Turkana Traditional Marriage


Turkana traditional marriage is called “akuta” and is one of the important aspects of life of any Turkana. It’s a rite of passage after which a man awaits to flip the last page of his/her life. It is considered to be very important and any man is considered incomplete if he has not gone through. According to the turkana culture, a man who has not married cannot be allowed to make any decision in the council of elders because he is considered still young and immature to contribute in any affairs impacting the wellbeing of the turkana society. Its therefore for this reason, that many turkana nowadays do a traditional wedding besides the modern wedding to validate their status quo in the community and earn a space in the council of elders.

According to the Turkana culture, if a man has children with a woman whom he has not paid dowry for, he cannot claim the children to be his because it is believed that they belong to their maternal family. In that case it implies that incase there is any ritual to be performed either to the children or the wife, by default it will be done in accordance to the maternal brand known as “emachar” otherwise the husband will have to pay dowry or a specific number of goats based on the agreement with the family to the wife’s to the in-laws in order to claim the children.

According to the turkana people marriage is considered eternal and divorce is not allowed but if need be, the woman’s family stands to lose by paying back the bride wealth paid by the groom during marriage accompanied by special rituals overseen by the diviners. Nonetheless, in the event the husband dies, the woman will be inherited by one of her husband’s brothers or firstborn son from her co-wives if any which I will take you through in my next article. During inheritance, there are no more bride price to be paid or traditional wedding to be done simply because the woman already belongs to the husband’s family brand. However, in the event the widow objects to be inherited she is allowed to choose one of the firstborn sons from her co-wife(ves) to be the sole decision maker in the family’s affairs.

Bride price

Marriage being one of the important aspects, the bride price is usually high and for one to marry he must possess a good number of livestock. For instance, in order for marriage to take place one needs to part way with at least fifty cattle, thirty to fifty camels and up to two hundred small stock. Therefore due to the high bride price required, a Turkana marriage arrangements usually take as long as two years of preparations or even more to allow the man look for dowry.

During this time, the man would go to friends and relatives informing them about the impending wedding and borrows some livestock for his dowry. The practice has always been known to be effective in reinforcing the social ties between the relatives as well as friends. Another source of livestock is the man’s possession gathered from childhood given by the mother and the father during his childhood. Briefly, according to the Turkana community, boys are taught to be responsible and how to own animals at their tender age in preparation for adulthood. Boys are given two or three kids or lambs to herd alongside the family’s main stock which will accumulate and by the time he is a grown man owns a number of goats and sheep which can later be exchanged for herds of cattle. The young man also participates in raids with the age groups to the neighboring communities, gifts from friends and sometimes inheritance from the father or mother for a first-born son.

Once the groom has accumulated enough stock for dowry, a negotiation for dowry will be initiated and upon consensus, the marriage ceremony is organized within three to four days. Consequently, before paying the dowry, a gift of ram accompanied with tobacco is sent to the bride groom’s family as a token of appreciation for the proposed marriage, an act referred to as “Lokururet” and then followed by another one known as “ngikumula” which is meant for the girl’s brothers and wives, cousins and other extended family members.

After the gifts have been accepted by the family members, the groom’s family goes ahead and identifies the animals to be issued and have them branded in accordance to their clan’s brand, an exercise referred to us “emachar/amachar”. This act is usually meant to seal the agreement between the two families and will always help the bride’s family identify them easily. The following day, the wedding dowry payment known as “akidet ngibaren” takes place which will be followed by a ceremonial song and dance known as “ekimwomwor” usually organized by the groom’s agemates. The dowry will then be distributed to the bride’s family dependent on the hierarchy of seniority and attachment to the bride.

Wedding day                                                                                                          

After dowry settlement, the wedding ceremony is planned the following day at a designated place usually at the bride’s locality and preference. This stage marks the climax of the marriage and  is the most sensitive step in the context that is accompanied by a number of rituals performed by an elder conversant with the Turkana customs. It’s worth noting that, the ritual is very sensitive as it may attract dire consequences to the groom and their livestock and sometimes may extend to children if not done in accordance to the traditions and customs. The first ritual normally begins very early in the morning by the killing of the bull, a ritual known as “akichum ekumwae/ekuma” done inside the animals shed. During this ritual, some He-goats are slaughtered alongside the bull for the bride’s step mothers and the father in-law’s age groups a practice known as “Nakopir”.

As the Turkana custom demands, the killing of the bull known as Ekuma is always done with a spear and the blood drawn is given to the groom and his friends to drink as the bull’s skinning takes place outside the animal shed known as “anok”. After the skinning is done, the groom’s friends carry the pieces of meat referred to as “nginerin” as they sing in praise of how fat the bull looks enticing the bride’s mother to take a bite. They will then put the meat outside the hut known as “ekol” where the bride’s mother and other elderly women are seated. The eldest woman will then take some strips of fatty meat and put around the neck of the bride’s mother as a symbol of coronation to a queen’s mother who will later share the meat to the different households based on the family she comes from.

All along, the bride is hidden in a temporarily made manyatta hut made by the bride’s mother and sisters where she sits in the hut from the morning of the event to the evening before she is kidnapped by the groom’s family. According to the Turkana customs the bride is made to sit in the hut as a show of perseverance and readiness to tackle the challenges associated with marriage. During this activity, the visitors are entertained by a group of women and men dancing their popular Turkana songs known as “edonga”.

In the evening of the event, the groom’s family will raid the hut and take the bride away. Before the bride is taken, her family will protect her before giving her up. During this exercise the two families engage in a sham-family fight with fighting sticks which is later put down as a symbol of acceptance and resolute for any difference between the two families  and the bride will be taken away. During the kidnapping, the bride will cry and wriggle depicting resistance from being taken away from her family which symbolizes breaking of the family bond between her and her family. Once the exchange is done the bride is stripped off the beaded necklaces accumulated from childhood with the necklaces brought by the groom as gift. After the bride has been taken by the groom’s family, a diviner or an elder will smear the family with white ochre described as “akiwos emunyen” and the excrement and entrails finalizing the ritual symbolizing approval by elders from both families and blessings to start their new family.

During these activities, the women are busy preparing meat and other delicacies. Usually, some specific animal organs meant for men for instance the heart and other inner organs like the lungs and liver and the lower hind parts of the animal are served. The men eat the boiled meat and drink soup sip by sip to the last drop seated in a circle known as “akiriket” starting from the eldest. Later in the evening after the ceremony is over, the elders are served with a local brew to enjoy themselves while the rest of the attendees continue dancing throughout the night free to break at any time.

After the Wedding day

In the second day after the ceremonial bull has been killed, the bride’s family will give some animals as food for their journey back home and appreciation accompanied with sacks of maize, flour, cooking oil, sugar and tobacco as a gesture for appreciation and is known as “Ngalunyet/ngakejen a ngibaren”. The quantity will however be dependent on how wealthy the bride’s family is and later a final ritual is done where the bride groom will be free to interact with her new family and enter her mother’s house to help with some house chores, a ritual known as “ngasuban”.


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