A younger herder in the field

In the traditional African society, every clan has its own warriors; brave, well trained and are believed to have the expertise in battles or warfare. Equally, in the turkana age-set and age-group system. Transcendence to the warrior class was SYSTEMATIC where one had to pass through the childhood stage, learnt the art of herding the young, emaciated and old livestock near the homestead and then later through apprenticeship under the watch of an older brother or family member especially the firstborn son. This transition may seem smooth and easy but that’s not the case for a young turkana boy aspiring to be a successful warrior.

The warrior himself is perceived to be agile, hostile, fierce, high esteemed, arrogant, lethal, brave and determined to emerge victorious in any form of battle. With reference to the colonial era, the turkana warriors were ranked among the stubborn guerilla fighters whose fighting tactics unmatched and hard to master. For instance, the author Awuondo Casper Odegi in his publication of 1980 back in the department of History, Nairobi University depicts the colonial rule in the Turkana land as, I quote the heading, “A case of the Colonial administration that capsized.”

For every clan the warriors play a very vital role in the society from forming the military wing that protects the clan, participate in raids for restocking, take part in wrestling and decision making in the clan. Without saying much about the warriors’ staff, I will take one of the Turkana clans as a case example in the making of a warrior nurtured by nature as narrated by Christopher Ejeem, a former ethnographer and a local raised in the heart of the Kwatela land. According to his testimony, Kwatela is the best example as he was brought up and grew at the foots of Mogilla hills.

The clan is one of the richest clans and very lethal as they actively participate in cattle rustling due to their geographical placement. They take advantage of strategic position living along the borders, with South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda whose communities are also active participants in cattle rustling. The Topos, Dongiro, Dodoth and Marille share a similar terrain and actively participate in the punitive raids that they believe is a cultural heritage. Much of these communities’ lands are plains endowed by scrubs and thorns surrounded by four giants that is Mogilla hills, Lokwanamoru, Lorionotom and Songot hills.

According to him the plains do not have trees except for the scattered ant-hills alias ngakomwam. Initially, prior to the advent of boreholes projects that started in the early 1980’s as a result of the great dry spell that registered a lot of human and animals’ deaths and suffering, water was found along the river beds(ngakomeimei) and oasis(ngakare). These rivers passed through the plains and drained their waters into the famous Lotikipi swamp.

The Kwatela children born in the region learnt to live life the hard way under the scorching sun and unbearably hot weather while in the fields without shades unless the grazing field was near the homestead otherwise, he was forced to seek refuge under the ant hills’ shades that could only shelter part of the body leaving the rest exposed to the sun. Nonetheless, those that lived along the river banks were usually lucky as they sheltered under the acacia trees.

The shepherds usually carried water in the 3 liters container curved from wood and animal skin(akurum) from home that barely sustained him past midday. Due to the exposure to the sun their skins were pale grey and no longer sweat due to dehydration with their lips dry and parched. Later in the evening the young herder takes the livestock home exhausted, thirsty and hungry hoping to find something to eat at home. Usually, on a lucky day the mother would keep some water and meal commonly made from cereal or animal product prepared during the day for him.

Occasionally, when the mother couldn’t manage to prepare food, the eldest son picks a rope and an arrow to draw blood from the cow for the household. The blood could be cooked for the women and the children but men usually prefer mixing with water and drink while still raw. Routinely the girls wake up everyday very early in the morning before sunrise to milk the lactating cows before being driven to the fields to provide milk for the young and the elderly.

While in the fields, the young herder collaborates with his cohorts to hunt for rabbits and squirrels as the livestock grazed contrary to the mature herders who hunt the big wildlife like antelopes, gazelles and ostriches. After the kill they usually eat to their fill and the surplus taken home for the rest of the family.

Life only becomes easy and better during the rainy season where milk and wild fruits are available due to availability of enough water and greener pastures for the livestock. During this period the families regroup all their livestock from the satellite homes where youthful cows, camels, goats and sheep migrate very far from the main homestead sometimes crossing borders to the neighboring countries leaving behind the young herder to take care of the emaciated, old, young and lactating ones in the main home.

Watering the livestock is usually another challenging task to the young herder where all the animals meet and mingle at the water point. The herder has to separate his livestock from the rest of the animals since the mix up as they drink. The young herder has to be able to separate and make sure all the animals are watered. To make sure none of the livestock is lost he has to master the animals by the skin color, patches and the clan markings. In case of any lose the young herder takes the rest of the livestock home in the evening and goes to look for the lost one until he finds even if it means spending days and nights away from home by visiting each and every homestead whose flock mingled with his. That way the young herder becomes strong due to the harsh environment and the strict upbringing, the life of struggling not only makes him strong but also develop a sense of responsibility and loyalty to the family.

When ready he graduates to an adult herder where he can join the warrior groups only after participating in a successful raid or raids. Sometimes in the event of a botched raid he can only participate in another raid organized by warriors in case he is not the cause of the botched raid. A warrior is considered successful after surviving numerous successful raids and gets the privilege of invitations from other raiding parties and at liberty of organizing one. The more the warrior goes for raids the more he becomes agile and aggressive which increases his livestock and eventually becomes rich and commands a lot of respect in the society.



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