Explore the North Rift of Kenya – In Africa, the Great Rift Valley stretches across East Africa like a great scar, extending from Tanzania through Kenya and into Ethiopia, from south to north. Most of the Great Rift Valley falls in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province and is said to be the most beautiful section of the rift.

The Great Rift Valley, in its entirety across the African continent, is more than 6,430 kilometres long and, in places, up to 1,520 metres deep – all caused by the movement of tectonic plates and volcanic activity.

When viewed from outer space, it is contested as the single most identifiable geographic landmark on the face of the planet. It’s estimated to be approximately 40 million years old and is responsible for producing Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro, two of Africa’s revered summits – where for ages tourists have been flocking to test their physical endurance.

Like those tourists, Kenyan athletes hold the reputation of dominating long-distance races in many world athletic competitions. In celebration of their achievements, song and dance, pomp, and most importantly, a sip of cool “mursik” from an intricately adorned traditional gourd. But how did mursik became an integral part of this congratulatory ritual? Oluokos with communities  takes you into an exploration of the unconventional side. Taking a look back at the history and significance of “mursik”.

“Mursik” is an integral part of the culture and heritage of the Kalenjin community, home to many of Kenya’s renowned runners. The Kalenjin community principally live in Rift-Valley Kenya, and are an ethnic grouping of eight culturally and linguistically related groups, that is, the Kipsigis, Nandi, Tugen, Keiyo, Marakwet, Pokot, Sabaot (who live in the Mount Elgon region, overlapping the Kenya/Uganda border), and the Terik. Their present-day homeland is Kenya’s Western highlands and the Rift Valley.

This tangy yet sweet velvety milk is a drink of choice, and has become embodied in the country’s athletics achievements and many other Kalenjin cultural events and triumphant celebrations. It has been popularized by Kenyan Kalenjin athletes, leaders and other achievers who ceremoniously take a sip of this wonder drink upon their triumphant homecomings. The cultural significance of mursik leans on social values, meanings and beliefs and also on dietary and nutritional values.

Mursik is a special cuisine that is an integral part of the Kalenjin people’s culture and heritage. The custom, believed to be centuries old, is hypothesized as having began as a way of preserving milk during a glut period of milk production. In #Oluokoslocalknowledgesharing, it is worth noting that Mursik is not any typical dairy product; but a traditional Kalenjin culinary delight that has been a part of the community’s culture for centuries. With an iconic history tracing back more than 300 years, mursik is believed to have started as a way of preserving milk during a glut in production.

The drink is made from fermented milk preserved in traditional gourds lined with specially ground fine charcoal from select trees It all starts with fresh cow, goat, or sometimes sheep milk, that is well boiled, and then cooled to a required temperature. It is then poured into a traditional gourd known as a sotet.

Mursik is traditionally prepared through the fermentation of raw goat or cow milk in a special gourd locally known as Sotet. Days before the milk is treated, a small branch of an Itet tree (Senna didymobotrya) is debarked and allowed to dry. Once dry, one end of the itet stick is charred in an open fire and then the soot is rubbed on the inner surface of a cleaned gourd, and this gives mursik its characteristic sweet and smoky flavor, with a tangy twist. The charcoal inside the sotet infuses the smoky flavor to the milk and gives it its signature bluish tinge. The sotet is then corked and stored in a cool, dry place to allow for fermentation for at least three days after which the whey is drained.  The gourd is then shaken repeatedly to give the mursik a smooth consistency. Afterwards, ash is added as an antiseptic and flavor enhancer. Some Kalenjin sub groups also add small quantities of blood obtained from prickling a vein in the neck of a healthy bull, which is then gently stirred to remove fibrin. Adding animal blood makes the mursik rich in iron and protein and was traditionally given to women who had just delivered or warriors who were wounded in battle. It is shaken well before drinking, to ensure that a uniformly thick emulsion is formed.

The making of mursik has been an integral component of the Kalenjin heritage for centuries and, is a traditional craft worth conserving. It is the pride of this community.The preparation of mursik requires knowledge and expertise, and is a food believed to have potency, especially when consumed from childhood into adulthood.  Mursik is believed to be medicinal and aid in the prevention of constipation as well as the prevention of kidney ailments. Mursik is also believed to be an anti-pyretic food and as such those who regularly consume it rarely complain of having a fever. Mursik also aids in weight loss since the body does not produce specific enzymes meant to digest milk.

The preparation and consumption of mursik provides, moreover, a material means for expressing the more abstract significance of social systems and cultural values. The cultural significance of mursik is deep; it may be argued that what people are prepared to take inside their system reflects their social identities, and their membership of social groups. To view eating habits as a matter of culture is to understand that they are a product of codes of conduct and the structure of social relationships of the society in which they occur. The Kalenjin has been a conservative community.

Mursik is perhaps the most significant point of contact  with the Kalenjin community: A  sip of this special milk signifies more than just a meal: It is a medium through which stronger bonds are built.

Drinking of Mursik reinforces group identity among the Kalenjin, while keeping heritage alive. The cultural significance of Mursik is deeply ingrained, and seen as a mechanism for detecting ethnic, cultural and social identity.

Mursik is considered one of the most important elements in defining ideological, ethnic, political and social identities of the Kalenjin communities. Despite modernization, the Kalenjin have preserved their cultural identity and still keep their tradition alive.