The Turkana

THE TURKANA

 

They are the second largest group of pastoralists in Kenya after the Somali. They arrived eight or nine hundred years ago. Why they migrated from their territories in Karamojong in Uganda remains a matter for speculation, their oral tradition contribute a folktale about them breaking away by following a wayward ox. The true reason is more likely the expansionist and aggressive character of the Turkana. Of the 253,000 Turkana, 203,000 live on the western side of the lake, and the 50,000 remaining have reached since the 19th century the Samburu territories and the south eastern shores of the lake. The Turkana are mainly pastoralists, but according to their need they become hunters, fishermen, cultivators or bandits. They have the reputation of being the most fearless warriors of Eastern Africa.

The independent spirit of the Turkana is reflected in their total absence of centralised political institutions and in their minimal social structure. The clan has little significance, and there is no age-set system. Instead there is a system of alternations, every man belongs by birth to one of two alternations, either to the "leopards" or the "stones". If a man's father is a leopard, then he is a stone, and his son will be a leopard. This system facilitates mainly the grouping of the raiding parties. Life organizes itself around the homestead. It usually consists of the chief, his wife or wives, children. grand-parents, and sometimes a concubine.

Each woman owns a crude hut with an even cruder kitchen, Both are constructed by the woman and abandoned at each change of camp-site, which may be several times a year. When the Turkana arrived in Kenya, they brought their cattle with them. They understood very quickly the incompatibility of their stock with the semi desertic land of their new territories and the opportunities offered by the camel. By raiding the Borana and Rendille, they quickly built up a new stock. The camel is since then the main element of the Turkana's life. They also own goats and sheep, and donkeys to carry their loads. They never ride or load the camels. Not all Turkana migrate. Some of them, among the poorest have chosen a sedentary way of life along the western shore of the lake, and live off the tilapia and Nile perch. From such aggressive and individualist people one would not expect creativity. Instead the Turkana are talented craftsmen, working leather, iron, wood and bone to make fine utensils and weapons. Their own body is most delicately decorated with rings, bracelets, beads and paint. The blue clay hairstyle is certainly their most astonishing decoration.

 


 

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