Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Turkana are a Central Nilotic people mostly living in the Turkana district of Kenya. The Turkana as an ethnic group are internally divided into two major divisions; Ngimonia and Ngichoro. Each division is further divided into territorial sections identified with an area that is open to all members of the section. The Turkana are primarily nomadic pastoralists who depend on camels, cattle, sheep and goats. Some Turkana are also engaged in small-scale agriculture, fishing and seasonal hunting.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa



OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Turkana (FL17) collection covers cultural, economic and environmental information circa 1888 to 2004.

The works of Philip and Pamela Gulliver represent the oldest most comprehensive ethnographic information available on Turkana culture and society. Commissioned in 1948-1950 as part of the British colonial research program on Kenya, one of these documents surveys the economic, social and cultural dimensions of Turkana animal husbandry, alternative livelihoods, land tenure, law, life cycles and religious practices (Gulliver 1951, no. 9). Another document provides an overview of the Turkana natural environment, population dynamics, cultural character, household and family organization, friendship, lineages and clanships, community and territorial organization, age-set system, marriage rules, raiding, in-group justice, and religion and magic (Gulliver 1955, no.1). The remaining documents focus on the cultural logics of pastoralism (Gulliver 1955, no. 2) and age sets (Gulliver 1958, no, 7).

Many of the documents in the collection were products of a large, long-term, multi-disciplinary research on Turkana ecosystem conducted in 1980-1996 under the auspices of the National Science Foundation and the Norwegian Agency for International Development. Together, these documents seek to understand the complex relationships of social, political, and ecological factors affecting the Turkana. Four of these documents focus on the cultural dimensions of nomadic pastoralism with particular reference to how and why nomadic herders move across different landscapes (McCabe 2004, no. 44; Dyson-Hudson and McCabe 1985, no. 3; Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1999, no. 28, and McCabe, Dyson-Hudson and Wienpahl 1999, no. 30). Three documents focus on climate and environmental issues affecting the Turkana. Coverage includes the vagaries of adverse weather and unpredictable rainfall patterns (Little, et. al. 1999, no.27; Little, 1999, no. 40), and Turkana coping strategies against cyclical droughts (McCabe 1990, no.45). Nine documents discuss cultural, biological and ecological determinants of fertility (Leslie, et. al. 1999, no. 37; Leslie, no. 38; Shell-Duncan and Wimmer 1999, no. 47), health (Curran and Galvin 1999, no. 32), diet and nutrition (Galvin and Little 1999, no.31), infant care and human growth (Gray 1999, no.33, Little, Grat, Pike and Mugambi 1999, no, 34), demographic patterns (Leslie, R. Dyson-Hudson 1999, no.22), and human-livestock relationships (Leslie and Dyson-Hudson 1999, no. 36). Three documents provide general cultural and historical information with particular reference to Turkana ethnic history (R. Dyson-Hudson 1999, no. 26), dynamics of social networks and exchange relationships (Johnson, Jr. 1999, no. 29), and bench marks for understanding major events that occurred in Turkana (Leslie, 1999, no. 43). Three other documents discuss the local consequences of migration (R. Dyson-Hudson and Meekers 1999, no. 39), government sponsored settlement programs (Cambell, 1999, no. 41) and global market forces (McCabe 1994, no. 46) in southern Turkana. One of the remaining three documents discusses the theoretical model and conceptual frameworks that shaped most of these documents (Little, et. al. 1999, no. 25), while another document synthesizes important findings of the Southern Turkana ecosystem research project (Little, 1999, no. 42). The last project document provides a comprehensive list of available references on Turkana culture, society and economy, circa 1900-1996 (Little and P. W. Leslie 1999, no. 24).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Abor –satellite camps– Use ANNUAL CYCLE ( 221) with SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361)

Adakar –neighborhood association– Use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) with ANNUAL CYCLE ( 221)

Aki –a nighttime sleeping hut– Use DWELLINGS ( 342)

Ateker –patrilineal clan– Use CLANS ( 618)

Asapan –ceremony signifying transition from youth to adulthood– Use PUBERTY AND INITIATION ( 881)

awi –homestead– Use HOUSEHOLD ( 592)

Awi apolon –comprises two to five families forming a herding unit ( )– Use PASTORAL ACTIVITIES ( 233) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621)

Ekol –a daytime sitting hut– Use DWELLINGS ( 342)

Emeron –diviner– Use REVELATION AND DIVINATION ( 787) with PRIESTHOOD ( 793)

Ere –home area– Use REAL PROPERTY ( 423) with LAND USE ( 311) and/or SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361)

Ngoroko –Turkana bandits who raid on cattle– Use BRAWLS RIOTS AND BANDITRY ( 579) with PROPERTY OFFENSES ( 685)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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