Turkana people

Turkana people
Turkana man with children in traditional Turkana clothing.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Northwestern Kenya

Turkana language


African traditional religion, Christianity

Related ethnic groups


The Turkana are a Nilotic people native to the Turkana District in northwest Kenya, a dry and hot region bordering Lake Turkana in the east, Pokot, Rendille and Samburuto the south, Uganda to the west, and Sudan and Ethiopia to the north. They refer to their land as Turkan.

According to the 2009 Kenyan census, they number close to one million, or 2.5% of Kenyan population, which makes them the third largest Nilotic group in Kenya, after the Kalenjin and the Luo, and slightly more numerous than the neighboring Maasai.

The language of the Turkana, an Eastern Nilotic language, is also called Turkana; their own name for it is Ng'aturk(w)ana or nga Turkana.

The Turkana people call themselves Ngi Turkana. They are mainly nomadic pastoralists.

The Turkana are noted for raising camels and weaving baskets. In their oral traditions they designate themselves the people of the grey bull, after the Zebu, the domestication of which played an important role in their history. In recent years, development aid programs have aimed at introducing fishing among the Turkana (a taboo in Turkana society) with very limited success.

The Turkana people are believed to be of a Nilotic origin. They are a traditional ethnic group with strict cultural lifestyle. The exact number of the Turkana people is not known. Available population statistics are estimates, mainly by the Kenya Government. The unreliable population estimates are as a result of marginalization in governance process, delimitation of Turkana land which places some sections of Turkan in Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia and cultural prohibition for physical counting of people. (source needed here)



Traditionally, men and women both wear wraps made of rectangular woven material. These days these cloths are purchased, having been manufactured in Nairobi or elsewhere in Kenya. Each sex adorns themselves with different objects. Often men wear their wraps similar to tunics, often with one end connected with the other end over the right shoulder, and carry wrist knives made of steel and goat hide. Men also carry stools (known as ekicholong) and will use these for simple chairs rather than sitting on the hot midday sand. These stools also double as headrests, keeping one's head elevated from the sand, and protecting any ceremonial head decorations from being damaged. It is also not uncommon for men to carry several staves; one is used for walking and balance when carrying loads; the other, usually slimmer and longer, is used to prod livestock during herding activities. Women will customarily wear necklaces, and will shave their hair completely which often has beads attached to the loose ends of hair. Men wear their hair shaved. Women wear two pieces of cloth, one being wrapped around the waist while the other covers the top. Traditionally leather wraps covered with ostrich egg shell beads were the norm for women's undergarments, though these are now uncommon in many areas.

The Turkana people have elaborate clothing and adornment styles. Clothing is used to distinguish between age groups, development stages, occasions and status of individuals or groups in the Turkana community.


The Turkana rely on several rivers, such as the Turkwel River and Kerio River. When these rivers flood, new sediment and water extend onto the river plain that is cultivated after heavy rainstorms, which occur infrequently. When the rivers dry up, open-pit wells are dug in the riverbed which are used for watering livestock and human consumption. There are few, if any, developed wells for community and livestock drinking water, and often families must travel several hours searching for water for their livestock and themselves.

Livestock is an important aspect of Turkana culture. Goats, camels, donkeys and zebu are the primary herd stock utilized by the Turkana people. In this society, livestock functions not only as a milk and meat producer, but as form of currency used for bride-price negotiations and dowries. Often, a young man will be given a single goat with which to start a herd, and he will accumulate more via animal husbandry. In turn, once he has accumulated sufficient livestock, these animals will be used to negotiate for wives. It is not uncommon for Turkana men to lead polygynous lifestyles, since livestock wealth will determine the number of wives each can negotiate for and support. Today, due to inter marriage with other clans, the Turkana have adopted other forms of cultures like circumcision which was adopted among the Turkana from Isiolo district.


Turkana rely on their animals for milk, meat and blood.Wild fruits gathered by women from the bushes and cooked for 12 hours. Slaughtered goats are roasted on a fire and only their entrails and skin removed. Roasting meat is a favorite way of consuming meat. The Turkana often trade with the Pokots for maize and beans,Marakwet for Tobbacco and Maasai for maize and vegetables. The Turkana buy tea from the towns and make milk tea. In the morning people eat maize porridge with milk, while for lunch and dinner they eat plain maize porridge with a stew. Zebu are only eaten during festivals while goat is consumed more frequently. Fish is taboo for some of the Turkana clans (or brands, "ngimacharin"). Men often go hunting to catch dik dik, wildebeest, wild pig, antelope, marsh deer, hare and many more. After the hunt men go out again to gather honey which is the only sweet thing the Turkana have. star tiwari.sara lochodo


Houses are constructed over a wooden framework of domed saplings on which grass is thatched and lashed on. The house is large enough to house a family of six. Usually during the wet season they are elongated and covered with cowdung. Animals are kept in a brush wood pen.Due to changes in the climatic conditions most Turkana have started changing from the traditional method of herding cattle to agriculture.


The Turkana are a monotheistic people. They believe in one God, known as Akuj. Akuj is the creator of the universe and to Akuj do all things belong. The Turkana call upon Akuj in times of great need. Akuj is invoked through prayers & chants and through animal sacrifices. The Turkana believe that Akuj is the source of all power and that no challenge is impossible when Akuj intervenes.


See also

External links

Wood bowls, containers, cow bells and head rests from the Turkana people. http://www.douglasyaney.com/tribes-turkana.html

  • Various photographs and further explanation of the Turkana can be found at Ejoka.com. Various missionaries have collaborated on the creation of this supplement.



  • Pavitt, Nigel (1997) Turkana. London: Harvill Press. ISBN 1-86046-176-X
  • Lamphear, John (1988) 'The people of the grey bull: the origin and expansion of the Turkana', in Journal of African History, 29, 1, 27–39.

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