Cattle raiding among peoples living at the Northern end of the Rift Valley in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and Ethiopia has, by some estimates, become an increasing problem in recent years.[1]  This paper examines Turkana cattle raiding through ethno-history and current anthropological studies in an attempt to make connections between the practice of cattle raiding and Turkana ethnicity.  Often, the root causes of cattle raiding are identified by peace-seeking NGOs[2] as directly related to 1) the scarcity of resources in the harsh arid environment and the ensuing poverty, and 2) the availability of automatic weapons (AK-47s).  I argue that these external factors alone are insufficient in describing the root causes of Turkana cattle raiding.  Internal ethno-religio factors, including the structure of a moral economy, the belief in divine ethnic election, and the role of traditional religious diviners/priests (emuron) must also be examined as root causes for anyone seeking solutions to the problems of cattle raiding in the Northern Rift Valley.

In fact, ethno-historical evidence suggests that even in ethnogenesis, the Turkana were at war for their own survival, yet were merely pawns in an international struggle between the British and the Ethiopians.  Even today the Turkana are on the margins of what it means to be Kenyan and often find themselves in an “imaginary state” of the Elimi Triangle between Kenya, Uganda and Sudan (Odiambo 1991:294)  Thus, Turkana militarism became an essential part of Turkana identity and survival in the region.  Any solutions for peace in the region must acknowledge both the internal and external factors as root causes.  The position of this paper is that Christians in the region offer unique solutions for affecting change in the internal factors, including concepts of forgiveness, sacrifice, and implementation of the traditional Turkana “peace covenant” meal.


Personal Experience with Ngingoroko

Living among the Turkana as a missionary from 1999-2008, I had numerous encounters with the Turkana ngingoroko, or cattle raiders, especially along the north end of the Kerio river valley.  Four specific experiences will suffice to highlight my personal progression in understanding who the ngingoroko are.  First, I remember a middle-of-the-night experience early on in our first year of language learning when Lopeyok, our language assistant, woke my wife and me up to tell us that the ngingoroko were coming and that we needed to leave as soon as possible.  We had not heard of the ngingoroko before and were not certain what we should do.  “What will they do if they come here?” I asked Lopeyok.  “They will force people to give them animals,” he replied.  Even though Lopeyok was scared, we did not consider the ngingoroko to be a serious threat to us as missionaries; we did not own any animals.  “What will the rest of the people in the village do?” I asked.  “They are all going to hide and sleep in the trees and bushes tonight.”  The next day we found that the ngingoroko had come to a village south of us, but there were not problems; they were only passing through.

Our next experience with the ngingoroko was in the middle of the day.  As missionaries are especially wont to make mistakes in their first year of language and culture learning in Turkana, I had been talked into buying a camel from one of my neighbors.[3]  I paid too high of a price and the camel was immediately slaughtered for a community feast, as was the plan, in order to build a stronger relationship between the community and our family, and to eat a few hundred pounds of meat.  I remember as our family arrived at the river we were greeted by young men running around in some sort of military formation with their AK-47s.  Some of the men I recognized as men from our village, but most of them I had never seen before.  We were very intimidated.  “What are they doing?”  “They are the ngingoroko from this area; they are practicing and showing the elders their tactics.”  I began to understand that the ngingoroko who went on cattle raids, mainly among the Pokot south of our area, were made up of smaller local bands of young men.  Through their military “dances” with rifles in hand, I recognized that Turkana communities, while often afraid of the large groups of ngingoroko from other areas, both supported and encouraged the efforts of their local men.

The third vignette is similar to many experiences we had with visits by ngingoroko during our time in Turkana.  Bands of fierce, intimidating young men would arrive at our home while traveling through the area, all carrying AK-47s and wearing

military style shirts and whistles.  They would stop at our place in the middle of the day when it was too hot for serious travel on foot, and begin singing and dancing.  In return for their singing and dancing, my wife was expected to make Kenyan chai for all the men and it was also expected that I would give the group some money (about the equivalent of $15-20) so that they could buy food.  Having constructed a traditional stick and palm leaf fence around our homestead, the ngingoroko who passed through our area learned that my wife and I would not even greet them if they brought their rifles inside the fence.  “Leave your guns outside the fence with one of the men,” I would tell them, “then dance so that my wife can bring you tea.”  With whistles blowing all the men danced in the hot sun for chai, all except one, who was left outside with the teepee of rifles placed around a small thorn bush.

