The 19th Century Masai Civil Wars

The 19th Century Masai Civil Wars

  • These were a series of wars that were fought between the Kwavi and Purko Masai.
  • The Kwavi were agriculturalists while the Purko were predominantly pastoralists.
  • The wars were fought in two separate intervals i.e. in 1815 and in 1840.
  • The first major war took place in 1815 in the Uasin-Gishu plateau which ended in the defeat of the Kwavi Masai.
  • In 1840, the Kwavi reorganized themselves with the help of the Laikipia and they drove the Purko Masai out of the rift valley.
  • Between 1870 and 1875, the Purko decisively attacked and defeated the Kwavi killing many of them.

Causes of the Masai civil wars

  • The Purko who were the pastoral Masai always despised the Kwavi who were farmers leading to the wars.
  • The Purko claimed that the Kwavi were finishing their land and that very soon they would not have enough grazing lands for their animals.
  • The Kwavi farmers also claimed that animals of the Purko were destroying their farms during grazing leading to the wars.
  • The Kwavi always expected help from their neighbours the Laikipia and this gave them morale to fight against the Purko.
  • The succession disputes between the leaders of the Masai after the death of Laibon Mbatien also led to the outbreak of the wars.
  • The Kwavi Masai had always defeated the Purko who had for long wanted revenge for their losses.
  • The Purko were always a proud society who took a lot of pride in fighting and when they got the opportunity, they had to engage the Kwavi in warfare.
  • The two groups had participated in long distance trade and had acquired guns which encouraged them to fight against each other.
  • The Purko always believed that the Kwavi had deliberately spread animal diseases which claiming many their animals’ lives.
  • The youths among the Kwavi were always blamed for stealing the animals that belonged to the Purko which led to the wars.
  • The Purko believed that they were the rightful owners of all the Masai land and didn’t want it to be taken over by the Kwavi.
  • The desire to control the trading activities in the area also led to conflicts between the two groups.

Effects of the Masai civil wars

  • Many people died during the course of the wars.
  • A lot of property was destroyed during the wars e.g. farms and homesteads.
  • The wars created a period of insecurity in Masailand.
  • There was depopulation in the area as many people migrated to safer areas.
  • The Purko emerged victorious and the Kwavi were greatly weakened.
  • The wars greatly weakened Masai supremacy in Kenya and the Nandi emerged as the most powerful tribe in Western Kenya.
  • The wars resulted into famine and suffering in Masailand due to neglect of agriculture.
  • The succession struggles ended with the separation of the Masai e.g. Laibon Sendeyo and his group occupied Tanzania and Laibon Lenana’s group remained in Kenya.
  • Natural disasters like small pox and locust invasion further weakened the Masai influence.
  • The Masai were easily colonized by the British due to the decline in their power.
  • The Masai were tricked into signing treaties with the British which forced them into reserves.
  • Masailand was later on taken over by the British colonialists.