THE TURKANA TRIBE OF KENYA

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 South Sudan and Ethiopia to the north. They refer to their land as Turkan. According to the 2009 Kenyan census, Turkana number 855,399, or 2.5% of the 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, 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.

Traditionally, men and women both wear wraps made of rectangular woven materials and animal skins. Today these cloths are normally purchased, having been manufactured in 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 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 used to prod livestock during herding activities. Women will customarily wear necklaces.

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