The final story is the most recent.  Noticing that many of the men in the village were missing one day, I ventured out to see if there was an event in the village that I was missing.  Sometimes these events were set-up to discuss what to do about me, but thankfully this was not the case on this day.  I could hear that a large group of men had gathered inside a patch of thick palm trees next to the river.  As I entered through the trees the seated men all seemed surprised to see me, but did not pay me much attention.  Three goats had been killed and roasted and it was just about time to start eating.  A large group of the men, about 30, were armed and unknown to me.  They were ngingoroko traveling through and had forced one of the village elders to kill some goats for them to eat.  What was impressed upon me the most that day was that one of the local diviners was offering prayers of blessing and protection for the ngingoroko while spreading the contents of the goat stomachs on a few of the men’s chests and arms.

From these four stories representing my limited interaction with Turkana ngingoroko during the time I lived in Turkana, I can construct the progression of my personal understanding of cattle raiders, or ngingoroko, in Turkana.  First, young men in most communities participated with the ngingoroko, and while they were mostly local groups, they had a well-defined military style that was approved by the elders.  Second, these groups were not normally violent toward people as they traveled in their local areas.  With the amount of firepower they carried, they could have extorted far more from others and us.  Instead, there seemed to be an etiquette that was followed.  Finally, the village elders and the traditional religion diviners/priests supported the ngingoroko in their endeavors.  The diviners offered prayers of protection and blessing for them, while the elders offered them food.

While these observations do not provide explicit “root causes” that explain Turkana cattle raiding, I do believe they have offered me particular insight into considering a few internal factors.  These internal factors would include a strong connection between the elders and traditional religious leaders with the cattle raiders, the possibility of a moral economy, or a system of redistribution of wealth at the local level, in connection with cattle raiding; and a belief in divine ethnic election in which diviners offer blessings from God on those who are preparing for raids.  After exploring cattle raiding as a problem and the ways in which its root causes have been defined, we will return to these possible internal influences that have come out of my personal experiences and research in Turkana.


The Cattle Raiding Problem

The Kenyan state, along with international NGOs and aid organizations, complain that in spite of a multitude of efforts to stop cattle raiding in the Northern Rift Valley, the raiding has continued and even intensified.  During my research in the fall semester of 2009, I collected articles from the online version of The Daily Nation one of the two prominent independently owned newspapers in Kenya.  At least 24 articles I collected directly relate to either Turkana cattle raiding in other areas or cattle raiding by others in Turkana.  Two brief representative articles, one from the beginning of the semester and one from the end, are offered here:


Rustlers drive away 100 head of cattle[4]

By PHILEMON SUTER and WYCLIFF KIPSANG  Posted Wednesday, September 23 2009 at 23:22

At least 100 head of cattle were on Wednesday stolen from Kapkanyar and Kamoi border villages in Marakwet West District by suspected armed Pokot rustlers.

Residents were overpowered by the raiders, who had sophisticated weapons in the 8pm attack. The villagers said the animals were driven through the notorious “Kona Nne”, a route favoured by rustlers.

“Our bows and arrows were no match for the raiders’ AK-47 rifles,” lamented Mr Samuel Chepkole. Marakwet West district commissioner John Ondego said police officers were in Kabolet forest to hunt down the raiders.

“I am also going to the forest. In the wake of this renewed wave of cattle raids over the past two months, something must be wrong with the border communities,” he said.

He said security officers from Kapsowar police station had been dispatched to team up with their Kapcherop counterparts to track down the rustlers.

Marakwet West MP Boaz Kaino appealed to the government to put in place measures to stop the border livestock thefts. Kapenguria police recovered 41 head of cattle stolen two weeks ago.

The council of elders and church leaders from East Pokot has called for a lasting solution to banditry among the Tugen, the Ilchamus, the Turkana, and the Samburu.

Speaking in Marigat yesterday, the leaders, among them the Rev Yusuf Losute of the Africa Inland Church, called for reconciliation between the warring communities

Provoked fights

They said the Pokot were not the only ones to blame for the raids, claiming that bordering communities also provoked fights. “We are now ready to identify the homesteads that have guns and those that misuse them,” they said.

