The Iteso/Teso is one of the 43 current tribes in Kenya. They inhabit the western part of Kenya, mainly Busia County. The Iteso, being a minority group, are not well known as their Kikuyu or Luo counterparts. Still, there is so much to learn about them. Here are a few amazing facts.
They are Nilotic
Most Kenyans mistake the Iteso to be part of the Luhya community. However, they are in fact of plain-nilotic descent, who have close relations to the Maasai and Turkana.
They trace their roots to Egypt
Like most Kenyan communities, the Iteso speak of their origins being from Egypt. They migrated south to Ethiopia and Sudan following the White Nile. They eventually settled in Uganda years before the colonial era.
There are two Teso Groups
After migration, they settled in Uganda and began with their ways of life until 1902. This was when the colonial government made part of east Uganda into Kenya by creating new boundaries. Eventually, the Iteso were divided into two; the Kenyan and Ugandan Tesos. In Uganda however, the Teso are not a minority group.
They are heavily affected by external influences
The Kenyan Iteso community settled in Busia and around Mt. Elgon. Here, they were exposed to larger groups such as the Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin, all of whom have had a great impact on the Iteso culture. They have become especially close with the Luhya neighbours, leading to the common confusion of their community.
They are avid farmers
The Iteso have always been farmers even before the great divide. The men keep cattle while the women plant vegetables. Together, they planted and sold cotton until they were faced with land disputes and population pressure. In Western Kenya however, the Iteso are known as hardworking farmers.
They have interesting cultural practices
One thing that makes the Iteso somewhat feared is their practice of exhuming dead bones. The community believes that by unearthing the bones of people long dead, they are releasing their spirits to freedom and appeasing them from haunting the living. Once exhumed from graves, the bones are well kept in sacred places usually under specific trees that are held in very high regard.
They are welcoming and charming
Apart from the queer rituals, the Iteso are generally kind and warm people who are very hospitable to guests. They entertain them with food and Ajon, a local brew made from millet.