David Rudisha's homecoming celebration in Kilgoris, Kenya (Martin Mukangu (The Standard)) © Copyright
While Rudisha was breezing the track and setting one milestone after another in a swashbuckling 2010 where he ended Wilson Kipketer’s almost 14-year-old reign as World 800m record holder, other members of his age group underwent the initiation ceremony required by his community’s customs to become Morans, or Maasai warriors.
On Friday (17) in Kilgoris town located 450km from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Rudisha finally underwent the rites of passage required by his kinsmen in a glittering ceremony that attracted thousands, including retired Kenyan President, Daniel Moi, sitting Vice-president, Kalonzo Musyoka and over 80 decorated retired and active athletes.
Long day of celebration and ceremony
The fete was variously known as ‘Rudisha homecoming’, or, ‘A warrior returns home, Ashe Enkai (thanks be to God)’ but in essence, it was a ritual required of the world record holder to formally take his place as a warrior amongst a tribe renowned for bravery in battle.
Activities of the day began in Nairobi where his athlete friends treated the two-time African champion to a sumptuous breakfast. A flight to Narok town, the headquarters of Narok County where his community hails followed as business came to virtual standstill.
However, nothing prepared Rudisha for what awaited him when his home crowd at 10:40am local time (+ 3 GMT) sighted the chopper in Kilgoris skies. In two minutes, the helicopter was on the ground as Rudisha, who ran 1:41.01 in Rieti to set the new benchmark in men 800m running, disembarked and was hoisted shoulder high by his age mates at Poroko Primary School, 5km from Kilgoris.
After planting a ceremonial tree, the 21-year-old was escorted in a convoy that stretched a kilometre comprising of 50 motorbikes and some 25 vehicles led by a Police outrider. Along the twisting route where the athlete used to engage in long runs, residents left their homes and schools to wave at the smiling lanky runner who popped out of his vehicles’ sunroof alongside wife Leezy Naanyu.
Rudisha’s achievements showed ‘similar strength as that of killing a lion’
Led by Oloburu Engele, the revered Maasai elder and Olpiron Morans (the age group that came before his own) Rudisha was adorned and blessed after feasting on specially roasted meat meant for a returning Maasai warrior.
Then the hallmark of the day ensued as retired twice World champion, Billy Konchellah handed him the Elongo (shield) while the 1987 All Africa Games silver winner, Stephen Ole Marai presented him with the Elemet (spear) conferring him as a high Moran –the Maasai warrior charged with defending his community.
The Beijing 2006 World junior champion then took to a raised podium and yielded the spear to symbolise acceptance of the role before the Oloburu Engele performed the main ritual of the day, Emayian (prayer for blessings) that took ten minutes.
Fellow Morans and Maasai members of the audience knelt as the revered elder recited the prayer as they proclaimed Nai! (Yes God) at the end of each article of the blessing. That confirmed Rudisha as a revered member of his community.
“In the past, such honour was reserved for those Morans who killed lions but in modern times, the achievement of Rudisha who brought the world record home shows similar strength as that of killing a lion,” Ole Marai explained.
“When Rudisha was performing at the Samsung Diamond League and World Challenge meeting circuit, he did not go to Manyatta (initiation) with his age mates and that is why as a community, we organised this celebration to show that we regard him highly,” he added. The onus of presenting the shield and spear fell to Marai and 1987 and 1991 world titleholder, Konchellah who belong to the Ilkitoi age set that preceded Rudisha’s.
Speakers at the function hailed the two-lap star with retired president Moi saying, “He has brought acclaim to Kenya, his Maasai community. There is much talent in this country and it should be tapped to return wealth and educate children.”
“Rudisha is a great example to this nation. The best inheritance his father gave him was the talent to continue what he started,” Vice-president Kalonzo enthused.
Poignantly, IAAF Regional Development Centre Director for East Africa, John Velzian, presented Rudisha with a photo of his father, Daniel, when he was bestowed similar honour by his community four decades ago. At the time, the elder Rudisha was honoured for being part of the Kenyan 4X400m relay quartet that bagged silver at the 1968 Olympics Games.
“Nobody knew about the existence of this photo and he will be astonished when he sees it,” Velzian said upon arrival. When the picture was presented to Rudisha through the former Olympics champion and World record holder, Kipchoge Keino, the smile on his face said it all. At last, as he had promised after Beijing, he had finally assumed his father’s role.
Mutwiri Mutuota (The Standard) for the IAAF