They asked the government to carry out another disarmament operation among pastoralists and expressed concern at the recent raid on Kinampiu village in Samburu which left 35 people dead.


Three killed as raiders steal camels[5]

By NATION Team  Posted Tuesday, December 8 2009 at 22:00

In Summary

+Source said the gang fled towards East Pokot District

Three people have been killed in a cattle raid in Turkana East District.

More than 375 camels were driven away by the raiders, suspected to be from Pokot.

Speaking by telephone, area District Peace Committee chairman Nicholas Ngikior said the large group of raiders fled towards Ndomei area in East Pokot.

He identified the victims of the raid in Kangoleyang as Loriangolya Lokyaru, 36, Lobei Meroni, 21, and Anyingny Esekon, 19.

Neither area district commissioner Elmi Shafi nor police boss George Anyona could be reached for comment.

While these articles point to the ongoing nature of cattle raiding, they also bring forward one of the commonly held beliefs in regard to the cause of cattle raiding in the region, namely, the proliferation of weapons.  There is no doubt that cattle raiding is a problem in the Northern Rift Valley and that the availability of weapons and ammunition in the region has changed the nature of the raiding and the violence.  But, the availability of weapons is only one external factor contributing to the problem.

There have been many attempts and plans for peace in this region, with major worldwide NGOs participating, including Oxfam, USAID, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and the Netherlands Development Organization (SNV).  Local Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) have also participated; even Christian leaders from neighboring ethnicities have met together for prayer and reconciliation.  Sometimes weapons have been collected by the government, sometimes peace agreements have been signed, “but few have lasted longer than a year before fighting resumed” (Eaton 2008a:91).  What are some of the reasons these organizations have failed in their efforts through the years?  While Eaton suggests that the failures of NGOs in the region is linked to insincerity and corruption (see Eaton 2009b), the suggestion of this paper is that they have focused too much on the external factors.


Turkana Cattle Raiding: Essentialist and Anti-essentialist Understandings

            Early descriptions of East African Pastoralists often focus on cattle raiding and violence as being a natural characteristic of people who are essentially “ferocious,” “belligerent” and “warlike” (Jacobs in Fukui 1979:48).  These essentialist descriptions only saw internal influences for violence, believing that it was the primordial nature of peoples like the Turkana that caused them to be violent (see Turton in Fukui 1979:179-210).  These essentialist anthropological explanations of cattle raiding, including descriptions of the “noble warrior” rarely included recognition of “external influences on the ethnic groups they were studying” (Eaton 2008a:93).  According to the essentialists, there were no external determining factors for cattle raiding; it was a natural part of what it meant to be Turkana.

At the end of the 20th century, there was a much needed corrective response by anthropologists to this essentialist view of violence in certain cultures.  It was pointed out that from essentialist studies came harmful stereotypes of indigenous peoples, “often held by researchers, government officials, aid and development workers, [of indigenous peoples] as arrogant, warlike, economically irrational, unresponsive to development and environmentally destructive” (Hendrickson 1998:188).  As we have seen repeatedly in the study of ethnic conflict, when people are objectified as essentially violent or evil, it makes it all too easy for dominant cultures to “justify the obliteration of indigenous cultures in the name of civilization” (Ferguson 1995:62).  Certainly this was the position of the British as they massacred the Turkana in the Turkana Patrol of 1918 (Collins 2006:117).  The example of the Yanomami is instructive for us here, for recent studies among the “Yanomami have taught us to proceed with extreme caution before assuming warfare in indigenous groups is pristine and isolated;” instead, they are often firmly connected to external factors (Ferguson 1995:62-63).

In regard to cattle raiding in East Africa, there has now clearly been a shift in the literature since the 1980s to a more anti-essentialist position.  These more recent studies have “reversed [the essentialist] approach and focus almost exclusively on the external factors responsible for transforming cattle raiding from a traditional sport to a predatory or commercial endeavor” (Eaton 2008a:94).  In 2000, Michael Fleisher argued that cattle raiding has changed,

from its pre-colonial roles of demonstrating the mettle of new warriors and enlarging the community cattle herd to an illicit, oft-times quite violent, cash-market-oriented enterprise in response to the pressures exerted by the colonial economy, capitalist penetration, and the policies of the post-colonial state. (quoted in Eaton 2008a:95).

