Prayer Profile
The Turkana of Ethiopia


The Turkana are one of the most courageous and fierce groups of warriors in Africa. They are traditionally nomadic shepherds, the majority of whom live west of Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya. The 22,000 Turkana of Ethiopia live west of the Omo River in the extreme southwestern regions of the country.

The Turkana refer to themselves as Ngiturkan and to their land as Eturkan. Although they emerged as a distinct ethnic group during the nineteenth century, the Turkana have only a vague notion of their history. Their main concerns are land and how to win it, and livestock and how to acquire it. They have pursued these aims with single-mindedness for nearly 300 years.

The Turkana are generally indifferent to their own society and have disregard for their clans. Divided into 19 territories and 28 clans, the Turkana's land is as ill-defined and loose-knit as its society. In fact, Turkana of the same clan are often total strangers.

What are their lives like?
Eturkan is a broad low-lying plain, broken by lava hills and mountains. Its climate is hot and dry, and highly variable. The Turkana have adapted to the region by herding five different species of livestock and by moving frequently. They are one of the most mobile populations in the world. Although arid, Eturkan has numerous springs.

Camels, cattle, sheep, and goats provide for most of the needs of the Turkana. Donkeys are used to transport household goods during migrations. Their diet consists of goat's milk, goat meat, grains, and wild fruit. Along the shores of Lake Turkana, some engage in fishing and farming. The isolated Turkana do very little trading with other tribes. They sell livestock in order to buy grains and other household goods.

The Turkana do not have chiefs or elders. Political influence belongs to those who have age, wealth, wisdom, and oratorical skill. Social organization is based on territorial rights (the rights of pasture and water), kinship, relationships between individuals, and rights in livestock and labor.

The Turkana men often have multiple wives. When a wife marries into a household, the head of the family gives her a portion of his livestock. These herds will later be inherited by her sons. Because of the unusually high bride-price, it is almost impossible for a man to marry until his father has died and he has inherited livestock. The Turkana household consists of a man, his wives and their children, and often his mother and other dependent women. Each wife builds a daytime "sitting" hut and a nighttime sleeping hut for the rainy season.

Young men between the ages of 16 and 20 undergo an initiation ceremony, which involves an animal sacrifice. This is a prerequisite for later taking human life. The status of a warrior is determined once a man has killed his first enemy—an event he will mark by notching a scar on his right shoulder or chest. After that time, he begins carrying a weapon. His clan sponsor gives him a spear and other weapons, a stool that serves as a headrest, and a pair of sandals.

The Turkana dress consists of only a cloth. Warriors also wear weapons. Scars are made on the arms to indicate how many victims the warrior has injured. White ostrich feathers are also worn on the heads of the warriors who have killed at least one person.

What are their beliefs?
The Turkana follow their traditional African religion. Though fearless in all aspects, they are highly superstitious. They believe in dreams and place great faith in diviners who have the power to heal the sick, make rain, and tell fortunes (by casting sandals or reading animal intestines). The Turkana believe in a single, all powerful god, Akuj, who rarely intervenes in human affairs. The Turkana are skeptical of any diviner who professes to have mystical powers but fails to demonstrate that power in everyday life.

What are their needs?
Violence is rampant among the Turkana. Concern for herds and land comes before concern for human life. Only a small number have converted to Christ. The Turkana desperately need the opportunity to meet the life-giver.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that the diviners who channel Akuj will be powerless in front of the Turkana.
  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Ethiopia and share Christ with the Turkana.
  • Pray that the doors of opportunity will soon open for missionaries to penetrate the indifferent Turkana with the Gospel.
  • Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Turkana Christians.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to complete translation of the Bible into the Turkana language.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Turkana towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Pray that God will open the hearts of Ethiopia's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Turkana by the year 2000.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Turkana
  • Country: Ethiopia
  • Their language: Turkana (Bume)
  • Population: (1990) 19,000
    (1995) 22,000
    (2000) 25,500
  • Largest religion: Ethnic religionist 97%
  • Christians: 3%
  • Church members: 661
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 1
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 6,400 (29%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 2,000 (9%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 4,400 (20%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 15,600 (71%)
  • Country: Ethiopia
  • Population: (1990) 47,422,700
    (1995) 55,053,100
    (2000) 63,785,200
  • Major peoples in size order: Amhara 34.8%
    Tulama 7.5%
    Wallega 5.6%
    Macha 5.4%
    Tigrai 5.3%
  • Major religions: Christian 58.5%
    Muslim 35%
    Ethnic religionist 6.4%
  • Number of denominations: 29

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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