The Turkana people live in the northwestern region of Kenya, Africa. They are the second largest pastoralist tribe in Kenya after the Maasai. They speak the Turkana language, which is Nilotic and similar to the Maasai language. The Turkana have maintained their undiluted traditional way of life. They are distinguished as being great survivors, living in harsh and inhospitable terrain.
The Turkana tribe originally came from the Karamojong region of northeastern Uganda. Turkana oral traditions purport that they arrived in Kenya while pursuing an unruly bull.
The land they occupy is harsh and very dry. The Turkanas were, therefore, less affected by colonialism than other tribes because the British saw little value in their land.
Before being introduced to Christianity, most of the Turkana people believe in a single God, Akuj, who is thought to be omnipotent but who rarely intervenes in the lives of people. Contact between Akuj and people is channeled though a diviner, or emeron. All diviners come from a clan and are thought to have the power to interpret dreams, predict the future, heal the sick, and make rain. There are a number of gradations in the power of diviners – from those who predict the future by throwing sandals or reading animal intestines, to those who can make rain. Although many believe in the power of the emeron, they are also skeptical of those from the Emeron clan who say they have mystical powers but fail to demonstrate that power in everyday life.
The ceremonial life of the Turkana is less important than that of many neighboring tribes. There are no large corporate nor physical initiations. The asapan ceremony signifies the transition from youth to adulthood, and every man is supposed to perform this ceremony before marriage.
The Turkana produce finely crafted carved wooden implements used in daily life. Turkana now weave baskets that are sold in all the tourist shops in Nairobi.
Another striking aspect of Turkana culture is the beautiful and intricate singing that is heard on moonlit nights during the rainy season. Men and women sing in groups; those with particularly good voices take the lead. Songs are often about cattle or the land, but the subject can also be improvised and pertain to immediate events.
The Turkana have an intimate knowledge of plants and their medicinal properties, both for humans and for livestock. Animal fat is considered to have medicinal qualities, and the fat-tailed sheep is often referred to as “the hospital for the Turkana.”
Although witchcraft and sorcery are found among the Turkana, it is important to note that the Turkana do not dwell on the magical or religious aspects of life. The corpse of a woman who has raised many children and that of a man who has been successful will be buried; others are left in the bush. Some people feel that after death a person will join Akuj, and others say that they do not know what happens after death.
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