Three recent studies were examined for this paper that follow these anti-essentialist lines and are focused almost exclusively on external factors leading to cattle raiding.

In a study published in Current Anthropology in 2003, Sandra Gray, et al., argue from their research that it is the availability of automatic weapons in the region, specifically AK-47s, which has caused the change in the nature of cattle raiding.  The advent of AK-47s is threatening the very existence of the people in the region, argues Gray, by causing people to be more mobile, which in turn has had negative effects on the mortality of young children and female fertility (Gray 2003:3).  Although using AK-47s has been an effective strategy for the Karimojong people[6] to maintain a pastoralist identity in times of drought, Gray’s findings suggest that this is not sustainable and is a “Darwinian stressor” that could lead to the biological demise of the Karimojong people (Gray 2003:22).  That is, AK-47s have helped them survive, but are decreasing their propensity for long-term survival as a people.  Clearly, for Gray, et al., it is the external factor of automatic weapons, and specifically AK-47s, that is the major root cause of the violent cattle raids in the region.

A second anti-essentialist[7] view of the causes of cattle raiding among the Turkana can be found in J. Terrence McCabe’s text, Cattle Bring Us To Our Enemies: Turkana Ecology, Politics, and raiding in a Disequilibrium System.  McCabe states that in order to understand violence and raiding in Turkana, “disequilibrium systems, political instability, and differential access to modern weapons” all need to be considered (McCabe 2004:92).  McCabe’s study is not focused on cattle raids, but is concerned with the seasonal migration and mobility of the Turkana with their herds in what he calls a “disequilibrium system.”  While most strategies that have been implemented for development projects among pastoral peoples assume the possibility of an equilibrium system, Turkana is clearly a non-equilibrium system that requires new strategies; including greater mobility and occasional reliance on outside resources for survival (McCabe 2004:243-247).  Thus, for McCabe, cattle raiding can be explained as a result of the non-equilibrium ecosystem in which there is a scarcity of resources, alongside the availability of guns.

A third anti-essentialist study, Hendrickson, et al., 1998, does suggest that former “traditional livestock raiding” was a part of “livelihood-enhancing functions” but that it “has been transformed over the years from a quasi cultural practice… into a more predatory activity” (Hendrickson 1998:186).  Hendrickson’s emphasis is on the environmental damage caused by these new predatory forms of cattle raiding through decreased mobility.  Because of the cattle raiding, people are afraid to take their animals to the good grazing lands where they are more likely to have the animals stolen.  This leads to overgrazing in unsustainable areas and, in turn, a cycle of drought and then famine.  What are the root causes of these new forms of “predatory raiding” according to Hendrickson, et al.?  Involvement of actors from outside Turkana, that is, predatory raids are:

driven by a criminal logic contrasting sharply with former notions of balance and reciprocity.  Predatory raids are largely initiated by people outside Turkana, including armed military or bandit groups in Kenya or surrounding states as well as economic ‘entrepreneurs.’ (Hendrickson 1998:191).

For Hendrickson, et al., it is the outside actor who participates in the “illicit cross-border trade in arms and cattle” that is “at the very crux of the security problem in Turkana today” (Hendrickson 1998:192).  Hendrickson goes on to cite this external factor as the reason for the militarization of Turkana herders.

These three anti-essentialist compelling, research-based studies offer up two of the main root causes of cattle raiding in the North Rift Valley that all the NGOs, CBOs and FBOs have focused on: the proliferation of arms in the region and the scarcity of resources (an unsustainable “disequilibrium” ecology).  The Hendrickson study also suggests that predatory raiding can be linked not only to those seeking to make money from outside the North Rift Valley but also to those in political power who use cattle raiding as a means for “substantial political realignments” (Hendrickson 1988:192).  While there are few who question whether the state is sometimes involved in cattle raiding, either through the supply of guns, ammunition, transport, delayed response to raids or scapegoating, there are few NGOs working for peace at the local level who can approach this external factor.[8]  In Kenya it would be politically, economically and vitally unwise to do so.  These are issues that are out of the control of people at the local level.  So, we find that the two main issues the NGOs work on at the local level are disarmament and finding creative alternatives to deal with the scarcity of resources.

