The Forum

Reclaiming the Nomadic Spirit in the Face of Materialistic Conflict: Turkana-Pokot Conflict and the Threat to the Nomadic Spirit

By Immanuel Lokwei,

(This article makes better sense read the fourth-time).

If the Pokots are the grass[1], Turkanas should be the wind. Confucius[2] says, “The essence of the gentleman is that of wind; the essence of small people is that of grass. And when a wind passes over the grass, it [grass] cannot choose but bend.[3]

Before we proceed, let’s define the scope within which our opening line should be interpreted. I hope it is obvious that the opening line above is only employed for its metaphorical importance, which is to depict what groups of people should aim at (to be the mighty wind). The quotation is neither a confirmation nor an assertion of the differences that exist (status, etc.) among the antagonizing groups of people, nor a mark of humiliation or degradation that one group is attempting to brand another. All humans are equals, at least in principle.

We can correct the opening line to fit well with the current Turkanas-Pokots ethnic struggle: If the Pokots want grass, land, water, space, guns, or even if they want oil, the Turkanas should still be the wind. Okay, hold on, you say! What the heck is going on?

First, am I suggesting that the Turkanas should be the sacrificial lambs? That they should give up their ancestral land and the exercise of their traditions which are mostly geographically specific, and that they should put on saintly clothing even against their will and retreat (away from this inter-tribal intrusion) into oblivion?

Second, by surrendering their rights to their properties, are the Turkanas not exposing a fraternal deficiency (failure to congregate and effectively respond to external tribal threats)? Mind you, weakness of character is antithetical to the nomads’ intuitive sense of honor. So how can we (as spectators) claim the Turkanas acted honorably once they retreat? How can we compare the mighty and brave acts of Wind with their deluded/contradictory sense of nobility? Mmh!!!

Wind is immaterial; there is no denying that. And there is no denying that if the Pokots are the grass, the Turkanas will not necessarily become the wind. If there is anything they are likely to become, this will be fire. The Turkanas would rather be the burning fire razing the wild grass of West Pokot. The Turkanas say to our gospel of Wind, “No thank you, but we will rather have guns and gun power, land, space, water, and even more grass for our fire.” I can feel some Turkanas acknowledging and nodding their approval.

But see the contradiction – once the grass[4] is completely burnt, fire then retreats to a state of non-existence. Fire eventually kills itself by unsparing and inconsiderately consuming its fuel, grass.

Okay, PAUSE: This argument might have some serious flaws.

First (first criticism), this whole argument is based on hypothetical thinking and it is in desperate need of statistical backing for it to be relevant at all to the Turkanas-

Pokots relationship. Second, the grass-fire argument is somewhat disanalogous to the Pokots-Turkanas relationship. While fire depends on its fuel (grass) for existence and activity, this does not necessarily translate to the relationship between Turkanas and Pokots. It is imaginable, though highly unlikely in the foreseen near future, that either the Turkanas or the Pokots could annihilate the other without affecting a single hair of their own.

And even if this grass-fire argument is granted, the Turkanas may ask: would you rather be the first or the last to fade out of existence given the chance? If the Pokots are grass and Turkanas fire, the least that Turkanas can gain is the chance to witness their comrades’, the Pokots, extermination before their own steps in. At least the Turkanas will have had the last laugh, some would say.

Okay okay. The above objections are understandable though nonetheless inadequate to bring down the force of this article’s argument.

In order to more fully address these criticisms, we must consider the question of “What is it to be the grass? And what is it to be the wind?

To be the grass is to be material. What I mean is that to be grass is to be overly enamored by material gains to the point of forgetting intrinsic values of other sorts of relationships.

Grass-like lifestyles are already dismantling the fabric of our societies. It is easy to prove this with quite reliable sources. Victims of ethnic violence, ignored orphans, and despised widows and widowers, all of them are witnesses to this deterioration. Kenyan media too have covered, though to an unsatisfactory level, the consequences of this ethnic violence. There are rumors of Pokots’ allegations that the oil-rich part of Turkana is theirs. As if this was not enough to chill our hearts, the little “controversial” piece of land has already been hijacked and privatized by some, I believe, selfish politicians and businessmen.

