Sheu Morobi: Cliffs of death in Nandi

Wednesday July 12 2017

The Sheu Morobi located on the Nandi Escarpment

The Sheu Morobi located on the Nandi Escarpment are regarded as cliffs of death. PHOTO | TOM MATOKE | NATION 

By TOM MATOKE
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The Sheu Morobi cliffs located on the Nandi Escarpment in the Great Rift Valley are both revered and feared as “escarpments of death.”

Nandi elders told The EastAfrican how the old people in the community used to commit suicide at Sheu Morobi as a way of relieving the family from the burden of caring for them. It was regarded as an honourable act by the community.

Nandi elder Samwel Ngetich, a descendant of the Nandi Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei — who was the supreme chief of the Nandi people — said Sheu Morobi means “there we go forever” in Nandi.

“It was a regarded as an honourable act for an elder to jump off Sheu Morobi. The act was preceded by special rituals to ensure the elders died in peace,” said Ngetich.

The elders were required to bless their relatives before jumping to their death. The relatives would carry honey and milk to conduct special rituals and would also feed their old relative with a delicious last meal.

The old people would jump off the over 450 meter-high cliffs. Some would be heard celebrating their lives, wealth and family before falling to their death.

Sheu Morobi is located on the Nandi Escarpment in the Great Rift Valley. Local residents regard it with fear and unease over “lurking spirits” of Nandi elders who killed themselves there.

Sheu Morobi is located about 15km to the west of Nandi Hills town, between two hills in Kapsimotwa village, surrounded by a forest.

The cliffs can also easily be viewed from Kisumu town and Kericho.

Residents and tourists take a 15km drive from Nandi Hills to Kapsimotwa Hills to get to Sheu Morobi cliffs.

Historians attribute the death ritual at Sheu Morobi to a belief that the value of an individual in society diminished once they get old, which they said may have led the community to get rid of their elders.

However, Nandi elders explain that the old relatives chose to die and were never forced to end their lives.

The few elders who chose to die a natural death were considered cowards and outcasts because society feared that they would curse their descendants if they felt neglected.

The ritual at the cliffs of death was conducted every five-10 years after the harvest period to ensure the elders were well fed before embarking on their spiritual journeys to the land of the dead.

This practice ended during colonial times when the missionaries discouraged the Nandi from taking part in the practice.