David Eaton, in his yearlong study of raiding and peace work along the Kenyan-Ugandan border, suggests that these two external factors lack substantial evidence to support them as major roots of cattle raiding.  He boldly states that the supposed connection between scarcity of resources and conflict “has achieved much of its authority through repetition, and there is increasing doubt as to whether the connection…is as straightforward as it seems” (Eaton 2008a:99).  The fact is that there is no clear evidence that violence in cattle raiding conflicts has even increased.  The evidence from Eaton’s study even suggests that during times of famine and drought, when the scarcity of resources is presumably at its lowest levels, Turkana and Karimojong are less likely to participate in cattle raiding.  A number of Eaton’s informants stated clearly that during the dry time of year there is peace, but that “the Turkana will take those cattle as soon as it rains” (Eaton 2008a:101).  A de facto peace agreement normally exists during the annual cycles of the dry season, as the people focus on survival.  In similar fashion, Eaton debunks the theory that cattle raiders are stealing cattle because they are poor.  While it is true that occasionally a poor man will steal an animal or two for survival, the Turkana ngingoroko and other ethnically based raiding parties are highly organized and are often already wealthy from their previous raids.  When the facts are examined, “it becomes clear that raiding and poverty have only a distant connection” (Eaton 2008a:102).

Continuing with his informant based research, Eaton also questions the seemingly self-evident theory that the proliferation of guns in the region has increased cattle raiding.  Skeptical of studies that ask “leading “ questions concerning guns, Eaton’s open-ended interviews yielded very interesting comments concerning guns.  A number of respondents actually said that more people were killed in the cattle raids before guns. Those raids were worse because the use of spears and arrows gave no warning to nearby neighbors and villages that a raid had begun, while “the use of firearms today has reduced the number of those killed, because when a gunshot is heard people disperse and run away and one or two people only will be killed…” (Eaton 2008a:104).  Eaton found that “current and ex-raiders, as well as raid victims, are in general agreement on this point” (Eaton 2008a:105).  Eaton concludes that although automatic weapons have clearly transformed cattle raiding, to say that they are the root cause of cattle raids is overly simplistic.

We see that the theories focused on the external causes of cattle raiding have done little to bring about any real peace to the region.  It is my personal conviction, through research and experience, that this is because both external and internal factors must be considered in attempting to understand cattle raiding.  By internal factors, I specifically mean factors related to Turkana ethnicity and traditional religion.  But, I do not mean what the essentialists meant or implied—that the Turkana are inherently violent or “ferocious.”  In this regard I am intentionally taking an Anti anti-essentialist position.  My approach will be to examine Turkana ethnogenesis from an ethnohistorical perspective in a search for internal factors tied to cattle raiding.  I will then attempt a limited, etic perspective, answer to the question, “What is Turkana ethnicity?” and finally, “Is Turkana cattle raiding connected to Turkana ethnicity?”


Turkana Ethnohistory

It is always good to start at the very beginning; for the Turkana it seems that the beginning was not so long ago.  The most respected writings concerning the emergence of the Turkana have come from P.H. Gulliver, who did his field work in Turkana from 1948-1950, and John Lamphear whose fieldwork took place in the 1970s.  Both Gulliver and Lamphear have pieced together Turkana history from British documents and Turkana oral history, placing the original Turkana migration and separation from the Jie and Karimojong at the end of the 18th or beginning of the 19th century (Gulliver 1955:1-5, Lamphear 1993:90-93).  This means that the formation, or ethnogenesis, of what is more recently understood as Turkana ethnicity has occurred relatively recently.  As Lamphear and others have described, in the early 19th century a clear division between Turkana pastoralists and the Karimojong in the Ugandan hills became apparent.  As a new group moved east toward Lake Turkana and then north and south, smaller ethnic groups were assimilated for protection and “became Turkana” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:68).

It was during this time of expansion through both military force and assimilation that the rise of the great diviners took place, the first of which was a powerful diviner/priest (emuron) named Lokerio who began to lead the Turkana in the middle of the 19th century (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:73).  His consolidated leadership took power away from a council of elders and placed it into the hands of patrilineally descended strong diviners until the death of Kokoi, the last great emuron, in 1924 (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:85).

