breezing from the trees in the virgin land for about 15 minutes, I spotted the motorbike cutting corners on the small path downhill.
After exchanging pleasantries, he picked my bag, placed it on the fuel tank and we zoomed off, as he weaved his way down the valley and up the hill to the homestead dotted with grass thatched and mud-walled huts.
The first stop was at Lekiti ole Mokompo’s house belonging to one of Mokompo’s son where women and children dressed in traditional Maasai attire seated outside the hut bend their heads for me to pat, the traditional way of greeting.
I was then ushered into the house where Lekiti was seated, but like many of his brothers and his revered father, he also does not speak Kiswahili because he never went to school.
Speaking through an interpreter (the brother), I told him I was there to interview Laiboni Mokompo ole Simel.
At that point I displayed the packs of beer cans, the spirits and sugar, which I then hand over to him, explaining that they were the Laiboni’s gifts.
They then held a brief discussion in Maasai, before the brother told me that I had done well on the beer but not the sugar because the Laiboni has six wives and I should have come with six packets and tea leaves.
With apologies for the oversight, I handed over Sh500 with instruction that someone be sent for more sugar and the tea leaves, which they did as we continued chatting about the Maasai heritage and the importance of age sets among other cultural practices.
The king’s abode is an iron sheet wedge roofed three room house with mud walls and floor, where Mokompo lives alone and hosts hundreds of visitors who come from far and wide to seek his divine intervention for their afflictions.
The furniture in the house is one locally made five seat wooden sofa-set with movable cushions placed on sitting space and the back rest and another skin covered special chair with the name “Mokompo” inscribed on the back rest.
He was out and so we continued chatting with his younger son who was keen to know more about my Luhya’s community tradition.
After about 10 minutes, a tall imposing figure appeared at the door and stood right across the entrance for a few seconds looking at us without saying a word before his son walked over to shake his hand as I followed.
He then walked in and took a seat facing mine, engaged the son in a brief discussion perhaps asking him about my identity and what I was up to.
The Laiboni appeared bemused that all I wanted was just to talk to him and wore a wide grin as I explained why I travelled for about 300kms from Nairobi to meet him.
All was going well until two other sons who had apparently been summoned by the elder arrived and told me that any interviews and pictures of the Laiboni are always paid for.
No problem, I replied and promised to give them “something small” in appreciation after the interview, which they agreed and took the seats out where the interview was conducted, I and the Laiboni sitting next to the wall and the sons, who had now increased to six lying on the grass.
He explained to me the work of the Laiboni and the many leaders both from the National and County governments who have gone there to meet him, and many foreigners who have also trooped to the home.
The sons interpreted how he oversees and blesses the graduation of Maasai morans from one age set to the next, each visiting groups bring him 49 cows as payment for his services.
It was way past 6pm and with the sun setting, the Laiboni complained that it was getting cold to which I requested for the photo session as we wound up.
“No, pictures cannot be taken before the payment is done,” said Lemaron Parit, Mokompo’s son who had earlier joined us in the house. He then asked how much I was ready to offer, to which I said Sh500.
They then explained that no picture was going to be taken unless I parted with Sh15, 000, which was the lowest they could take.
That amount, they explained was the cost of a young cow, otherwise the normal rates range between Sh30, 000 and Sh50,000 which can purchase a cow or a bull.
I bade the old man goodbye, sent Parit Sh500 payment for the interview through Mpesa and promised to return with the money so that I could get his pictures.