Turkana - Feature Articles

How Naked Men Dress

Although most Turkana wear clothes, there's no taboo about nakedness, and it's common enough to see both men or women casually rearranging their clothes in public. And in some areas, remote from settlements or towns, men still walk around naked but for tattoos, a few bracelets, and their ubiquitous wrist knives and headrests. One traveller wrote to the Rough Guides from the vicinity of Lokichokio up near the Sudanese border, where he reported seeing a man naked but for a Kalashnikov assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
   The following is an excerpt from "Male Circumcision in Africa" by an anonymous author, which is published on the internet by Circlist [update: no longer online. The link points to an archived copy at the Internet Archive; Circlist is now at circlist.com], with whose kind permission it is reproduced here. I have no idea whether the following is a correct interpretation or not, but it makes interesting reading.

How Naked Men Dress

The Turkana tribe of Northern Kenya has, after a study of 34 racial groups around the world, been shown in a recent American study to be the oldest society of humans so far to be traced by DNA tests. The Turkana do not circumcise and traditionally went around stark naked all their lives. I do not know of any African tribe which went "buck" naked in it's culture history and which did circumcise. Those that I know of who circumcise at least have rudimentary garments to cover their genitals. What needs to be explored is why? There is a clue: the Turkana consider a man to be naked only if the foreskin is retracted - it is the embarrassing counterpart of having one's fly undone in public! When the penis is flaccid but the glans covered, a person is not "naked". If one of the functions of the glans penis is, as I suspect from simian anatomy and sexual behavior, a sexual signaling function, the circumcising tribes would require coverings for the exposed glans - and in anthropology, covered peoples tend to look upon the naked as "backwards" - this notion of "backwardness" is not confined to Eurocentric views, but found among tribal peoples themselves. The element of "cultural pride" then comes into a tribe continuing with the practice of circumcision.

The Turkana, like certain African tribes, are noted for massive genitalia and long foreskins, such that one may suspect sexual selection for these features has taken place in evolution among these very ancient people - why? Because Turkana women widely and openly admire the men with the biggest genitalia and the non-exposure of the glans among naked peoples is facilitated by a longer foreskin. Note that among the Turkana, as with other African tribes of Nilotic origin, the flaccid penis is actually carried at "half-erect" angle in many cases - to separate true sexual excitement from this normal condition in many Turkana males, a long prepuce is helpful. Those without might have been accused of rudeness, shunned by jealous males and subject to other cultural pressures that over a long period of social evolution might have made for selection of longer foreskins to go along with bigger, semi-erect genitalia. These thoughts were as a result of reading Stephen Jay Gould, who points out that in Darwinian terms we must differentiate between wholly natural selection and sexual selection - only by such a means can we hope to answer such obvious questions as: Why do Maasai women have cone-shaped breasts? Why are Nordics large in the hip? Why do Oriental women have generally small breasts? etc - because the problem is that from a strictly Darwinian point of view, there is no "advantage" whatsoever that can be determined from evolving cone-shaped breasts. But then, when we look at an animal such as the African widow bird with it's absurd long tail it grows to attract females, and we do experiments to show that the females actually do the sexual selection from males with larger and longer tails, then we see an example of sexual selection that accounts for an otherwise useless, even disadvantageous (from a purely physical viewpoint) male widow-bird appendage.

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