MEET TURKANA THE INDIGENOUS PEO­PLE OF

Kenya is a great coun­try of di­ver­sity as it is en­riched with at least 42 dif­fer­ent tribes and cul­tural ways of life. Most com­mu­ni­ties have em­braced the mod­ern way of life and are slowly be­ing as­sim­i­lated into the West­ern life­style. The Turkana tribe, howe

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Existence: Turkana Tribe - Words: CHRIS­TINE SIA­MANTA KI­NORI

they have sur­vived nat­u­ral calami­ties, mod­erni­sa­tion and have still re­mained strong. The ‘Peo­ple of the Grey Bull' as they re­fer to them­selves in­habit the harsh and in­hos­pitable ter­rain of Lake Turkana, sit­u­ated in North­ern Kenya. The Turkana tribe is the sec­ond largest pas­toral­ist com­mu­nity in Kenya. They speak an east­ern nilotic lan­guage of aŋa­jep a ŋiTurkana. An­cient his­tory re­veals that about 300 years ago, the Turkana peo­ple dwelled in a moun­tain­ous re­gion of north-east­ern Uganda, where caves were co­pi­ous. I sup­pose that is why their name "Turkana is be­lieved to be loosely trans­lated as "the peo­ple of the caves." Ac­cord­ing to the myth, the Turkana peo­ple left the hilly north-east­ern re­gion of Uganda in pur­suit of their huge grey bull. The leg­end goes like this: Eons ago, a group of youth­ful war­riors were herd­ing their long-horned Zebu cat­tle, when a big grey bull set off at a quick­ened trot. The war­riors were alarmed at this un­usual be­hav­iour and de­cided to fol­low the bull as they were wor­ried that the rest of the cows would fol­low it. For days, the war­riors pur­sued the grey bull, un­til they fi­nally caught up with it. They found the bull in an ab­trusse val­ley bor­dered by grey moun­tains and laden with berry bushes. In a far-off dis­tance, a vast green­ish-blue lake sparkled. The war­riors hur­ried to rope in the bull but an old shaky voice stopped them. An old woman by the name of Nayeche, im­plored the war­riors to fol­low her and she would show them "a place for har­mony and pros­per­ity." She also promised to show them how to make fire if they went back for their maid­ens. The Turkana war­riors were im­pressed by what they saw and moved their peo­ple to the shores of Lake Turkana.

The mar­riage rit­ual is highly revered in the com­mu­nity since it is re­garded as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the so­ci­ety. A man is al­lowed to marry at any age as long as he is ca­pa­ble of pay­ing the dowry. The dowry is usu­ally com­prised of live­stock. A Turkana wed­ding nor­mally takes about two to three days be­cause the cer­e­mony in­volves a num­ber of rit­u­als.

