Turkana Women Rite Of Passage(Akinyonyo)

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The African society considers initiation as a very important aspect of life to any individual. Just as the Bantus value circumcision for their boys believing that it bridges childhood to adulthood, so do the Turkana for their boys and girls. However, the Turkana traditional rite of passage does not involve circumcision for boys or female genital mutilation for girls but it involves a ritual known as asapan and akinyonyo respectively. To cut the long story short, our focus today is on women, a ritual known as akinyonyo. This is the rite of passage that one has to undertake after marriage specifically after the handing over ceremony known as ekumwa. As discussed in the previous article, the bride is escorted by the bridegroom’s family to their dwelling home or the husband’s home and conferred as the rightful wife for that particular home where she will spend the night with the customary mother or the care-giver known as atakeng.

Very early in the morning, she would be brought out of the hut as the sun rises from the horizon and made to sit on a bull’s hide Infront of the hut, surrounded by other women and girls. She would then be stripped off the traditional attires and ornaments amassed from childhood and shared amongst the girls and family relatives who are not married. Such occasions are strictly meant for women. The ritual is usually conducted by the eldest co-wife from the family who happens to be very conversant with the traditions of the turkana society. Just after removing the garments and the ornaments, the bride would be vested the traditional vestments for married women such;

  • Front apron (abwo) and Behind Aprons(adwel) made from animal skin.
  • Beaded necklaces.
  • Long chest Apron (Eleu) depending on the family brand or emachar of the husband where others prefer small covering only the chest.
  • Neck and Ankles Ring belonging to the Husband’s tree branch color, for instance, Brass/ Copper for Ngirisae, a brand named after the Leopards while silver/ Aluminum for Ngimoru, brand named after the mountains.
  • the Woman walking stick (Ebela).
  • Leather sandals (Ngajuom)  made from Cows’ hide.

The Bride would then be shaved in accordance to the husband’s brand and then smeared with fats (Akuring) extracted from the Ram meant to be celebrated by the women vesting the bride. The fat is usually smeared all over the body of the bride as well as the attires.

According to the turkana traditions, the ceremony is meant to instill responsibility to the woman and prepare her to take the mantle of all the tasks of the family and execute under the instructions and guidance of the customary mother until she gives birth to her first-born child. The next morning after the ritual, the customary mother and the husband would lead the bride to the livestock pens(anok/nganokin) and gift her with livestock.  After the customary mother, the co-wives and the friends would follow with their gifts to the new couples. As the tradition permits, 2-3 Weeks after the ritual, the husband would take the bride to visit his friends and relatives in what is referred as ” Anyarare“. This is a kind of compensation and appreciative gifts to the bride and the groom. These visitations may take 1-2 months before returning home which is compared to the modern-day honeymoon. The livestock received from the visits become a sole property for the couples.

All along the young woman remains under the care of the customary mother taking sessions on the traditions, culture, and taboos that are believed to be a recipe for bad omen and destruction to the family until the first-born child is born. Literally, the woman is believed to be equipped with the dos and don’ts for that particular brand and the entire society. However, even after that she remains subject to the council by the customary mother and would always seek advice or consult in case of conflict with the husband in the future. The birth of the first-born child seals womanhood and earns her respect in the community, husband’s brand, and age group and would be referred to as “Aberu Aituan” which means someone’s wife. Contrary to the modern-day wedding, Turkana traditions do not give room for infidelity as well as divorce as it is uncalled for and punishable with serious repercussions.

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