The Turkana

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The Turkana are a fascinating culture, whose roots lie not in Kenya, but among the Karamajong of Northern Uganda and South Sudan. They migrated to the lake around 250 years ago, for reasons unknown. According to Turkana mythology, the tribe was chasing a wayward bull.

Turkana Edged Weapons: Ararait, Nigigolio and Corogat

The Turkana are supreme survivors, known throughout Kenya for their survival skills, physical strength and aggressive opportunism.  Warfare is traditionally an essential part of Turkana life and the principal occupation of young men. Weapons are considered a man’s proud possessions and the practical tool for increasing herds by raiding and for expanding their territory. Ever since they entered Kenya, the Turkana have been in a perpetual process of expansion.

Spreading throughout this region, the Turkana have proved to be able to thrive under the most adverse conditions. They keep cattle and have some basic forms of architecture, but have also long depended on hunting and gathering. Fish, crocodiles, and other wildlife including lizards and snakes are the traditional diet.

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Turkana believe that all livestock on earth, including that owned by other people, is theirs by right, and that there is nothing wrong in going after it and taking it by force. A young man, they say, must be prepared to die in pursuit of stock. Meanwhile neighboring tribes feel the same way about stock and raid the Turkana. After such raids the Turkana feel compelled to recover their stolen animals. Thus, a vicious cycle of conflict between tribes exists in this region of Kenya.  The subject of war is on everybody’s lips. It is ingrained in them: the Turkana are constantly on their guard.

The removal of teeth is a common practice among the Turkana. Most people have their two lower incisors removed in childhood. This practice originated as a life-saving precaution against lock-jaw (more commonly known as tetanus, a serious disease that causes severe spasms of the jaw muscles, making it hard for the victim to open his mouth). Milk could be poured into the victim’s mouth through the gap in his teeth. This helped the victim survive the locking effect of this disease. Although the affliction is now rare, the Turkana have persisted with the custom.