The Turkana Spy


Iruko was the son of Apuwanyang from Kwatela, a clan belonging to the Ngisiger brand. He was known to be a Turkana spy who lived around 1900s and was highly trusted by the Kwatela warriors and the community to the extent of heeding to his directives based on his assessment of the enemy’s preparedness before raids. Despite being a mono-eye, He was brave, swift and the fastest. The legendary praised his speed insinuating that he would run after an antelope and catch it with his bare hands on the run. Iruko was always steadfast to his assignments whenever the warriors wanted to go for a raid on the neighboring nomadic communities. 

The famous story about Iruko that every Kwatela child knew was about the raid organized by the Kwatela warriors on the Toposa, a South Sudanese pastoral community. As usual Iruko was sent to spy on them and collect vital information on the number of warriors or men, the kraal arrangement and the easy entry and exit points. According to the Turkana warriors that was a prerequisite before the warriors tabled the raid strategy. He would assess the enemy territory, mark their sleeping and movement patterns, the kraal with more livestock, collect information on their strength and weakness and finally after his assessment he would decide on the kraal to be invaded and when. One day he went as usual and on approaching the Toposa territory he accidentally met with the Toposa men in the outskirts of the kraals feasting on roasted meat referred to by the turkana as ipeyot under a tree on a sunny day. Like a prey head on with the predator, running back was an option but for the great Iruko, as cunning as he was, the mission was what he would die for.

The men recognized him as a turkana but due to his appearance judging by the ash he had applied on his body and going naked the elders persuaded the warriors not to harm him. His visit to them was in the guise of either an outcast exiled by his kinsmen or had a loose mind. The victim play was magical as his guise made him seem very vulnerable and compromised, winning him pity from the eyes of his spectators. They offered him a space around the fire and a piece of meat to roast along with them and indeed Iruko played so well as a character.

As he feasted on the meat his brain was busy buzzing assessing the situation with eyes and ears on the ground in terms of their weapons, the number of warriors available, the entry and exit points to the community and the kraals arrangement as well as how fast the warriors would counter their invasion. To him time was of great essence to prevent the waiting warriors from invading based on the assumption that their spy was busted. After exploiting the enemy’s vulnerability, it was time for him to leave but since his life was hanging in the balance, he devised an exit strategy by exploiting what he was best at. As usual, Iruko never disappointed and he would always seal his assignment with evidence of undoubted souvenirs from the enemy. He was indeed a master of disguise who played his poker so well.

On most occasions Iruko took any meat to his warriors but that day mind lingered on breastbone meat also known as atorob. He knew so well that none of the warriors would outmatch him on the run and so he decided to pick the roasted sternum from the fire and threw ahead of him and ran towards it, picked and ran as fast as he was with the meat. The warriors ran after him but none could catch him. In the thicket he disappeared with the meat rendering his pursuers hopeless and returned back as he met the Turkana warriors on the other side giving full account of his collection and encounters in the enemy line. Usually, the warriors never went to a raid whenever the spy blew his cover as it would ward off any chances of a successful raid and to avoid ambush and loss of lives the raid was suspended. Iruko knew how important his role was to his community and held onto his resilience by not joining the other warriors back to the community but instead went back and pitched tent in the hidings so as to continue spying on the Toposa kraals and the grazing lands for the warriors until the time was right to strike.

As the legend goes, one evening Iruko moved to one of the Toposa Kraal hosting a feast. They had slaughtered a bull during the day and the feast extended till dusk. In one of the households, there was a boiling pot with meat and the bull’s tongue which according to their tradition belonged to the men. Since the owner of the house was not in the vicinity, Iruko decided to replace the meat with a baby that was sleeping at the corner of the hut and left with the bull’s tongue meant for men. When the mother returned and checked the pot ready to serve the waiting men seated outside the main hut, she realized something weird from the pot. When she checked where she laid the baby, she realized that the baby was missing.

Then she heard a voice behind the fence shouting in the native language, Mmm! Atachakaki ika ache Namot,” meaning that he has thrown someone’s child into the boiling pot, in a sarcastic tone. When the Toposa warriors and the woman heard that they were all on their heels with the woman wailing in bitterness. The warriors searched for him in the dark but their efforts bore no fruit. He made fun of them by running to another direction repeating the same song over and over again in different directions until the entire village was thrown into a quagmire and thought of him as a shape-shifter and gave up with the pursue. Iruko continued causing trouble to the residents until they were scared of him and moved away leaving that village unoccupied and unclaimed by them as their territory.

To date Iruko Apuwanyang has remained a legendary among the Kwatela and he is still remembered not for his mischief but for demarcating the border between the Turkana and the Toposa with a landmark famously known as Emejen Iruko, the place and tree he encountered with the Toposa roasting meat that fateful day. Emejen Iruko is a place approximately 15 Km from Narus town in South Sudan as you go towards Kapoeta. His Legacy drew the line between the Turkana and the Toposa land, solving the territorial dilemma on the disputed land between the two warring pastoral communities.

   Story told by: Mzee Imo 79 years old from Natiir one Village –Lokichoggio (2019)


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