All in all, it is easy to understand what being grass means. But how can we ourselves relate to such an immaterial thing as wind? First let us understand the concept of a nomadic spirit, so that we may understand what being the wind means.

There are two properties that I believe are the central features of a nomadic spirit. These are the nomadic spirit’s unique fondness to animate life and its resilient-like nature.  These two properties are at the core of what it is to be a nomad and have a nomadic spirit.

Turkanas and Pokots are alike in this respect. We all love livestock and in many ways each of us has not only adapted to, but has overcome hardships of our environment over and over again. Once and then we get knocked down off our feet but we do bounce back to our unique rhythms of life. Each Pokot, Each Turkana, and every Nomad, be it in Kalahari or Gobi desert, share these central features of nomadic spirit.

Following this reasoning, then it is reasonable to claim that there is part of me that is a Pokot and that there is part of me that is in every Pokot. There is a Pokot pigment in every Turkana and a slice of Turkana in every Pokot (Probably a huge chunk).

The essence of the spirit cannot be adulterated by deficiencies of character.  Character and Spirit are different. Behaviorally, I am a Turkana since I have been brought up in Turkanas culture. The same applies to Pokots; they may act sometimes differently due to their unique upbringing. The only distinction that there is, is a superficiality, especially if you believe that the spirit matters more than manifestations of characters.

Behaviors are highly malleable. So are the cultures, which are always in constant change. Everyday, our conceptualization of culture is reformed. Thus the only lasting qualities are the elements of our nomadic spirits.

Nomadic spirit cannot turn against itself and consume itself to extinction. We cannot entertain the idea of war amongst ourselves (Pokots and Turkanas); war is extermination. Furthermore, we depend on things that are external from us to know who we are. From our previous article, “Searching for an African Identity via Turkana Desert,” we had argued for a negative strategy of affirming ones’ identity. Knowledge of oneself is incomparable. We cannot therefore afford to be the fire to the Pokots if they decide to be grass or even if they are becoming grass.

But it is easy to lose one’s nomadic spirit in the sense that one’s awareness of it is clogged by other factors such as material obsessions. When we see Pokots or even other Turkanas guided by exceeding greed, it is not that in essence they are different from us; it is simply that they have lost touch with who they are. Polluted by their life contradictions.

It is easy to forget the vibrancy of one’s spirit and look for solace in objects whose purposes are purely instrumental. For instance, land serves this kind of instrumental function; it is not the absolute value we are always looking for but only a means to further our search for these absolute values. Well, this is obvious.

So when we see those that have lost their spirits and gotten caught up in a material trend, we should criticize their irrational desire and work to change it, since if we do not, we end victimized by such irrationalities. But at the same time we should realize that at the core of their submerged spirits, we are all the same.

One of the first steps of this liberation is finding ways of reviving the awareness of this nomadic spirit among those people who have lost it. This time we are not only targeting the Pokots but also the Turkanas who have corrupted our society (I mean those who are involved in scandals like the Ngamia 1 land-block, CDF, etc.) and taken an illegal advantage of our destitute state. And why should we strive to revive this awareness? The identity which is entrenched in our nomadic spirits, and not necessarily in our cultures, depends on the holistic sustenance of all individual selves that contain a spark of this nomadic spirits. If we do not strive to change them, we will always be the victims of their ignorance.

In short, we should be the wind so that we can penetrate all the obstacles imposed by the stunted growth of semi-arid grasses.

(I realize that we have not discussed in details how we can liberate these people. In addition to this, I owe Mr. Ekal Imana some answers: one of his questions was, how could we liberate (educate) these people. Though I think addressing the issue of liberation is urgent, I do not think it was necessary for the completion of this article. I have not really had enough time to write down ideas about possible ways of initiating this liberation. But now that I have some time on my hand, liberation will be the subject-matter of the next article. Thanks a lot.)

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee replied simply, “The one you feed.”  Cherokee Wisdom


[1] The meaning of this word grass will unfold in due course. (Just keeping your curiosity up.)

[2] An Ancient Eastern Philosopher

[3] Analects [12:19], Waley’s translation

[4] Please bear with this word, grass. You’re just a few lines away from realizing it figurative meaning. We hope it has… kidding!!!

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