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Celebrate The Turkana Cultural Festival on 19-21 April 2018.

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The Turkana Cultural Survival envisions a future that respects and honours Indigenous Peoples’ inherent rights and dynamic cultures, deeply and richly interwoven in lands, languages, spiritual traditions, and artistic expression, rooted in people hearts.

The geological importance of this area is known all worlds over with geological experts and fossil scientist flocking in for studies and artifact collection. The vast natural resources hidden beneath the desert cover is unimaginable which includes, a fresh water basin which is estimated at over 200 000 million m³ of water and the small Lodwar basin aquifer that could serve as single source of water in the whole of north Kenya for over a decade. We can’t as well forget the exploration of crude oil which is already on.

The Turkana people are nomadic pastoralists who live in the arid regions of northwestern Kenya. These people were one of many affected by a severe drought in 1979 and 1980. Although the famine which resulted from the sharp drop in food production was dramatized by the international press, insecurity of food availability is characteristic of pastoral production systems. Turkana people had to cope with the uncertainty associated with seasonal, annual and inter-homestead variation in food production, hence they moved back to fishing and keeping camels and more drought resistant goats.

The climate of the area is classified as arid to semi-arid with high ambient temperatures and a two to three month “rainy season.” Although the Turkana identify a specific time of the year as the “rainy season” (akiporo), usually corresponding to the months of March to May, data demonstrate that the amount it rains, where, and for how long varies tremendously in the area. It is in respect to these that Ngisonyoka practice no agriculture and live exclusively off the products of their livestock – milk, meat, blood and skins. All these form camels, cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys. Each species has different food and water requirements. Camels are browsers; sheep, cattle and donkeys are grazers; and goats can be classified as either. Browsers must include a large amount of leafy vegetation in their diet, while grazers favor grasses. The inventory of goods acquired with money from the sale of livestock is small, consisting primarily of maize meal, sugar, tobacco, tea leaves, rubber tire sandals, and cloth.

The Turkana live in small households consisting of a man, his wives, their children and possibly some dependent women. This social unit is referred to as an awi. Household size varies considerably according to wealth, but averages about 20-25 people. All livestock are “owned” by the male head of the household, but within the awi they are allocated to women. The number of animals allocated depends upon a woman’s status within the family and the number of children which must be fed. Women milk those animals which are allocated to them; the offspring of these livestock will be the basis of their sons’ future herds. Livestock management rest with the household head, or with the herd manager if the herd is separate from the awi. This allows each household head to make decisions based on who can work, herd size, social obligations, and perceptions of the environment and proper herd management.

The climate imposes constraints on the available techniques of livestock management. Because precipitation is extremely variable, there is a high degree of variation in forage quality and quantity, both between seasons and between years. One technique used by the Turkana to exploit an environment where the availability of food is inconsistent, sparse, and scattered is the management of herds composed of many species. As food diminishes with the onset of the dry season, the Turkana may divide their animals into different herds. Thus a man may have milking and non-milking herds of camels, cattle, and sheep and goats – sheep and goats are herded together. In the wet season the milking and non-milking herds are joined, with all the people and animals together in one awi. As the dry season progresses, non-milking herds may be split off from the awi to pursue different ranges. These non-milking herds are managed by young men who, for the most part, act as the principal decision-makers while the herd is separated.

The second important technique used to manage livestock is mobility. The pastoralists have no permanent settlements. The majority of the people and most of the milking animals live in the major homestead which remains in the plains throughout the year but moves frequently as forage and water resources are depleted. Non-milking stock are often moved to the foothills or slopes of the mountains where the vegetation lasts longer than it does on the plains. Families with large herds may be forced to move more frequently than those with small ones. Some families may be constrained by labour shortages, thus unable to manage a number of different herds. Families with a dominance of one species of livestock may differ in their movements from families whose herds are dominated by another species. The pattern of movements therefore varies seasonally, annually, and among individual herd owners.

The Turkana keep multiple species herds in order to buffer the variations in the quality and distribution of vegetal resources. However, ecological diversity is not enough to insure the survival of the family. In times of stress the Turkana utilize a system of social ties, obligations and rights which they build up over a lifetime. Kinship provides an individual with many potential supporters. Important social relationships are reconfirmed periodically via the exchange of livestock between individuals, either kinsmen or friends. Thus each herd owner will have a social network which is unique. Turkana social organization allows flexibility in the formation of these social networks which provide an individual with access to productive livestock in times of shortage.

The institutions mentioned above demonstrate the ability of the pastoral family to remain viable over time. There is another social institution which allows those members of the society, who for one reason or another, have lost most or all of their livestock, to remain in the pastoral system. Among the Turkana, food must be shared with relatives who are asking for it, unless it causes shortages for a man’s immediate family. Thus, most wealthy and some not-so-wealthy families have acquired a number of dependents which share the “surplus” of the richer family. The result of this shifting of people around within the system allows more people to live off the limited resource base available to the Turkana.

The ability of the people to utilize fully the available resources has far-reaching implications, especially where development is concerned. The Turkana system of social organization has developed in such a way that it allows many people to live in this desert region. This is accomplished through social obligations focusing on the sharing of food, and to some extent livestock and labor. Livestock development, by contrast, emphasizes the number of animals, not people, and imposes restrictions with regard to the sharing of pastoral resources. This could lead to a breakdown of the system of social ties and obligations which has enabled generations of Turkana pastoralists to cope with the stresses imposed by living in a harsh and always unpredictable environment and in the same spirit I wish that we all enjoy this community form 19th April till the 21st April during the annual cultural festival and get to learn more fast hand.

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