Bureaucracy of power in the traditions of the Turkana people


Leadership role among the Turkana people for the core building block for their existence in generations but has a very big gap in terms of inclusivity. The helm of power is bestowed to men as women play back-benchers. However, the order of seniority plays a very significant role among this people based on chronology of initiation also known as asapan and partly age.

In the matters of decision making, men would play different roles depending on where and who it affected. For example, a decision made by the head of the family would be concerned with the issues affecting that particular family and should not impact the entire clan and when it did, the head of every family participated in the process chaired by the one who underwent initiation before others. Here the age was considerably a mere number that wasn’t worth the mantle.

For example, a boy who was initiated had an upper hand in the matters of the society than uninitiated old man or who was initiated after him. He could make decisions on behalf of the clan or the family as well as being consulted by the family members or the clan’s men before any ruling.

The act of honoring chronology of initiation did not only end in the decision making process but also in the men’s meat eating gathering known as akiriket, that usually took place in the bushes far from the homesteads. While sharing the roasted meat(ng’akipeyos) the sitting arrangement followed the order of initiation where the first to be initiated in the gathering became the ring leader and sat at the center as he shared the meat to the group members and had the authority to take a bigger portion for himself.

 Even at the traditional wedding(akuuta) ceremony the man initiated first could drink from the calabash of soup, milk, blood and water before the rest of the men in the same order. Even if the elder’s leader had gone for an errant and the community or the family wanted to perform any ritual or any activity that needed his attention, the second to be initiated had the mandate to take over from him.

The Turkana people paid a lot of respect to the order and it was even whispered that undermining it attracted a bad omen to the individual and his/her posterity and therefore the elders were consulted before any ritual or function. When a wedding, pouring libations(ng’asenon) to appease the spirits, initiation were to be held and the elder was not around the ceremony organizers could send a special invitation to him as an emissary and everything was well taken care of by the hosts. These invitations can take as long as weeks or even months prior to the event.

Just like most African societies, in the event of death by the head of the family, inheritance could only be claimed by boys in that particular family based on initiation period and if none was initiated then the eldest son inherited and at the same time took over the helm from the father. He became in charge of the homestead and even inherited all the women left behind by his father except his own mother related by blood. He could brand the animals, exchanged the animals, chose when and which animal to be sold, had the mandate to decide the suitor and authorized marriage to the suitor of his choice for the girls in that family and solutions to all problems that affected his family became his responsibility. Women on the other hand could have a say in their own gatherings only after marriage through a traditional wedding. She could participate or decide in the women affairs only after undergoing the rite of passage. It was after then that that she earned respect from the women and the community.

Although after a woman went through initiation still it didn’t warrant her a seat in the council of men. Whenever she wanted to pass a message to the council of men, it was to be channeled through her husband.

That hierarchy formed the basic foundation of power that was passed from one generation to another among the Turkana people . Culture being the true definition of the people embracing it, as Mahatma Gandhi put it that the Nation’s culture resided in the hearts and in the souls of its people, then the culture had created us all solely and wholly for the purpose of maintaining its continuity and status quo. It was the same culture that defined in details the Nomads of the North Western Kenya.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here