In the 1880s, Lokorijam succeeded Lokerio as the next centralized emuron.  It was during these last years of the 19th century that people from outside Turkana began to arrive, first Somalis, Swahili, and Ethiopians; then the European explorers, and finally, the British, all of whom the Turkana regarded as ‘‘vultures from the sky’’ (Collins 2006:99).  During this period, militarization was required to defend against Ethiopians from the north and the British from the south.  As early as 1912, the Turkana traded with the Ethiopians for guns.  This new militarization was very effective for cattle raiding among the Samburu and the Pokot to the south.

In 1917 and 1918, the British forcefully decided to both put an end to Turkana raiding and to secure a border with Ethiopia in the north.  It was the infamous Turkana Patrol of 1918 that finally “defeated” the Turkana.  In 1918, a British officer on the patrol remarked, “anyone who has come in contact with Turkana riflemen takes them very seriously indeed; they are brave men, skilled in battle and stand modern rifle fire well” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:84).  In the aftermath, the British confiscated much of the Turkana weapons and took many of their cattle, essentially weakening the Turkana to near extinction.  It is estimated that more than 100,000 cattle were killed or taken from the Turkana after the 1918 Patrol (Collins 2006:117).  No strong centralized diviners rose again until after independence in 1963, but “in the absence of any countervailing traditional authority, the ‘Moroko’, a semi permanent force of men well armed with rifles became the heirs of the [earlier Turkana] military tradition” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:85).  McCabe suggests that these Moroko that Lamphear speaks about eventually became what is now known in Turkana as the ngingoroko (McCabe 2004:102).  From the 1960s to present time it has been “customary for local people to help feed raiders on their way to attack the emoit (enemy)[9], and it was customary for successful raiders to give back livestock, with interest, to those who fed them on their return journey” (McCabe 2004:101).

When reflecting on Turkana history and ethnogenesis, it is important to understand that even in ethnogenesis, the Turkana were at war for their very survival.  As Lamphear suggests, “in some cases the process of militarization among pastoral peoples has roots going back a century” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:63).  After the end of the period of centralized diviners, and any real opposition from any large outside forces like the British and the Ethiopians, Turkana once again became more decentralized and acephalous as it is now in the present.   Instead of one great diviner, in the current situation one finds many diviners, with one main acknowledged diviner in each area.  Instead of one united fighting force in Turkana, one now finds many smaller groups of ngingoroko who receive the blessing of their area elders and diviners.

I believe there are significant events presented in this ethno history that connect militarism, the concept of ngingoroko, and cattle raiding to Turkana ethnicity.  But I must be careful in the way that I approach this statement.       I am not seeking to place the Turkana in a “New Barbarism” thesis, which Haynes defines as dangerously similar to the old essentialist definitions of “uncivilized,” or a “dysfunctional culture” (Haynes 308).  What I am stating is the very powerful fact that warfare, whether for defense or expansion, was an early part of what it meant to be Turkana, during the time of Turkana ethnogenesis.  In addition, this warfare, during the time of early ethnogenesis, was normatively carried out under the authority and blessing of the traditional religious diviners and the elders.  Further more, there is considerable evidence that cattle raiding with the assistance of firearms has been ongoing in Turkana for almost an entire century; from nearly the beginning of Turkana history.


Turkana Ethnicity and Religion

There is no doubt that a group like the Turkana is indeed an ethnic group.  What is more difficult to prove is if the category of understanding known as ‘religion’ is a required part of that ethnicity.  For Eriksen, the relationship between religion as a cultural understanding and boundary with ethnicity is not “clear-cut” (Eriksen 2002:34).  If fact, he asserts that there is “no one-to-one relationship between ethnic differences and cultural ones” (Eriksen 2002:58).  In other words, it is possible to simultaneously share an ethnicity, but to not share a religion with another.  I believe for the Turkana, the two, Turkana Traditional Religion and ethnicity are connected for a number of reasons.

