Turkana Tribe

Building a Turkana Hut

The dominant culture around Lake Turkana is undoubtedly the people for whom the lake is named, the Turkana. 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 were chasing a wayward bull.

To most visitors to the Lake this looks like the most inhospitable country on earth, with baking fields of lava surrounding crocodile infested waters. But the Turkana are supreme survivors, known throughout Kenya for their survival skills, physical strength and aggressive opportunism.

The Turkana have spread throughout this region and 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. The Turkana do not have as many complex customs as some of Kenya’s other nomadic cultures. The central principle of their culture is a generational clan system, with two clans – Leopard and Stone. If a man is born a Leopard, then his son will be a Stone, and his son a Leopard, and so on.

This clan system has a traditional base in the formation of cattle raiding parties.

Despite the difficult conditions in which they live, the Turkana have a highly developed sense of the aesthetic. They produce a great deal of jewellery and articles of physical adornment. Turkana women traditionally wear their hair in a mohawk, while the men grow their high and pile it on top of their heads in an individual style passed on from father to son. They then decorate it with blue clay and feathers.

Turkana men also traditionally took pride in skills of combat, and produced a wide range of inventive weaponry, including spiked clubs, wrist and finger knives. The Turkana are generally excellent craftsmen, skilled in metalwork, leather making, beading and carving of wood, stone, bone and horn.

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