How Raids were organized by the Turkana Warriors


The Turkana community has always been at the center of any discussion involving cattle rustling from time immemorial. Due to its geographical position, cattle raiding has always been inevitable for them as they are surrounded by the pastoral communities from Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Pokot in Kenya. They inhabit a mass of desolate regions due to their migratory nature in search of water, pasture and safe zones from livestock diseases and rustlers. The activity has always been magnified by both environmental and economic factors where droughts and famine, as well as restocking, played a key role in fueling the activity. In one of the theories based on pastoral wealth redistribution, to Dylan Hendrickson and Robin Mearns, “Cattle raids are the simplest form of rebuilding herds after the livestock have been killed by frequent droughts or seized in raids.” The art has been passed on from generation to generation among the Turkana people. How these activities were planned, is a matter of discussion that we are going to cover.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, planning for the raids usually originated from a section of warriors or friends who agree to take the initiative of spying the target community they referred to as “emoit” a native term meaning “the foreigner/enemy”. The team on a spy mission in the foreign land would spend days or weeks gathering all the necessary information for the warriors in the Kraals. They would hunt and feed on wild animals throughout the mission as they hid in the forests during the day. Upon their return after gathering all the information, they would give an account for their findings while away which would then be approved by the warriors’ team leader.

Upon approval based on the possibilities of a successful raid, the group would organize dancing festivals from kraal to kraal as they spread the word in order to mobilize required number of warriors. After getting the required number with the required skills and experience, the raiding troop would organize for another spy mission following the same route used by the first spies to the same foreigners’ land on to the same kraals spied by the first group. The group would collect useful information like the size of the enemy kraals, confirm their strength, their weapons and their grazing patterns. The information collected was used to determine the number of warriors and weapons required for the raid where the affirmation wholly depended on the willingness of the other clans or kraals to take part, the number of experienced warriors referred to as the “war heroes” in the community and the availability of the required number of weapons.

In the meantime, the young warriors would seek approval and blessings from their parents where a ritual was performed in the evening before the troop’s departure. The young warrior would be sprinkled with water by the parents and then forces his way through the legs of his mother as she tries to squeeze them in. The mother would then scoop the foot prints of the son from the ground and tied in a tuned sheep skin which would be hidden in a secret place until the son returned home.

Usually, the acceptance and the acknowledgement of the war heroes to join the raid, gave the operation leader who was chosen from the clan the plan originated from, the mandate to choose members to consult the community diviner for his approval. The diviner would then consult the ancestors and the gods for approval and the instructions to be followed for a successful raid. In case the diviner foresaw the warriors’ incapability to adhere to the instructions that would lead to the success of the raid, he devoted himself to lead the warriors. However, if the Diviner trusted the warriors after consultation from the spiritual realm, he instructed the warriors the rituals to perform before or during the imminent raid with strict adherence, failure to which a disaster would befall the troop.

Before departure to the foreign land, two factions of spies would be formed where one would be sent ahead of the troop to keep on spying and constantly updating the troop until they arrived to the destination while the second faction would guide the movement of the troop. Usually, the team selected had a good mastery of the enemy terrain with a vast prowess in raids; very well conversant with the routes and the water points. During the mission the warriors were to carry ready-made food and roasted meat since any form of light would not be required throughout the mission as their success depended on invisibility as they entered the enemy territory.

Sick warriors were not allowed to join the troop and in the case of sickness, the warrior would be escorted back home as he would derail the movement. Upon entry into the foreign land, their movements done at night to avoid being spotted or noticed during the day, spending their entire time in the forest and only to strike as directed by the diviner.

Nonetheless, the best time to strike were commonly at dawn where the major troop would strike by surprise rendering the enemy helter-skelter and unprepared. The leader of the troop would sub-divide the warriors into groups depending on the number of targeted kraals ambushing the enemies before striking as the operation leader commanded a troop that guarded the raiding sub-groups from any external insurgency.

After seizing the livestock and spoils from the raid like ornaments, guns, good coats among other valuables, one group would lead from front, another one rode the livestock as the others followed from behind neutralizing the enemy in pursuit of the livestock. These raids are usually bloody and characterized by mass killings as the dead warriors left behind for scavengers. When the troop arrive at a place safe from the enemy interruption, the troop regroup and those missing would be considered dead. The leader would then select members to convey message to the bereaved family and deliver and deliver the share for the deceased to the family. Upon the family’s receipt of the message, the girls would smear red ochre a ritual to honor the dead and cleanse the family from the bad omen. Equally to the loots before one used a cleansing ritual would also be performed before using.

Finally, the leader of the clan that came up with the idea would share the livestock with the troop, and thereafter the stock to be feasted on during the successful raid celebration would be saved for the clan that organized the raid as the warriors depart to different directions with their shares.


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