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?
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?
What are their needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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