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
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.