The perception of a Turkana girl in the olden days.

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Children are regarded as a blessing in the African society as they were believed to be a source of wealth. In African culture children did not only belong to their parents but to the society. The children were very important as they were believed to be the continuity of the generations and the hope for the new future. The number of children a family had was of great concern as they were seen as a source of wealth. Boys and girls were seen in different perspectives so were their roles as the society had different expectations from them.

In the traditional Turkana society, expectations from boys and girls by the community are very demanding and they were prepared right from birth. A girl was seen as a “wealth generating being” as the boy on the other end as a “warrior”.

Right from conception a girl was regarded as a child that would enrich the family through marriage as a rite of passage. And therefore, she was kept very close to her mother, her sanctity and purity was the responsibility of her mother and any thing contrary to that the mother was to be blamed. The girl was never left alone to do or make any decision by herself. Decisions for them were made by their mothers, aunties or by their elders depending on the context at hand. According to the Turkana culture females are subordinate to their male counter parts and therefore they did not have a voice in any decision making but to follow.

Girls were adorned with necklaces beautifully decorated with beads bought by their fathers at their tender age which was to be worn till marriage when she will have to replace them. The girls acted as investments by their fathers and they were taken care morally at all cost till she got a suiter. The beads were expensive and were supposed to be worn at all times except when cleaning, when bereaved or re-decorating them. The necklaces were worn around their necks majorly, while others overdid by wearing on their wrists and waists. Despite the fact that they were heavy and caused discomforts, the wearer was to bear with it till they became accustomed to them. The more the necklaces on the ladies neck the more the value was put on the girl.

The girls’ cloth were made from leather from the animals scrubbed and smeared with oil making them soft. Pieces from the leather were symmetrically extracted and used to cover the front and the rear parts of the girls while another one was used to cover the chest which was optional unless on a special occasion.

two turkana beauties adorned for a special occasion.

Their roles were fetching water, cleaning the compound, cooking, collecting firewood, assisting their mothers on all constructions and repairs to be done within the homestead, milking the animals and sometimes helping the herders fetch water for the animals.

The girls were forbidden from participating in animal slaughtering, exchange of an animal or make any decision that would affect the entire family. These were solely meant for mean not even their mothers.

When an animal was slaughtered at home or in a feast, there were certain parts of the animal they were not supposed to eat. For example, the animal Brisket, the hind right leg, the head, kidneys, liver and the spleen from the slaughtered animal. these were meant for the boys and the old men. They believed that should they eat those parts a curse or bad omen would befall on her or the family.

While slaughtering was done by men, girls were supposed to be far including where the men roasted the meat. Once they were given their share they were supposed to finish and incase she was to be given more,she would stand at a distance and a man or a boy would throw the meat so that she would catch before it fell down.

Girls were brought up knowing that any decision pertaining marriage were made by their fathers and uncles. They would not think of choosing a suitor or a family to marry from. Here the suitor and his parents or uncles would approach the girl’s parents for negotiations incase they were dimmed fit. During this process the girl was not informed until the two families agrees on the dowry and first payment made. It was after then that it was disclosed as wedding preparations were made.

According to the turkana people, marriage was a permanent act and there was no mistake for infidelity. A man would marry as enough as he could and once a girl was married, she was not supposed to go back to her parents unless on short visits. Even the husband died, the woman would be inherited by one of her husband’s brother. And this explains why they never inherited from their parents’ wealth. Once married she belonged to the other family since it was regarded as a sale-out.  

Boys on the other hand were treated with high esteem as they were prepared to be the breadwinners to the family and they determined the source of wealth to the family. They were trained as warriors from the tender age.

Boys prepared from their tender age to be responsible men.

They would join other age-groups and go for raids to boost the family’s wealth. They also looked for greener pastures and water for the animals and protected the animals and the family from the raiders and the wild animals. It was from the same animals they raided from the neighboring tribes and the boys personal share from the family that they would use to pay for their dowry when they were ready for marriage.

compiled by Emekwi Nalukoowoi

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