About the Turkana Region

The name “Turkana” describes a district of Kenya, a lake and a tribe of people. Whatever it refers to, the name evokes a sense of “bigness”. Turkana District is a large wilderness --- almost 67000 km2 --- demarcated on 3 sides from almost identical wilderness by artificial boundaries that were created by colonial powers drawing arbitrary lines on maps. To the north is Sudan. To the west is Uganda. To the south are the lands of the Pokot and Samburu. Only in the east is there a natural boundary; this is Lake Turkana, the “Jade Sea”, the largest desert lake in the whole world, with a length of 260 km and a width varying between 10 and 50 km.
The Turkana people who inhabit this land are larger than life; tall, tough, egoistic, loud-talking, nomadic pastoralists with a well-deserved reputation for fierceness in war. Their brashness is part of their survival package in a hostile environment where each individual and family is a truly independent entity.

Yes, Turkana is something special. But, it is not for the faint-hearted; go there expecting some pain mixed with the pleasure; go there when you are not pressed for time; and, last but not least, go there with a good, reliable vehicle and someone who is familiar with the region.
Yes, Turkana is more than a safari. It is simply an unforgettable experience: an experience of bright white sunlight, from a cloudless, azure sky, reflecting from limitless expanses of sand and rocks; an experience of searing heat in the middle of the day and dehydrating winds laden with fine dust that penetrates every crevice of ones clothing, ones bedding and ones food. Turkana is rolling waves of brown water crashing onto a lonely beach of white sand, inhabited only by straggling Doum Palms and shaggy cormorants drying themselves on an isolated rock. It is beautiful sunrises over the lake; an island silhouetted black against the red-gold curtain in the East; and warm, balmy evenings with sounds of brief activity fading gradually into the songs and laughter of the people --- and then, imperceptibly, into surreal silence.

About the People

Turkana WomanThe Turkana refer to themselves as Ngiturkan while their land is Eturkan. The Turkana are nomadic pastoralists who are to be found in all parts of their district and beyond. They are continually pushing at their southern and south-eastern boundaries in an effort to gain more grazing and browsing for their animals ---- even as far as the Suguta Valley, a place where temperatures can reach well over 50° C at mid-day and a persistent wind stirs up clouds of fine pumice dust.

There is no doubt that, in the 120 years since Teleki was in Turkanaland, the region has been getting even drier than it was. The Turkana people have recognised this by turning increasingly to camels as their source of milk and the basis of their wealth; following the example of the Rendille and related tribes to the East of Turkana, who have always been camel people.

Within recent times a number of Turkana have taken to fishing, driven to it by severe famines and persuaded to it by a government initiative to build a fish-processing factory at Kalokol. Unfortunately, decreasing lake levels and dwindling fish stocks saw the collapse of the industry and the factory left, literally, high and dry. Recent government and church- sponsored initiatives have revived the fishing business in Kalokol and at Loiyangalani, but at a relatively low level.

The Turkana house is a very simple affair made from a few branches and strips of palm leaves tied together. In very arid regions, it can be even simpler, a loose assemblage of cut bushes that one could walk past without realising it is a human habitation. Given this simplicity, one might consider the Turkana to have no art or imagination, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are masters of innovation and decoration and very vain about personal body ornamentation. They use wood and leather, egg shells and stones, bone and horns, metals and beads and almost anything you can imagine, in their art and crafts.

The traditional head-rest/stools known as ekicholong and their snuff containers can be very finely made. They also make a wide variety of containers and kitchen implements. Weapons include the spear, shields and fighting sticks and the rather unusual wrist-knives and finger-knives with their protective sheaths. The Turkana are also renowned for their basket weaving skills.