Culture is Rutan is the title of a book by Sudanese griot Taban Lo Liyong. ‘Rutan’ means important or even essential. However, few Africans understand the importance of culture and are therefore quick to abandon their heritage for Western and, increasingly, Eastern ways of life and communication. Even the very documentation and recording of vanishing African cultures has largely been the preserve of foreigners. In the case of Turkana, however, one school teacher has taken it upon himself to buck the trend. Over the last seven or so years, Lokorikeju T. Ekiru has researched, documented and now published a book on his community and their culture. Titled The Turkana People (2021), the book delves into the origins, migrations, legends and culture of the Turkana people who are found in Northern Kenya as well as a few neighbouring countries. The book also presents detailed account of Nayece, the community’s heroine, who is largely unknown outside of the larger Ateker community. Also explained in great detail and accompanied by relevant illustrations are the thirty-something different ‘brands’ (or ‘clans’) that make up the over one-million-strong Turkana community. Of equal importance is the explanation and historical background of the Turkana moieties, or alternations, namely the ‘Leopards’ (Ng’irisae) and ‘Mountains’ (Ng’imoru). Despite being packed with research information and numerous photographs, the 358-page book is not short of entertainment value. Superstitious beliefs surrounding adultery and the breaking of taboos are downright hilarious.
In the Introduction, the author has this to say about his work:
‘It is my expectation that descriptions of Turkana customs, norms and rituals contained in this book will further help readers understand and appreciate the Turkana way of life. I appreciate the efforts of earlier writers on aspects of Turkana culture while noting some gaps and areas that required further information. In view of the above, I took it upon myself to further document about Turkana with intent to narrow information gaps. To achieve this, I undertook both primary and secondary information mining, data collection and collation for a period spanning over seven years. In particular, I traversed parts of Iteso and Turkana-lands in Kenya, as well as other Ateker (Turkana relatives) communities in Uganda and Southern Sudan.’
After launching the book in Lodwar, capital of Turkana County, Governor Josphat Nanok tweeted:
‘Was pleased to grace the launch of @LokorikejuEkiru’s new book, The Turkana People, an exhaustive account of the history, rich culture and complete way of life of the Turkana people. I commend the author…for this well researched work…I hope this book will inspire more authors to carry out further research to give accurate accounts of the Turkana people to the rest of the world.’
Governor Josphat Nanok at the book launch (Photo: Courtesy)
Dr. Harald Karl Mueller-Dempf who lives in Berlin, Germany, is one of the world’s foremost experts on Turkana culture and anthropology. In the book’s Foreword, he writes:
‘The Turkana themselves have always loved their country and their identity. When our translator Lucy once went to Kitale she liked it but she still insisted that ‘there is nothing like Turkana’. People were always proud of their land and their culture and they defended it against all odds. Today one can even witness some degree of a cultural revival. Men in the countryside wear their hair again as mud caps, women’s bead collars grow in size, and on festive occasions people show up in traditional attire, sometimes a bit modified, but fashion has always changed even the most traditional outfit. It fits into this cultural revival that a Turkana writes a book about ‘The Turkana’ – history, culture, brands, and artefacts. The only monograph of the Turkana and their traditional way of life was written by P. H. Gulliver in 1951. Since then, much has been published on the Turkana, but never in such a comprehensive way as Gulliver has done it. Thus, it is about time that a Turkana writes about his own people and puts on record matters that otherwise may vanish into oblivion.’
The author, Lokorikeju T. Ekiru, is a celebrated teacher of Art, particularly so in the area of adaptation and arrangement of African folk tunes. Born in Loima Constituency, Turkana County, he started schooling in mid-1980’s in his home county, before joining Kericho Teachers’ Training College (KTTC) for his tertiary education. After teaching for over ten years, Lokorikeju joined Turkana County Government as a Sub County Administrator. He has been researching on Turkana migration history, material culture, brands and artefacts for over a decade.