The Kenyan nilotes have some of the best preserved traditional practices. It goes without saying that Turkanas are among the tribes who still practice most of their original culture. Such continue to influence the Kenyan culture that has consistently faced rapid influence from the western culture. One can argue that they are one of Kenya’s best kept secret and worth every man’s time to experience.
Turkanas and Who They Are
This Nilotic group boasts the second largest pastoral community in Kenya, closely following the Maasai community. Over the years they have developed a great adaptive ability. This has enabled them to live in what is viewed as the hostile and inhospitable conditions of the northern parts of Kenya. This factor worked well for them during colonization as the British saw their land as not worthy, which saw them escape them British influence.
They are closely related to the Karamojong of Uganda, a tribe from which they came from while pursuing an unruly bully, at least their narratives say so.
The Turkana Way of Life
Unlike other Kenyan tribes, Turkana culture is not so strongly inscribed in the social structure. Although a number of families do things like grazing together, in most cases a family is self-sufficient. With this, there culture does not have many and complex practices. However, just like most nilotes, polygamy is an acceptable practice for them as long as the man can raise the bride price.
When it comes to initiation from childhood to adulthood, Turkanas do not circumcise their male. In fact, they do not have any special ceremony for initiation.
Cattle remain the center of livelihood for them, in fact, they value cattle so much that they would raid other surrounding tribes just to increase their herd. What has become known as cattle rustling, is considered an acceptable practice among the tribes living in the northern parts of Kenya.
Traditionally, there used to be no serious fatalities, but with modern weapons and arms possessed by some in these tribes, such as G3s and AK 47, these have become a concern to the stability of the region.
Religion and Spirituality
Since the British did not see much to do with the northern parts of Kenya, this meant that most of the tribes in the region had little interaction with the Christian faith. It is until recent years that the northern frontiers have open up for missionary works a factor that could also be contributed by the slow development or these areas.
Most Turkanas still practice traditional African religion, their belief centers on the god figure Akuj or kuj, whom they believe is the god of the heavens and skies. They differ from other tribes in that one can pray directly to akuj without intervention by another person. Praying through other spirits or ancestors is allowed. Whenever there is a calamity or a crisis that is when they strongly call upon their god.
In general, Turkanas are not very advanced and complicated in their way of life. They keep most of their activities centered on their cattle, which is their major source of livelihood and food. Their social structure is based on individual families and religion is still African traditional.
They offer one of the best opportunities for one to experience the traditional African way of life and enjoy Kenya’s cultural diversity.