TURKANA RESISTANCE

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Turkana’s contribution to our country’s independence is immeasurable and unequaled, but unfortunately, this has never been captured in the resistance chronicles. And the question lingering is, “who will talk about this?”. Far from that, If you think the Kikuyu and Kalenjins were the top freedom fighters in Kenya, then you are wrong, because Turkanas also did. A few questions I kept asking myself; Why were we fighting with the British? Might it be to regain the lands taken from us? The answer is no. Here comes the reason, “We fought them because we refused to recognize and bow to their Administration.” The Turkanas refused their rule and the aftermath was devastating, we lost close to 5,000 men at the time the total population was approximately 30,000. Which other tribe in Kenya lost approximately a sixth of its population and 100s of thousands of livestock to the British like us?

It is documented that, apart from the Nandi, we were the only tribe in the region that put up a stubborn resistance against the British administration making us subject to punitive expeditions throughout the colonial era in Kenya. That very brave stance resulted in us being on the wrong side of history as our community became subject to marginalization and the freedom fighters that gave up their lives for the good of the land remained un-recognized by the local and national government to date. 

But, for the sake of knowledge, those who do not know how our forefathers traded their lives for our land, I am going to give a brief ethno-genesis of our socio-political organization and our responses vis a vis the British administration.

Briefly, at the turn of eighteenth century, before the arrival of the British, the Turkana under the leadership of Angirokol and Apatepes semi-mythological military leaders had developed military skills for Turkana territorial expansion and conquest of neighbouring communities. Unlike other communities which did not have strong political military organizations, the British found us more prepared than our other Kenyan tribes. Below is the history of our forefathers resistance to the imperialist administration and how they were eventually defeated.

