top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Swiss Side

The origins of Iten - Home of Champions

Updated: May 11

The village of Iten in Kenya, internationally recognized as the Home of Champions, has gradually acquired a worldwide reputation thanks to the running achievements of its inhabitants. The history of Iten seems ancestral and yet the place has only been officially recognized since 1978. Here is the history of the mythical red dirt's roads town.

The area of Iten is first mentioned in the history books in 1883 by Joseph Thompson. The British biologist and explorer, famous for his numerous travels and researches in Africa, was listing the different rock formations of the Rift Valley. The rock formation of Iten was the tenth one he listed in the area and as a result, named the area "Hill Ten".

The hill that gave to Iten its current name is located in front of the View Point, on the road toward Kessup.

St-Patrick School as a firecracker

The area accounted only few farms for almost one century before its growth from the 1960's. At this time, the secondary school of St-Patrick is founded and accounts four classrooms to ensure the education of the young boys of the surrounding farms. In 1966, the school opens two additional classrooms and in 1973 upgrades as an high school. At that time, the institution is especially famous for the successes of its volleyball team.

The successes of its pupils in sports as well as in their studies attracted some students from all around Iten, supporting the development of the area. The school accounts today (nov 2023) more than 1'600 students.

The importance of politics

The empowerment of Iten is tightly related to politics. In 1966, a few years after Kenya attained independence, President Jomo Kenyatta toured to Keiyo - Marakwet District. Zakariah Kokoi, a long serving councillor at Iten/Tambach Town Council recalls : "There was no tarmac in Tambach. President Kenyatta car got stuck in Tambach" . From Tambach, Kenyatta passed by Iten and made a stopover : "He looked at the area and saw it was ideal for the then Keiyo/Marakwet District headquarters" explains Kokoi. Kenyatta ordered the headquarters of the area to be moved from Tambach to Iten, which happened in 1978.

The same year, at the death of Kenyatta, a new President got elected : Daniel Arap Moi. Elected as President of Kenya from 1978 to 2002, Moi was also Kalenjin and native from Tugen Hills on the other side of the valley. The President has officiated as a teacher in Tambach Teachers training school until 1955 and became member of the Legislative Council for Rift Valley the same year.

After the independence of Kenya (1962), Moi became Minister for Home Affairs in 1964, Vice-President in 1967 and President in 1978 after the death of Jomo Kenyatta. Known for being the founder of several schools and universities in Kenya including Moi University, he also played an important role for the St-Patrick School of Iten in enabling it to expand its land acreage to the current 100 acres.

The former President of the Republic of Kenya, Daniel T. Arap Moi, landing on the football field of Iten in 1980. In the background, the current matatu station.

The official recognition of Iten as a village takes place in 1978, when the headquarters of the Keiyo district are relocated from Tambach, located down the valley, to Iten. The name "Hill Ten" looked like an evidence but was difficult to pronounce, so it became "Iten" literally "Hill number Ten".

In 2013, the political organization of Kenya evolved from 8 Provinces (subdivided into Districts) to 47 Counties. Located in the county of Elgeyo-Marakwet, Iten has been defined as the Municipality (kind of capital) of that county, giving it a higher importance. A political decision that has an important impact on the village as it means that the founds allocated by the State are now used in priority to develop that area.

This explains the impressive development of the region of Iten in the last 10 years, which combined with the development of sport tourism are highly contributing to the growth of the area.

In the next article, we will give a closer look to the development of running in Iten from 1960's to 2024, with a closer look to the development of international camps in the village.

Did you liked this article ? Get to know more about Iten's history :

112 views0 comments


bottom of page