Marriage and Concubinage

Caption of a Turkana woman

In the Turkana dialect marriage is referred to as “akuta”, a wedlock or a matrimony. It is a legal and a cultural entity in the human cycle that binds two partners as well as their kin. It can be polygamous or monogamous depending on one’s cultural alignment. So in this article, our discussion shall be based on Turkana point of view as far as marriage and Concubinage is concerned.

Being an important aspect in the lives of the future spouses, it takes a lot of preparations before the ceremony is performed which usually takes months and some years before the groom pays many livestock for bride price. Due to the high demand for livestock as bride price, polygamy is entitled to the wealthy men and men with titles in the community who can afford. Marriage being the main source of livestock in the turkana livelihood, cohabiting is forbidden and in any case the victims are usually underprivileged  in the society and may not take part in the women affairs and as such the children are usually considered inferior to other children born in matrimony. The idea of cohabiting is condoned and treated with infidelity in equal measure.

The traditional Turkana community respects the matrimonial purity as a source of pride to the paternal family and as such the girl child was regarded as a source of wealth to the family and the community therefore, every girl was entitled to marriage and official handing over to the new family after the bride price or dowry. Traditionally, dowry was considered a token of appreciation to the family rather not a compensation as it is overrated by the modern generation. In this case, the bride maintains ties with her family but all entitlement belong to the groom’s family.

Caption of a Turkana family

The traditional ceremonies involved before the actual marriage ceremony is performed is still valued and observed by the Turkana and mostly celebrated before the modern one while a few choose after. For a Turkana gentleman to Mary he ought to go through the various stages before being fully engaged and wedding arrangements done as illustrated below:

  1. Emalas ; This is the courtship period.
  2. Etoolo ; Once the girl has agreed to marry the man, the next move is to take a ram, sugar and tobacco as an introductory gift to the girls parents.
  3. Ekamus ; after the introduction another  ram would be given to the girl’s father age-group for approval and blessings.
  4. Eloto; The bride and groom’s families meet to negotiate the bride- price. This is commonly referred to as engagement.
  5. Akidet ngibaren – Once agreement is made the groom’s family goes ahead to pay the bride-wealth in terms of cows, goats, camels and Donkeys as negotiated. The number of livestock given solely depends on negotiation prowess. During this stage the girl is officially betrothed to the man.
  6. Ekumwa ; the killing of the bride-bull to the bride’s family marking the end of the ceremony. This is the final stage where the girl is officially handed to the man which is accompanied by rituals like smearing of the white ochre, sprinkling of water and traditional prayer or chanting known as “agat” usually performed by elders during the ceremony.

Siring children out of marriage is strongly discouraged in the community and those  giving birth out of wedlock are seen as embarrassment a term  referred to as “apese angabwes, ” meaning a woman that has given birth before marriage-a concubine. However, due to uncontrollable behavior and immorality among the youths caused by adolescence and peer pressure the aspect of siring children before marriage has become the order of the day and the short cut to marriage. Consequently, the male counterpart is subjected to a fine for impregnating the girl or the woman before marriage and the verdict is usually 11 goats and 11cows and 20 goats for every first born child and 1 cow and 10 goats for other subsequent children in what is known as “ekichuil” imposed as a punishment and not subject to negotiation and the lady is given a thorough bearing by the uncles.

The name “apese angabwes”  referring to a concubine sounds as an insult to a turkana girl and it helps discourage girls from fornicating as it is a pride for any women to be referred to as “someone’s wife, “ phrased as “aberu ai twaan” that really matters and dignifies her womanhood in the society.

The image is an illustration and does not depict the content of this article

Furthermore, a child born out of wedlock, “ ikoku a apese angabwes” is usually looked down and sometimes mistreated as he/she is considered inferior to other children and they belong to the maternal family rather than the paternal simply because they are the ones taking care of them.


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