Chronology of key events between 1800 – 1963

  1. At the beginning of 1800, Lokerio the son of Apatepes led the expansion of Turkana territory towards the lake, defeated the samburu and captured their camels, the period known as the Era of Turkana territorial expansion. 
  2. Nachoo and Lothuran provided military leadership to the ngimonia and ngicuro sections.
  3. Mid eighteenth century, Lokorikeny predicted the coming of Europeans.
  4. At the end of the eighteenth century, Lokorijem, a powerful diviner united the Turkana people by building powerful military units and directed them from his base from Kerio river.
  5. Our resistance to the British started with Count Samuel Teleki’s expedition in 1880’s whose arrival was met with resistance, leading to deaths of more than 300 men during expedition. The expedition saw the longest stand-off between the Turkana and the British that did not pave way for any development to the time they left Turkana land. The British hailed the conquest as a victory which in reality the turkana never bowed to their policies and rule. Turkanas never welcomed foreigners to their land leave alone accepting to fall slaves under the foreign rule. During the 1880’s massacre by Count Teleki and his party, many Turkana fighters were killed which did not seem to faze them in any way.
  6. Subsequent european expeditions of 1898, and 1901 by H.H. Austin that followed were fought and resisted fiercely, making us branded as 7 feet tricherious tiger giants  useless to try and maintain friendly intercourse with.
  7. At the turn of the century, a newly erected post at Ribo ( Kolowa) in pokot land south of Turkana land by Sir Johnson was destroyed by Endo people from across Kerio river killing 43 of its garrison but instead the Turkana were blamed because of what was termed as a bad habit and the post was relocated to Baringo.
  8. A year later a furious Ebei of Ngiesetou section “War leader” sent a Turkana delegation to Baringo with a message that he would shortly come with an army to destroy the European post in Baringo and drive them away(we fought the British beyond our territory).
  9. In 1903 as Lokorijem general Ebei’s mentor was aging, Aunomeri (who was later jailed by the British for stirring conflict), Kolitiang and Lowalel took over The Turkana leadership with Ebei remaining the most powerful military figure in southern Turkana, ngissiger, ngibochoros and ngikamatak. The British estimated that he (Ebei) could field upto 2000 fighters within a short notice.
  10. By this time the British had intensified collection of hut taxes by force, something the Turkana regarded as raids by the europeans. Therefore since the Europeans did not have their own livestock to be raided, the Turkana intensified raids on their neighbours to restock themselves.
  11. 1910 Mr. Lobwin’s (Ng’ikamatak war leader) settlement was attacked by the British span’s patrol killing 30 of his people, and confiscating over 16000 of his livestock. In retaliation, Lobwin led the resistance of hut taxes through stock raids from the neighbours whenever the British forced them to pay the hut tax, this resulted in his capture and was sent to Nairobi to be reprimanded by the Governor.
  12. 1911 Kolitieng Atol, one of the greatest diviners in south Turkana had become convinced that it would be sheer folly to cooperate with the british as such he directed Ebei ‘the military leader’ to intensify raids against the pokot, samburus and Karamojong which had already bowed to the British administration in order to compensate the livestock taken as hut taxes.
  13. In June 1912 Kolitieng and Ebei’s followers refused to pay hut taxes. These refusal quickly spread across the entire Turkana land as bushfire and Echakan, Ebei’s brother further reinforced the rejection of the British control by deepening raids against the pokots and samburus. Kolitieng and Ebei were arrested and tried for resistance. Kolitieng served his 4 years sentence in Naivasha after which he was informed that he was to be detained indefinitely as a political prisoner for 7 years.
  14. The Turkana resistance to the British intrusion and administration intensified with Kokoi the great spiritual leader in northern Turkana steadily embarking to reassert his leadership over military affairs. In the past charismatic great diviners such as Lokerio and Lokorijem, had performed the vital service of giving the Turkana warriors a renewed focus of identity, based on their overall co-ordination of military affairs. By the end of 1917, Kokoi was able to mobilize between 4,000 to 5,000 men to defend Lomogol river (Kokuro) which was a strategic striking pad for the British army.
  15. The British’s military expeditions of 1910-1915 were resisted by our fighters, forcing the British in 1918 to launch one of the largest punitive military expeditions (code named Labur patrol) they conducted on the indiginous people to neutralize the Turkana military power. A combined force of 5000 troops drawn from Sudan, the King’s African Rifles and fighters from groups antagonistic to the Turkana launched an operation that led  to deaths, confiscation of livestock and the scattering of our people across the borders, to Samburu, Isiolo, Marsabit, Laikipia, Cherengany etc. This year is called Ekaru apetaret which means the year of dispersal. That’s how our people found themselves in those places. However, we continued to put up a stubborn resistance against the British dominance and payment of hut taxes until 1926 when they reintroduced civil administration after they temporarily broke our military might and in 1928 they reinstated hut taxes.
  16. The Turkana army campaigns of 1917 saw a very important fighting force emerge, the (‘Ng’iruru) under the command of General Nathura and Ebei respectively, parts of the force came to be known  as ‘NG’IKA-NATHURA’ and NG’IKA-EBEI’ – Those of Nathura and those of Ebei. By this time, the name Ng’iruru had come to designate a hard core of inveterate, well trained opponents to the British rule upon whom Ebei, Nathura and Kokoi could depend on when forming a military expedition. This force was no match for Kikuyu’s Mau Mau.
  17. At the beginning of 1950, we embarked on resistance to British domination by deepening raids on communities that had already been under the Imperial umbrella which resulted in more military operations to purge the existence of the Turkana military which continued till independence.

From the Seventeen accounts, we can see that we really deserve a few pages in the Kenyan historiography as far as Colonial resistance is concerned and to honor these great men for the sacrifices they made for our Country’s liberation. We propose that their statutes be erected in strategic places within Lodwar Town, Lodwar Streets and Junctions named after them and a Cultural Center(just like Ofafa Memorial Hall) built in their commemoration as a way of preserving the sanity of our history and culture.

In support of the plea by Boniface Korobe (Arochang’imoe). Let history judge us!

“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” Robert Heinlein.

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