From that mo­ment on they were re­ferred as the "Peo­ple of the grey bull." The Turkana con­sid­ered Nayeche their tribal mother and re­gard her burial site as a holy place of prayer. Ev­ery year, they hold a fes­ti­val at the grave site, but vis­i­tors can only be ac­com­pa­nied by a lo­cal so that the cus­toms are not vi­o­lated even in the slight­est. The peo­ple of Turkana are still de­fined by their pas­torolis­tic way of life and are known to be ex­cep­tional cat­tle herders with a fond­ness for berries. Their cat­tles pro­vide them with milk, meat and blood. They also keep camels and are tal­ented bas­ket weavers. They are also great at honey hunt­ing. The Turkana na­tive group is made up of two ma­jor di­vi­sions, each con­sist­ing of ter­ri­to­rial sec­tions. The ma­jor di­vi­sions are: the Ngi­mo­nia, di­vided into Ngis­sir and non-Ngis­sir sec­tions; and the Ngi­choro, di­vided into Ngiluku­mong, Ngi­woy­ak­wara, Ngiga­matak, Ngi­belai, and Ngi­botok. The Turkana are very tra­di­tional both in re­li­gion and their so­cial struc­ture. They be­lieve in a supreme be­ing known as Akuj. They be­lieve that he is the cre­ator of the world, the con­troller of rain and bless­ings of life. They also be­lieve in the evil one re­ferred to as Ekipe who is sup­posed to be shunned. For them, it is im­per­a­tive to main­tain a good re­la­tion­ship with Akuj ev­ery­day, so that he can give them bless­ings of life such as a fam­ily, food, wa­ter and live­stock. In or­der to get these bless­ings, they must avoid break­ing the tra­di­tions (ngi­talio). The Turkana still be­lieve in an­ces­tors who they re­fer to as ngikaram or ngi­pean. They of­fer an­i­mal sac­ri­fices to the an­ces­tors in a bid to ap­pease them. They claim that when the an­ces­tors are an­gered they pos­sess a fam­ily mem­ber and use them as tools for com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They have re­li­gious spe­cial­ists who they re­fer to as ngimurok. A ngimurok acts as an in­ter­ces­sor be­tween the liv­ing and the liv­ing dead. They are sup­posed to speak to the an­ces­tors to find solutions to the prob­lems fac­ing the peo­ple. The most hon­oured ngimurok is el­e­vated to be a "di­viner of god" or an emuron. The emurons or the dream­ers are said to be able to read Akuj's moods. The emurons re­ceive di­rect mes­sages from Akuj in their dreams and re­lay them to the peo­ple. How­ever, the ngimurok is more re­spected in the com­mu­nity and can still be found even to­day in the Turkana ter­ri­tory. They still carry out im­por­tant cul­tural rit­u­als such as birth (aki­doun), male and fe­male ini­ti­a­tion (as­apan and akiny­onyo), mar­riage (Aku­uta), yearly bless­ing sac­ri­fices (Api­aret an awi), and the death rit­ual ( Ak­in­uuk). Even though these rit­u­als are over­seen by elders, it is of great im­por­tance for an ngimurok to be in at­ten­dance. The mar­riage rit­ual is highly revered in the com­mu­nity since it is re­garded as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the so­ci­ety. A man is al­lowed to marry at any age as long as he is ca­pa­ble of pay­ing the dowry. The dowry is usu­ally com­prised of live­stock. A Turkana wed­ding nor­mally takes about two to three days be­cause the cer­e­mony in­volves a num­ber of rit­u­als. On the first day, the man is es­corted by his age mates to de­liver the dowry to the bride's par­ents. They are also ex­pected to per­form the ekim­wom­wor dance. The mar­riage takes place on the sec­ond day. It is a rit­ual-filled day and is taken very se­ri­ously. All the rit­u­als are per­formed in ac­cor­dance to the cus­toms and tra­di­tions of the com­mu­nity. Each rit­ual is be­lieved to have heavy con­se­quences if bro­ken. The new bride is of­fi­cially moved to her hus­band's home on the third day. The Turkana are polyg­a­mous in na­ture. A wife is viewed as a bless­ing and a sign of wealth. They are among the few cul­tures that ac­tu­ally value a girl child more than a boy child. A Turkana man can divorce his wife or marry an­other woman for the main pur­pose of sir­ing a girl. A man is al­lowed to marry as many wives as he can af­ford to pay dowry for. A man with a large num­ber of an­i­mals is ex­pected to have more than one wife to help him in herd­ing. Ac­cord­ing to an old Turkana proverb, a man with one wife is like a man with one leg. The Turkana dis­tin­guish be­tween devel­op­ment stages, age groups, oc­ca­sions and status of in­di­vid­u­als through cloth­ing. This ex­plains why they have such an in­tri­cate and dec­o­ra­tive style of cloth­ing. A num­ber of Turkana still wear their tra­di­tional at­tires. Women put on beaded jew­elry such as neck­laces, ear­rings and bracelets. They also shave their hair and leave just a few strands which they at­tach some beads to. The women wear two pieces of rec­tan­gu­lar woven ma­te­ri­als and an­i­mal skins. The men wear a one piece rec­tan­gu­lar cloth with one end tied on their right shoul­der. Of­ten, the men carry small knives and a small stool known as the eki­cho­long on their waist. The stool is used as a chair or a head rest on a hot herd­ing day. The small wrist knives are mostly used as a weapon and pro­tec­tion mea­sure. They also carry a long herd­ing stick to prod the live­stock. The men also cover part of their hair with mud and later dye it blue and dec­o­rate it with os­trich feath­ers. The Turkana houses are built over a wooden struc­ture of domed young trees. Leaves of the Doulm palm trees, hides and skins are thatched on the wooden frame­work. Their houses are big enough to ac­com­mo­date a fam­ily of six. Dur­ing the wet sea­son, the

houses are elon­gated and cov­ered by cow­dung. Their live­stock is kept nearby in a wooden pen en­closed by thorns. The Turkana are semi-no­madic and rely heav­ily on their live­stock for survival. The rainy sea­sons have proven to be un­re­li­able, thus mak­ing farm­ing dif­fi­cult to pur­sue. Even though there are fish in Lake Turkana, fish­ing is con­sid­ered a taboo for some of the Turkana clans. Other than their an­i­mals, they also use their weav­ing and skilled weaponry to make a liv­ing. They are fa­mous for their be­yond amaz­ing skills in mak­ing head dresses and adorn­ing gourds and horns. Given the harsh ter­rain of their land and the per­sis­tent drought the peo­ple of Turkana have en­dured, it is a mir­a­cle that they have been able to sur­vive. Tall, re­fined with exquisitely de­fined faces, these peo­ple are born sur­vivors. They have stood the test of time and have come out stronger. Per­haps it is due to their iso­la­tion that they have re­mained al­most com­pletely un­af­fected by the West­ern cul­ture. There are a few places on the African con­ti­nent where you can wit­ness such beau­ti­ful tra­di­tional in­tegrity and her­itage. The Turkana re­gion has a unique rich­ness of cul­ture. It is one of the few places, where there is an en­er­gised cul­tural wealth of old African say­ings, sto­ries, songs, crafts and knowl­edge. It is a place that tells the story of African sur­vivors at its finest.

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