El Molo people

The El Molo, also known as Elmolo, Dehes, Fura-Pawa and Ldes, are an ethnic group mainly inhabiting the northern Eastern Province of Kenya. They historically spoke the El Molo language as a mother tongue, an Afro-Asiatic language of the Cushitic branch, and now most El Molo speak Samburu.

El Molo
El Molo 1979.jpg
El Molo woman and baby 1979
Total population
Regions with significant populations
El MoloSamburu
Waaq, Christianity
Related ethnic groups


The El Molo are believed to have originally migrated down into the Turkana Basin around 1000 BC from Ethiopia in the more northerly Horn region. Owing to the arid environment in which they entered, they are held to have then abandoned agricultural activities in favor of lakeside fishing.[3]

Historically, the El Molo erected tomb structures in which they placed their dead. A 1962 archaeological survey in the Northern Frontier District led by S. Brodribb Pughe observed hieroglyphics on a number of these constructions. They were mainly found near springs or wells of water.[4]


The El Molo today primarily inhabit the northern Eastern Province of Kenya. They are concentrated in Marsabit District on the southeast shore of Lake Turkana, between El Molo bay and Mount Kulal.[5][6] In the past, they also dwelled in other parts of the Northern Frontier District.[4]

According to the 2019 Kenya census, there were 1,104 El Molo residents.[1] However, historians have noted that there are few "pure" El Molo left. Most group members are today admixed with adjacent Nilotic populations, primarily Samburu, with only a handful of unmixed El Molo believed to exist. Many El Molo speakers have also adopted cultural customs from these communities.[7] In 1994, there were reportedly only eight unmixed El Molo remaining.[5]


The El Molo historically spoke the El Molo language as a native language. It belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.[5]

According to Ethnologue, among other sources, the El Molo language is nearly extinct and there may already be no remaining speakers of the idiom. Most group members have now adopted the Nilo-Saharan languages of their neighbours.[5]

The El Molo language has no known dialects. It is most similar to Daasanach.[5]


Many El Molo practice a traditional religion centered on the worship of Waaq/Wakh.[5] In the related Oromo culture, Waaq denotes the single God of the early pre-Abrahamic, monotheistic faith believed to have been adhered to by Cushitic groups.[8]

Some El Molo have also adopted Christianity.[5]


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the El Molo people. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern El Molo.


According to an mtDNA study by Castri et al. (2008), the maternal ancestry of the contemporary El Molo consists of a mixture of Afro-Asiatic-associated lineages and Sub-Saharan haplogroups, reflecting substantial female gene flow from neighboring Sub-Saharan populations. A little over 30% of the El Molo belonged to the West Eurasian haplogroups I (23%) and HV1 (8%). The remaining El Molo samples carried various Sub-Saharan macro-haplogroup L sub-clades, mainly consisting of L3* (26%), L0a2 (17%) and L0f (17%).[9]

Autosomal DNAEdit

The El Molo's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to the researchers, the El Molo showed significant Afro-Asiatic affinities. They also shared some ties with neighboring Nilo-Saharan and Bantu speakers in eastern Africa due to considerable genetic exchanges with these communities over the past 5000 or so years.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Volume IV: Distribution of Population by Socio-Economic Characteristics". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  2. ^ Estella S. Poloni; Yamama Naciri; Rute Bucho; Régine Niba; Barbara Kervaire; Laurent Excoffier; André Langaney; Alicia Sanchez-Mazas (November 2009). "Genetic Evidence for Complexity in Ethnic Differentiation and History in East Africa". Annals of Human Genetics. 73 (6): 582–600. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00541.x. PMID 19706029.
  3. ^ Newman, James L. (1997). The Peopling of Africa: A Geographic Interpretation. Yale University Press. p. 166. ISBN 978-0300072808.
  4. ^ a b Pughe, S. Brodribb. A Preliminary Report Concerning Problems on the Origins and Ages of Certain of the Man-made Structures in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya and Certain Regions of the Eastern Horn of Africa. p. 24.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "El Molo". Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  6. ^ "El Molo". BBC. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  7. ^ Safari, Volume 4. News Publications. 1973. p. 14.
  8. ^ Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Publishing Group: 2001), p.65.
  9. ^ Castrí (2008). "Kenyan crossroads: migration and gene flow in six ethnic groups from Eastern Africa" (PDF). Journal of Anthropological Sciences. 86: 189–92. PMID 19934476.
  10. ^ Tishkoff; et al. (2009), "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans", Science, 324 (5930): 1035–1044, Bibcode:2009Sci...324.1035T, doi:10.1126/science.1172257, PMC 2947357, PMID 19407144; Also see Supplementary Data


Further readingEdit

  • Cronk, Lee and Dickson, D. Bruce. 2001. Public and hidden transcripts in the East African Highlands: a comment on Smith (1998). Journal of anthropological archaeology 20. 113-121.
  • Dalton, Merrell. 1951. The El Molo – a dying tribe on the shores of Lake Rudolph. East African Annual 1951-52. 45-47.
  • Dyson, W.S. and Fuchs, V.E. 1937. The Elmolo. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 67. 327-338.
  • Heine, Bernd. 1980. Elmolo. In Heine, Bernd (ed.), The Non-Bantu Languages of Kenya, 173-218. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  • Heine, Bernd. 1972/73. Vokabulare ostafrikanischer Restsprachen, 1: Elmolo. Afrika und Übersee 56. 276-283.
  • Scherrer, Carol. 1974. Effects of western influence on Elmolo, 1973-74. (Discussion papers from the Inst. of African Studies (IAS), 61.) Nairobi: University of Nairobi.
  • Sommer, Gabriele. 1992. A survey on language death in Africa. In Brenzinger, Matthias (ed.), Language death: factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa, 340-341.
  • Tosco, Mauro. 2012. What Terminal Speakers Can Do to Their Language: the Case of Elmolo. In Corriente, Federico and Gregorio del Olmo Lete and Vicente, Ángeles and Vita, Juan-Pablo (eds.), Dialectology of the Semitic Languages. Proceedings of the IV Meeting on Comparative Semitics, Zaragoza, 131-143. Sabadell (Barcelona): Editorial AUSA.
  • W. S. Dyson and V. E. Fuchs. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Vol. 67, (Jul. – Dec. 1937), 327-328.

External linksEdit