First, in Africa, and in most places where one finds what are often described as indigenous or primal/folk societies, scholars of religion note that African religion is ethnic religion, in which “beliefs are largely identified with a specific ethnic group and cater for the needs of that group” (Wijsen 2007:81).  As Eriksen notes, identity requires “we-hood,” including “a shared language or religion” (Eriksen 2002:67).  Often in the situation of a very close connection between religion and ethnicity, there is an accepted “moral economy.”  The Turkana moral economy provides the social safety nets that “give herders the right to make claims on other herders in times of crisis for goods such as cereal or livestock” (Hendricksen 1998:194).  It is this moral economy that is jointly overseen by the elders and the diviners that places constraints on cattle raiders and ensures the payment of animals for wives in order to morally redistribute wealth within the community.

Second, in Turkana we can see a direct connection between the activities of the ngingoroko and the blessing of the diviners.  In fact, in the time of assimilation and ethnogenesis, it was allegiance to the diviner that identified a Turkana.  As Lamphear points out, “Indeed, it is clear that by the time of Lokerio, allegiance to [the] diviner provided the essential basis for classification as a ‘Turkana’” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:88).  This was clearly a symbiotic relationship, and continues to be so today for Turkana diviners, for we see that “Lokerio began to reap a rich reward of captured livestock, which victorious armies paid to him as his fee for blessing and directing them” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:74).  Also later, as we follow the line of diviners we read that

Lokerio had died, to be succeeded by one of his sons, Merimug.  Obviously impressed by the authority Lokerio had accrued to his office of Great Diviner, several other contenders now presented themselves as rivals to Merimug.  The most successful of them, Lokorijam, a man of Katekok clan, rapidly built a reputation in parts of western Eturkan, where he took over the blessing and direction of armies.  By the late 1890s after the sudden death of Merimug, Lokorijam had gained a full ascendancy and was exerting a leadership for the Turkana almost equaling Lokerio’s” (Lamphear in Fukui 1994:75, italics mine)

In this passage we can clearly see the connection not only between Turkana ethnicity and religion, but also between the diviners and the “armies.”

A third connection between Turkana ethnicity, religion and cattle raiding has to do with a pattern for ethnic survival known as “the myth of ethnic election.”  This understanding places people in the ethnicity under certain moral obligations.  Following the traditions and remaining pure achieves righteousness in the community.  For Anthony Smith, this is described as a communal-demotic pattern of ethnic survival that

attaches the myth directly to the people in their sacred land.  In these cases the community has usually been conquered and is struggling to preserve its former rights and way of life, claiming that its members are the original inhabitants and their culture is in the vernacular. (Anthony D. Smith in Hutchinson 1996:195)

Wijsen relates a similar idea when he states:

Many conflicts in Africa are ethnically oriented, and very often they are motivated by religious sentiments.  This is why African Religion, like any other religion, can become intolerant and violent.  Many ethnic groups believe that they are ‘the only people’ and other ethnic groups are non-people.  Not infrequently there is a religious myth underpinning the superiority complex.  The Maasai cattle raiding the Kikuyu is justified by a myth that all cattle were given to the Maasai by God and belong to them. (Wijsen 2007:122)

The Turkana are similar to the Maasai in this way; for the one true creator God has given all the domesticated animals to the Turkana.

Thus, we find that there are significant internal connections between Turkana ethnicity, religion and cattle raiding practices that have formed from the very ethnogenesis of what it means to be ‘Turkana.’  These essential internal factors include a moral economy, the blessing of God received through the diviner and the post-raid payment of the diviner, and the myth of ethnic election.


An Anti Anti-essentialist Understanding of Turkana Cattle Raiding

My position has been previously stated, but let me make it clear: my suggestion is that both internal and external factors encourage the practice of cattle raiding.  Any answers seeking to understand and end the violence must take this into consideration.  I cannot quickly discredit the external factors of scarcity of resources and proliferation of arms as Eaton did in his study above, but I am extremely skeptical that they alone hold the key to understanding cattle raiding.  Instead, I believe that these external factors alongside the three internal factors of a moral economy, the role of the diviner and the myth of ethnic election, which I have come to through both personal experience and the study of Turkana ethnicity, will be a better starting point for understanding the practice and looking for ways to end the violence.


