Turkana - Feature Articles

Where do I belong?

By Paul Lechornai; reprinted by kind permission of The Seed Magazine, P.O. Box 14861 Nairobi, Kenya. First published on the internet by the Consolata Fathers. See the copyright notice for textual extracts.


The following illuminating article was written by a Christian school teacher of mixed Samburu and Turkana parentage. His home, Loiyangalani, is a small village oasis on the southeastern shore of the lake, inhabited by a mixture of Turkana, Samburu, El Molo and Rendille tribespeople. The name of the village means 'the place of trees', and indeed, it's one of very few shaded areas around the lake's entire circumference.
   The majority of Loiyangalani's population are former herders dispossessed by the droughts of the last three decades. They now survive meagerly by fishing, running small businesses, and from very limited income from infrequent travellers, namely a dozen or two weekly passengers on the 'Turkana Buses' run by Nairobi safari companies.
   Although each tribe has settled in its own clearly marked area of the village, the atmosphere is remarkably friendly and easy-going. Ironically, it is only through having lost their herds and hence part of their tribal identity that coexistence has proved possible, even if church services are still held in their different languages.
   The article describes the journey of the school teacher from Loiyangalani to his school on Mount Kulal, 40km away, and aptly illustrates the tensions and contradictions of being caught between two tribes who are often at war. The fact of his being Christian, as well as certain unexpected opinions ('the backwardness of my people') also points to the loss of his original identity, but his hope and humanity is universal.

Where do I belong? by Paul Lechornai

There was a flash like a reflection, before I saw the silhouette of a man against the sky of a moonlit night with a rifle strapped over the shoulder. He sat and it was only then that I saw the huge black mass of men crouched, with the muzzles of their automatic rifles pointing skywards. Two others came and sat. Another three were coming at a distance. Obviously a raid was underway.

Images came to me in flashes. My eight year old son's eyes full of uncertainty and fear, when I tell him that I shall have to leave tonight. My sons' clumsy positions, when I kissed them goodbye while asleep at night. My five year old son pleading "Our home is nice. Why must you go papa? Stay with us." My wife leaning on me in a farewell hug with the cool tears from her eyes trickling down my chest.

Thus I came face to face with my worst fears! For years I have braved through hyenas and lions, through zebras and puff-adders, through thirst and fatigue, through desert and forests, through deep valleys and armadas; but human beings? The sight of raiders at night could melt the strongest of hearts. It was my worst fear because I had both blood and physical markings! If the raiders are from the Turkana, they would strip me, to be certain of my tribe. That would mean imminent death as they would find me to have undergone Samburu initiation rites into the L'kiroro generation way back in 1981. My mother was a Turkana married to a Samburu. Soon after her husband died she went back to her people. I was a little boy then and my Turkana aunts caught me by force and cut two parallel lines on my brow to signify a Turkana son. If the raiders would be from the Samburu, they would check on my forehead and the parallel lines would give me away. Did I choose any of the blood? I took a wide arc to avoid them, heading to my place of work.

I was posted to a school on Mt. Kulal. From my home at Loiyangalani, I had to track forty kilometres on every school's opening and closing dates. It was risky and tedious, but I felt obliged due to the backwardness of my people and my homeland. I was always sorry that education meant nothing to my people.

Soon, I had devised a plan to cross the forty kilometre stretch at night only, so as to evade ruthless cattle rustlers who had become killer raiders recently. My wife was the first to condemn the move and there was lots of sense in her argument. Should anything have happened, would I have died while on duty? would my employer value my corpse? would my two peoples notice any difference? for how long will my babies miss me? At one time the stretch became extremely dangerous. A Samburu moran went missing while crossing. I was at home then and I requested for an immediate transfer from my superiors who were about 300 km away. I was ordered to report to my place of duty immediately and request for a transfer from there. I was beginning to get names. From the Turkana in Loiyangalani I was called a spy for the Samburu at Mt. Kulal. From the Samburu at Mt. Kulal I was called a spy for the Turkana in Loiyangalani. Should I continue sacrificing for the sake of my people?

It beats me how, at the end of the twentieth century, my people don't know what Kenya is. While the rest of the world is struggling to form a global village with reflections on humanity. A village with respect to human life and democratic rights. A clean healthy village with a priority to eliminate human suffering to the best of its ability. A village that might someday use the same laws and the same currency with given time. The absurdity of it all weighs heavily especially me because I don't know my tribe!

There is a word that I always see it as hazy and never shall I ever see the sense in its meaning: tribe! Well tradition dictates to me that I belong to my father. I have long accepted it and I have lived comfortably in both communities. Little did I know that in times of life and death between my peoples I shall belong to none! And I am an enemy to both. When I am with the Samburu they call me a Turkana. When I am with the Turkana they call me a Samburu!

Attacks and counter-attacks of vengeance escalated the simple cattle rustling of ages ago into wanton destruction and senseless killings. Man is said to be a social being but I think the sociability in him only comes about as a necessity in everyday life; or, perhaps, having an identity like that of tribe, religion, nationality etc. helps to crack an inhibited shell of cruelty and violence against fellow men of a different identity, given the slightest opportunity. The opportunity will never cease to exist and I am afraid we shall remain a "developing Nation" for quite some time before a true sense of national identity takes roots. This is one area that Kenya's National goals of education have failed miserably. Initially it was a handful of home runaways, who were praised in dances for their bravery and greatness in deeds of brutality. The killings went on for quite some time unobserved and never echoed until a government helicopter was gunned down; only when sixteen policemen were killed in one attack, did a difference occur.

The ever successful raiders, the utterances of leaders, the taking sides by Christians and non Christian alike, the fuelling of retaliations by catalysts of divisions with their own selfish ambitions, helped to extend the ever widening ripples of hatred and differences without mentioning the socio-economic impact on the vital inter-tribal coexistence.

In the current situation there is very little the government can do to arrest the carnage. The powers are in the hands of us Christians! Why do we knowingly accuse our government falsely? This is our country and there is not another one! I challenge, us Christians: if only we could decide on a meaningful 'No!', together...

visit bluegecko.org

Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle
Planosphere.com - fine art photography