The Turkana Tribe Of Kenya

The Turkana Tribe Of Kenya
Turkana old woman with traditional ornaments



Turkana Chieftain



The Turkana are a Nilotic people native to the Turkana District in northwest Kenya, a semi-arid climate region bordering Lake Turkana in the east, Pokot, Rendille and Samburu to the south, Uganda to the west, and the South Sudan and Ethiopia to the north. They refer to their land as Turkan. According to 2009 Kenyan census, Turkana


number 855,399, or 2.5% of Kenyan population, making Turkana the third largest Nilotic ethnic group in Kenya, after the Kalenjin and the Luo, slightly more numerous than the Maasai, and the tenth largest ethnicity in all of Kenya. Essentially, the Turkana believe in the reality of a Supreme Being named Akuj. Not much is known about



Akuj other than the fact that he alone created the world and is in control of the blessings of life. There is also a belief in the existence of ancestors, ngipean or ngikaram, yet these are seen to be malevolent, requiring animal sacrifices to be appeased when angry. When angered or troubled, the ancestors will possess people in the family





in order to verbally communicate with their family. There is also the recognition of The Ancestor, Ekipe, who is also seen as much more active in the everyday lives of people, yet only in negative ways. There is much concern over protecting one’s family and oneself from the evil of the Ekipe. Turkana Christians and missionaries equate



ekipe with the biblical character of Devil or Satan and this has shifted more traditional understandings of ekipe away from “an evil spirit” to “The Evil one.” The Turkana religious specialists, ngimurok, also continue to act as intermediaries between the living people and ancestors and then also help in problem solving in communities.



Turkana young man with a feather on the head



Traditionally, men and women both wear wraps made of rectangular woven materials and animal skins. Today these cloths are also normally purchased, having been manufactured in the Nairobi or elsewhere in Kenya. Often men wear their wraps similar to tunics, with one end connected with the other end over the right shoulder, and



carry wrist knives made of steel and goat hide. Men also carry stools (known as ekicholong) and will use these for simple chairs rather than sitting on the hot midday sand. These stools also double as headrests, keeping one's head elevated from the sand, and protecting any ceremonial head decorations from being damaged. It is



The wrist knife was made from scrap iron by a Turkana blacksmithIt was used by men for cutting meat and as a weapon for fighting when necessary.



also not uncommon for men to carry several staves; one is used for walking and balance when carrying loads; the other, usually slimmer and longer, is also used to prod livestock during herding activities. Women will also customarily wear necklaces, and will shave their hair completely which often has beads attached to the loose



Earrings made of old aluminium pots. This is a pair of leaf shaped aluminium earrings which were worn by older women and hung from the helix of the ear.



ends of hair. Men wear their hair shaved. Women wear two pieces of cloth, one being wrapped around the waist while the other covers the top. Traditionally leather wraps covered with ostrich egg shell beads were the norm for women's undergarments, though these are now uncommon in many areas. Cattle are still the main



The women and men are wearing ceremonial costumes made from animal skin fitted with decorative beads. They are also wearing traditional beaded necklaces and coiled aluminium armbands.



source of livelihood for the Turkana, especially in the rural areas. The livestock provide food (milk and meat) and are also a source of wealth when sold for money. Fishing in Lake Turkana is another important source of income for those living close to the lake. While illiteracy levels are still high among the Turkana, there are a few



well-educated Turkanas who have joined other sectors of the Kenyan economy. The Turkana people emerged as a distinct ethnic group sometime during the early to middle decades of the nineteenth century. Oral history and archaeological evidence suggest that, prior to A.D. 1500, the ancestors of the Ateker Language Group lived



A group of men preparing to perform a cultural dance.



somewhere in the southern Sudan and most likely subsisted as hunting and gathering peoples. After beginning their southern migration, these ancestral peoples incorporated both agricultural and pastoral pursuits, and eventually split into groups that emphasized one subsistence strategy or the other. The



Young Turkana girls adorned in their traditional attire and characteristic hairdo



period from 1500 to 1800 appears to have also been characterized by frequent splitting and fusing of ethnic groups, and shifting alliances among the groups. During this time, the Karamojong established a distinct identity with a subsistence system based on the raising of livestock, principally cattle, combined with small-scale



An intricate beaded apron in red, blue and white worn by women.



agriculture. Oral histories suggest that the Jie seceded from the Karamojong, and that a group split off from the Jie and established themselves in the region near the headwaters of the Tarach River, in what is now Turkana District, sometime during the early part of the eighteenth century. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the



Turkana cattle camps began to push down the Tarach in search of new pastures upon which to graze their animals. As they moved westward, the Turkana encountered other pastoral groups, some of which herded camels (most likely the Rendille and Borana). As the Turkana expanded eastward, they began both to



assimilate and disperse other groups. They first pushed to the north and east to Lake Turkana, and then to the south, crossing the Turkwell River. It appears that by 1850 the Turkana occupied much of the territory they use today. The first European to enter into the land of the Turkana was Count Samuel Teleki von Szek, whose