Conclusion: New Possibilities for the Church

Eaton, who has presented the greatest empirical evidence against the strict use of simplistic external factors in getting at the root causes of cattle raiding in his study, offers a humble suggestion for a more realistic root cause to target: the decision making process immediately following a raid.  He believes that “raiding usually results from some form of asymmetrical retaliation” in which an innocent community is attacked by an unknown raider and then makes a decision where revenge is to be meted out, thus creating a new “cycle of violence” (Eaton 2008a:109).  I believe that Christians are particularly well equipped to help people make decisions that break the cycle of violence.

Miroslav Volf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, suggests that Christians can break the cycle of violence by sustained reflection on the whole drama of Christ.  He perceives four aspects of a theology of the cross that are of extreme importance in situations of violence.  “First, the cross breaks the cycle of violence” (Volf 1996:291).  In this, Jesus commands the followers of Christ everywhere, even Turkana, to “replace the principle of retaliation with the principle of non-resistance” (Volf 1996:291).  “Second, the cross lays bare the mechanism of scapegoating,” for as our example, “Jesus suffered an unjust violence” (Volf 1996:292).  This issue is of utmost importance to breaking the cycle of violence in the North Rift Valley, because it speaks directly to the ideas of revenge, especially when a family or village is uncertain who initiated and stole the animals, and are looking for people to blame and subsequently attack.  “The cross is third, part of Jesus’ struggle for God’s truth and justice” (Volf 1996:293).  We cannot look to the cross as merely acceptance of violence; instead it is part of a direct attack, “a larger strategy of combating the system of terror” (ibid).  “Fourth, the cross is divine embrace of the deceitful and the unjust” (294).  This is the most difficult part, but is likely the most important in the North Rift Valley.  Not only must Christians refuse to dehumanize people of other ethnicities, they must actually learn to love them and accept them into their very space.  It is my conviction that a theology of the cross will be contagious in Turkana, if only a small community of Christians would agree to live by it.

These suggestions offered by Volf are merely a few of the unique solutions that Christians in the region have available to them for affecting change in the internal factors, if they are willing.  These include concepts of forgiveness and sacrifice.  I would argue that the internal factors described in this paper need to be transformed by the church from their application within the ethnocentric boundaries of Turkana into the universal realm of the Kingdom of God.  Let the true emuron of God provide blessing to all the people, not only the Turkana.  In the community of the church allow those from other ethnicities to be fully included into Turkana moral economy.  Let the church proclaim that we who are in Christ, no matter what ethnicity, are the ones divinely chosen for God’s purposes, not for our own ethnocentric purposes.

Kevin “Kip” Lines can be contacted at: kip.lines@asburyseminary.edu


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[1] The post-election ethnic violence that occurred in Kenya in early 2008 in which 1,500 people were killed and more than 350,000 were displaced certainly overshadows the average of 50-100 people who die in cattle raids each year in Kenya.  It should be noted that the scope of this paper has intentionally been limited to cattle raiding in and around Turkana district.  I do not see many parallels between pastoralist cattle raiding and the post-election ethnic violence that occurred in 2008.  Cattle raiding is a more pressing issue for the Turkana with whom I am more closely involved with in ministry.

[2] Non-Governmental Organizations

[3] Ten years later, CMF missionaries still give me a hard time for being talked into this; even the Turkana church leaders laugh when I tell the story.  Yet, that day was an invaluable learning experience for me that I have been able to look back to from many angles.

[6] The Karimojong people are the neighbors to the west of Turkana in the Uganda hills.  According to Turkana origin myths, they are more closely related to the Karimojong than any of their other neighbors.  This is true both socially and linguistically.

[7] Although I have labeled the three studies presented in this section of my paper as “anti-essentialist,” they are not self-ascribed as such.  I label them based on their focus on external factors contributing to cattle raiding in exclusion of internal factors.

[8] One group, Cultural Survival, in coordination with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues is currently working to deal with the macro-political issues among a few Samburu communities in the North Rift region, but this is limited in its regional scope.  See http://www.culturalsurvival.org.

[9] It is not so refreshing, but very telling, to know that emoit (enemy) is used to describe all people who are not Turkana.  When among groups of Turkana in which some did not know that I understood and spoke Ngaturkana, I would frequently hear myself referred to as the emoit.  These offered me many times of fruitful discussions concerning who is and who is not an emoit, especially among Christians.

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