The Turkana Tribe in Kenya

The population of the Turkana tribe ranges around 350,000, and they are a part of the larger Nilotic group of tribes (along with the Samburu and the Masai). They are a very traditional tribe, with most of their people still living rural lives as they have for generations.

You can find the Turkana territory near the shores of Lake Turkana in the very dry regions of northwest Kenya. They rely heavily on the rainy seasons and the 2 rivers that run through their land for water. Water can be very scarce. The harsh environment creates a great deal of tension between tribes, making the Turkana tribe a very fierce and aggressive people.

Their language is called Turkana, and has a separate dialect for the northern and southern regions of their territory.

Turkana History

Around 400 years ago, the Turkana tribes migrated into Kenya from north-eastern Uganda.

During the colonial period and even after Kenyan independence, the Turkana have mostly been left alone. They are largely untouched by the influence of missionaries or other aspects of western civilization. And so their history is not marked by many modern events, and they are still the same as they have always been.

Turkana Culture and Family

Livestock are the center of Turkana economics, representing both a food supply and wealth. Camels, cows and goats are the favoured animals, along with some donkeys and sheep.

As a nomadic people, the social structure is very loose and flexible. This is necessary, given the constant movement of families as they search for better grazing land and water. Each family is a self-contained social unit, with 4 or 5 families sometimes grazing together. Families can get quite large as married sons (and their wives and children) will stay with their father’s family.

Initiation into adulthood is a somewhat subdued affair with minor rituals marking the event for boys every 4 years. Girls are considered adults once they are married. Unlike most other tribes, there is no circumcision among the Turkana. Age sets exist but are not particularly important.

Turkana men can take as many wives as they have cattle to buy them with. A woman can cost dozens of cows, goats, camels or sheep. Men without enough livestock sometimes resort to “stealing” a bride, though its mainly symbolic with both sides agreeing to the theft. A marriage is only considered to be finalized after the first child has begun to walk, usually around 3 years after the initial ceremony.

Turkana Religion

Most of Kenya’s native people have had their religious ways pushed aside by Christianity. The Turkana tribe is an exception, with most people still keeping to their traditional beliefs. Their god is called Akuj, who is prayed to directly or through the spirits of ancestors. He is not part of everyday life for the Turkana and is usually only turned to when rain is needed. Animal sacrifices are common during drought periods, to please Akuj.

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