Meat and milk, a forbidden mix at Kalenjin’s dining table

Wednesday, February 1st, 2023 08:38 | By

Picture this; it’s a buffet and all your delicacies are on the menu. What if I tell you that culture does not allow you to take a certain food combination? Probably you would be curious to know about this eating culture and beliefs. Well, welcome to Kalenjin eating culture.

 Among the Kalenjin people, there are certain foods that cannot be consumed together or at least in a single day. This is because it is a taboo to do that. 

Growing up in the village, I used to visit my grandfather and my uncles on holidays. During meal times, they used to reprimand me for trying to combine meat and milk. If meat was served, no milk would be served whether you like it or not. Simply, you couldn’t consume meat and go ahead and take milk. And do not think they were selfish, and that the rule was a preserve for guests. No. They would not take meat and milk at the same time either. If we ate meat at lunch we weren’t going to take milk the whole day, even in the next meal and vice versa. It was unacceptable to combine the two. 

Bewitching cows

During those days, they couldn’t tell me why meat and milk were never taken together. This is because we were told that we’ll know some things when we grow up. Now I’m grown and guess what? It’s time to know. My curiosity sent me to delve into this eating culture to find answers to my burning questions. To find out why they forbid me from taking this delicious food and drink in a single day. 

Richard Arap Byomto, a Kipsigis elder helped me decode these beliefs. He explained that eating meat and taking milk at the same time is not allowed in the Kalenjin culture as such an act is equivalent to bewitching cows. 

He further said that if one goes against this principle, he/she is inviting poverty to his household because the cow’s milk yield would reduce drastically. Additionally, the cows would henceforth fail to give birth.

“If you ate meat at your neighbour’s place and when you get home, you find that milk is being served, you should not take it because it will be like bewitching your own cows and your neighbour’s. The milk yield will reduce and the cow will not bring fourth calves anymore. You should never combine the two,” reiterated the 70-year-old.

He added that adding milk to food such as beans or traditional vegetables is not allowed as they carry the same consequences. 

However, one can be cleansed if they regret their actions. “If you took milk then ate meat, there are some herbs, which we used to boil. The victim would then drink the concoction to be cleansed,” he  said, though he couldn’t reveal the name of the herb. 

That answer took me by surprise as my mind flew fleetingly to the village where people often complain that their cows no longer yield enough milk. Is it because today, not many people stick to this culture? I wondered. But for Byomto, the rule still stands. He adds that it’s not only the cows meat, which can cause such repercussions, but also the goat’s and sheep’s meat. “All meat is the same, whether it is from a cow, goat or sheep,” he said.

Additionally, pregnant women are advised to be cautious about eating any type of meat during pregnancy. The main reason for restricting meat was based on reasons related to the condition of the animal during life or upon death. Many think that the condition could in several ways be transferred to the pregnant mother and/or her unborn child. 

First, an animal that ever encountered pregnancy-related complications, such as miscarriage, stillbirth or death due to placenta retention, should not to be eaten. When a pregnant woman eats such meat, it was believed the animal will transfer “bad blood” to the mother and she would encounter similar complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Caution to pregnant women

This belief is strongly observed by the Kalenjin community, especially the Marakwet and the Keiyo. In addition, pregnant women are not allowed to eat meat of an animal, which died without being slaughtered because of the possibility of passing on a dangerous disease to the unborn child or the mother.

If a cow is born lame, it is believed that if one eats it, she will give birth to a lame baby.

And while scrupulous sellers add water to milk to make more money, Byomto revealed these people are inviting trouble for themselves.

“Adding water to the milk with an aim of increasing quantity (before selling) is a great taboo. Your cows will not give you the milk you used to get. Your cows’ teats will swell caused by the water your added to the milk,” he says.

Similarly, before milking a cow that has just given birth, one is expected to ask for permission from its calf as failure to do so impacts on the quantity of milk a cow will produce.

“A cow, which has given birth should not be milked until you give its calf some water, so that the calf can give you permission to consume the milk,” he says. 

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