Turkana are one of the Nilotic people of Kenya.


The Turkana people of Kenya

Turkana are one of the Nilotic people of Kenya. They inhabit the turkana district in northwest Kenya, a dry and hot region adjoining Lake Turkana in the east. Some of the Turkana people live in Pokot, Rendile, and Samburu lands which are also dry. The Nilotic-speaking Turkana are Kenya's third-largest tribe, as well as the country's second-largest group of pastoralists, after the Maasai.

Livestock is an important aspect of Turkana way of life. Goats, camels, donkeys, sheep, and cows are the key herd stock utilized by the Turkana people.

In the society of the Turkana, livestock functions not only as a milk and meat producers, but as form of exchange used for bride-price negotiations and dowries.

Young men are often given a single goat or sheep by their fathers, with which they will start a herd, and will accumulate more in the course of animal husbandry.

Once they have amassed sufficient livestock, they will use the animals to negotiate for wives. The number of wives that a man will have depends on the livestock wealth he has.

Turkwel and Kerio rivers are the main rivers that the Turkana really rely on. These rivers sometimes flood leading to formation of new sediments, water extends onto river-plains that are cultivated after heavy rainstorms, which occur infrequently. When the rivers dry up, open-pit wells are dug in the riverbeds which are used for watering livestock and human consumption. Due to the few developed wells the Turkana people travel for several hours searching for water for their livestock and themselves.

Traditionally, men and women of the Turkana both wear wraps made of rectangular woven material, but each sex adorns themselves with different objects. Often men wear their wraps similar to tunics, and carry wrist-knives made of steel and goat hide.

Men also carry stools (known as ekicholongs) 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 also not uncommon for men to carry several staffs; one is used for walking and balances when carrying loads, the other, usually slimmer and longer, is used to prod livestock during herding activities. Women will customarily wear necklaces, and will wear their hair in a faux-Mohawk style which is often braided and beaded.

The Turkana are mostly noted for raising camels and weaving baskets. In their oral traditions they designate themselves the people of the grey bull, after the Zebu, the domestication of which played an important role in their history. In recent years, development aid programs have aimed at introducing fishing among the Turkana (a taboo in Turkana society) with varying success.

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