Rite of passage among the Turkana People


Everything that begins surely must end so is the human life which begins from conception and ends at death. Rites of passage refers to the stages that a human being has to undergo if not all then two are a must; birth and death. The stages are birth, initiation, marriage and finally death.  

In the Turkana society all these stages are accompanied by rituals like the birth ritual (akidoun), initiation rituals (asapan/akinyonyo), marriage rituals (akuuta) and death rituals (akinuuk).

Birth ritual

This ritual is very important in the life of an individual. While the ritual is conducted animal sacrifices are offered, the blood must be shed in order to please the spirits and the gods supervised by the clan elder and the emuron plays the blessing role.

Initiation ritual

The Turkana people do not practice circumcision for boys and Female Genital Mutilation as a rite of passage. However, their males practice circumcision which is undergone through a health facility for health and cleanness but not as a rite of passage according to their culture. In the turkana society, initiation involves removal of the front teeth as the physical sign but one undergoes intense training and lessons before he/she is considered mature. The girl’s initiation is marked at puberty i.e. around fifteen years which allows her to get married.

Before a man graduates to adulthood, he is taught on life lessons and trained on hunting skills. During graduation he is supposed to hunt and kill an animal with a single throw of spear as sign of strength and skill. After the kill the elderly member dismembers the animal and smears the excrements (nkujit) from the stomach and the intestines on the candidate as a sign of purification and blessing. The candidate is given an ostrich feather as a sign of maturity, they are extremely expensive, as much as a goat, and are used in the elaborate hairstyles that mark the end of the rite of passage.

Marriage Ritual

For girls, the most important stage in their life is marriage that should be between the members of the clan or the mother’s clan and the husband’s clan members in order to strengthen the relationship and social alliances. Turkana people are polygamous where a man can marry as much as he can afford. In fact, it is said that pride of a man lies in the number of women he has. Many women are a symbol of wealth and the man commanded a lot of respect in the society. Monogamous men were referred as one legged.

In order to marry, a man must possess a great wealth in terms of cattle. Upon obtaining the consent from the bride’s parents his family goes ahead with preparations. The approval from the bride’s father stands as a  “marriage contract” and price is established  which is expressed in terms of heads of cattle. During negotiation the groom must provide the tea leaves, tobacco, clothes and blankets as gifts.

Once an agreement is reached on the price to be paid approximately 50 heads of cows or camels or both and at least 100 goat/sheep or both. The ceremony starts with a consensual “kidnapping” establishment where the bride is taken away from her parents and she must cry and wriggle to demonstrate attachment to her parents. After that the marriage is blessed by the elders and celebrated by sacrificing an ox.

During the wedding ceremony, the bride is freed from all the necklaces bought by her father from childhood usually can weigh up to 10 kg, and wears the new series brought as a gift by her husband.

During the wedding ceremony, the bride is freed from all the necklaces bought by her father from childhood usually can weigh up to 10 kg, and wears the new series brought as a gift by her husband.

Death Ritual

Death is another important moment and it is celebrated in remembrance for the deceased. During the ritual, the eldest son in the family of the deceased puts a piece of butter in the mouth of the dead person and casts blessings to the dead. In the case of a deceased man, the widowed woman abandons the conspicuous necklaces and starts wearing the dull ones or white necklaces.

In the past, the dead were often abandoned without a burial and sometimes the carcass were devoured by the scavengers like hyenas and vultures, only people with status in the society like the Ng’imurok , elders,  diviners and others were buried in their dwelling manyattas/ huts and abandoned or destroyed. As the family moved to another place.

However, it should be noted that currently the turkana people burry their dead in accordance with the laws of Kenya as we shall discuss in details in the next article.


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