The women have adorned themselves with traditional beaded head ornaments and necklaces some of which are made from elephant tail and a woman wearing the necklace made from an elephant's tail signifies that she is married.



expedition reached Turkana in June of 1888. He was preceded by Swahili caravans in search of ivory, which first arrived in the 1884. About the same time that the Swahili arrived in the south of Turkanaland, Ethiopian ivory hunters began arriving in the north. Within a few years, there ensued a period of conflict and contestation



between the British and the Ethiopians over the colonial domination of the Turkana, which lasted until 1918. The Turkana resisted British domination of their homeland throughout the early part of the twentieth century. Turkana raiding on their pastoral neighbors, especially against the Pokot to the south, caused large-scale social



This is an ornament used to stick into a mud pack coiffure to hold ostrich feathers. It has a number of deep holes formed of string topped with woven fine copper wire. It was made and used by men only.



disruption and influenced the British decision to launch one of the largest military expeditions they ever mounted against an indigenous people. In 1918 a combined force of over 5,000 well-armed men, consisting of Sudanese troops, troops of the Kings African Rifles, and levies composed of warriors from groups antagonistic to the



Annual lake Turkana cultural festival



Turkana, launched what came to be known as the Labur Patrol. The Labur Patrol broke the military might of the Turkana; in 1926 civil administration was reintroduced, and in 1928 taxes were reinstated. The period from 1929 until World War II appears to also have been peaceful. Beginning in the 1950s, the Turkana again began to



resist British domination, and the British launched a series of military expeditions against the Turkana. The use of occasional military forays against the Turkana was continued by the Kenyan government following independence in 1963. Development in Turkana District was slow. Only two primary schools operated in the



The bells were made by a blacksmith from scrap iron and used for dancing by both men and women worn below the knee. They were used especially at marriage ceremonies.



district at the time of independence. During the 1970s major efforts were made to help the Turkana integrate into the larger Kenyan economy; however, antagonistic relations among the Turkana and their neighbors continued, and by the early 1980s the entire district was considered highly insecure. Insecurity combined with



two severe droughts in the early 1980s to inhibit development efforts. Despite the growth of settlements, the area remains remote, insecure, and relatively underdeveloped. The Turkana entered Turkana basin from the north as one unit of the Ateker confederation. The Ateker cluster split as a result of internal differences



A group of Turkana men performing a traditional dance



leading to emergence of distinct independent groups. Turkana people emerged as a victorious group. The victory of the Turkana people in the initial Ateker conflict led to enmity between Turkana people and other Ateker cluster groups. Ateker cluster groups formed military alliances against The Turkana. The Turkana emerged



victorious again by co-opting young people from conquered groups. The military power and wealth of the Turkana increased in what is now the northern plains of Turkana. The establishment of the Turkana people developed as a distinct group which expanded southwards conquering ethnic nations south of its



The stick was cut from the wood of the edome (cordia ghara) tree and used by men and boys for throwing at animals and birds. Angles were cut on head to make sharp spikes for killing. It was thrown sideways so that it has a flat irregular rotary motion.



borders. The Turkana people easily conquered groups it came in contact with by employing superior tactics of war, better weapons and military organization. By 1600s, the Turkana basin had been fully occupied by Turkana people and allied friendly groups. There was a relative long period of peace among indigenous ethnic



communities around Turkana until the onset of European colonization of Africa. Sporadic conflicts involved Turkana fights against Arab, swahili and Abyssinian slave raiders and ivory traders. European colonization brought a new dimension to conflict with Turkana putting up a lasting resistance to a complex enemy, the British.



Finger knife made from a nail three inches long. This type of knife was used for cutting meat of thread and was commonly found among the Pokot and Turkana



The Turkana put up and maintained active resistance to British colonial advances leading to a passive presence of colonial administration. By the outbreak of WW I, few parts of the Turkana had also been put under colonial administration. From WW I through to end of WW II, Turkana actively participated in the wars as allies of the



Britain against invading Italy. Turkana was used as the launching pad for the war against invading Italian forces leading to the liberation of Abyssinia. After WW II, the British led disarmament and pacification campaigns in the Turkana, leading to very massive disruptions and dispossession of the Turkana pastoralists. The colonial



During ceremonies, men usually sit on a headrest or stool in a semi-circular formation preparing to perform a ritual.



administration practiced policy of deliberate segregation of Turkana people by categorizing the Turkana Province as a closed district. This also led to marginalization and underdevelopment in lead up to Kenya's independence.








Typical Turkana homestead

















Lake Turkana