neilReviving Yaaku: Identity and Indigeneity in Northern Kenya –
Dr. Neil Carrier


The Mukogodo of Kenya were once hunter-gatherers speaking a Cushitic language. Over the last century, they were absorbed more and more into the orbit of Maa-speaking pastoralists, adopting pastoralism, as well as Maasai culture and language. In the process, use of their former language declined considerably, and today there are only a few surviving elders who have even a limited grasp of it. Also, Maasai cultural dominance has marginalised the old ways of the Mukogodo, still looked down upon by many Maasai and Samburu as il-torrobo, a contemptuous term for hunter-gatherers. However, influenced by global discourses on indigenous rights, conservation and the worth of preserving endangered languages, there is a movement amongst the Mukogodo to revive their language, reconstruct an ethnic identity as ‘Yaaku’, and demand greater rights to the Mukogodo Forest; this movement has recently culminated in the construction of a museum where it is hoped future generations will learn at least something of the old language and way of life. This article traces the fluctuations of Mukogodo language and culture over the last century, especially focusing on this recent revivalist movement and the people, and local, national and international politics, behind it. It shows how the marginality of the Mukogodo and their old ways and language can be turned to advantage, as being Yaaku and speaking the Yaaku language become major resources in a poverty-stricken region.