Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1901 Turkana warrior
Subjecttribal warrior
Culture: Turkana
Setting: east Africa 19th-early 20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Benitez/Barbier 2000 p114
"Distant historical, cultural, linguistic and geographic ties exist among the Nilotic groups of southern Sudan, northwest Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania.  In the past, cattle raiding was a way of life for the Turkana.  However, unlike the Ethiopians, they did not believe that owning land and killing men and large game were status-enhancing.  The Turkana, linguistically group with the Plains Nilotes, traditionally said that 'to be a fighter is not power but knowledge'.  They attached more value to information that gave access to pastureland, sale mines, water holes and the location of enemy cattle, rather than to personal ownership of land.  Nevertheless, the Turkana possessed a well-developed military system and their craftsmen traditionally concentrated their efforts on the manufacture of spears, fighting sticks, knobkerries, and wrist and finger knives."

* Life in Turkana 2012-01-08 online
"Warfare is traditionally an essential part of Turkana life and the principal occupation of young men. Weapons are considered a man’s proud possessions and the practical tool for increasing herds by raiding and for expanding their territory. Ever since they entered Kenya, the Turkana have been in a perpetual process of expansion. Previously settled tribes such as the Samburu, Pokot, Donyiro, Toposa and Karamojong were forced out of their territory by belligerent Turkana warriors (Gulliver, 1951: 143). No administration has ever able completely to contain the Turkana and put an end to these conflicts. These common age-old pursuits still trouble independent Kenya.
    "Turkana believe that all livestock on earth, including that owned by other people, is theirs by right, and that there is nothing wrong in going after it and taking it by force. A young man, they say, must be prepared to die in pursuit of stock (Soper, 1985: 106). Meanwhile neighbouring tribes feel the same way about stock and raid the Turkana. After such raids the Turkana feel compelled to recover their stolen animals. This creates a vicious circle of conflicts and banditry which seems to find no solution even at government level.
    "[....]  Traditionally, in the past war leaders were never officially appointed. Instead men with outstanding personality, ability and courage came to be recognized as such by their fellow tribesmen (Gulliver, 1951: 144). Raids were either carried out by a small-scale marauding force or as a large-scale attack involving different columns and possibly an alliance with another tribe (Gulliver, 1951: 79). Men were called to arms and, on large-scale raids, usually sought the blessing of a diviner who may have had favourable dreams of large numbers of accessible cattle in a certain area. Participation was generally confined to initiated men, although youths were on some occasions taken along as drovers."

* Peers/Ruggieri 2005 p

* Spring 1993 p


​* Life in Turkana 2012-01-08 online
"Turkana wordkwara (a- nga) pl. ngakwaaras  Phonological transcription: akwara; Nakwaras  Grammatical category: n.fem.  English equivalent: spear
    "The Turkana spear is made and used exclusively by male members of the tribe. The spear head (eporoto) and the spear shoe (erimoc) are made of iron. Iron pieces are bought and further shaped and cut using a harder chisel-shaped iron blade. The shaft (amorok or atinget) is usually carved from the ekali (Grewia bicolor) tree. The blade (etwel or angajep) is covered with a protective sheath (akuroru) made of cow’s hide. (The hide of the tail of a donkey may sometimes be used.) The spear and the shaft are joined with the resin (eminae) of the eroronyit (Balinites aegyptiaca) tree. The sticky substance is applied to the tip of the shaft and in the sockets, and heated over a fire. Spears are usually eight feet long and leaf-bladed.
    "In the past a man acquired a spear as an initiate. This usually came as a gift from the youth’s ceremonial patron-sponsor (Gulliver,1951: 129). This man, usually of an older generation, equipped the young initiate with the essentials for a Turkana man, i.e., spear, stool and sandals, from his own possessions. This close relationship between the two usually continued for life.
    "The spear is used for fighting, hunting wild animals (such as dik-dik and gazelles), killing animals during rituals (wedding and death rituals) and may also be utilised to carve sticks. The umbilical cord of a baby boy is cut using a spear, whereas a knife is used for that of a baby girl. Spears may sometimes be used to curse a person who has committed a wrongful deed (such as animal rustling or homicide). In this case the spear is thrown in a westerly direction. The Turkana believe that the victim will eventually die.
    "It does not appear to be a taboo to break a spear. When a spear breaks the broken part is substituted with a new one. It is interesting to note where the spears are kept at home. Unlike, for instance, the Maasai, who plant their spears besides the doorway, the Turkana keep theirs pierced from wall to wall in the house (Fedders &Salvadori, 1977)."

* Spring 1993 p110
"The Turkana spear, akwara, which may be up to eight feet in length, comprises a long top and bottom section of iron which is socketed onto a short central section of acacia wood and secured by hardened wax.  The small, razor-sharp, leaf-shaped blade is sheathed in a thin, long leather thong when not in use.  Each Turkana household will have at least one spear kept in the roof and spanning the room from wall to wall, its blade facing the doorway ready to repel a surprise raid.  The akwara is the spear of the adult Turkana male and, as in many African societies, is presented to him when, after initiation, he has attained the status of a warrior.  Before his initiation he is armed with a shorter spear with pear-shaped blade which he may use to protect the family herds from wild animals."

* Peers/Ruggieri 2005 p


* Spring 1993 p119
"Older men among the Turkana carve their distinctive fighting sticks, aburo, with a variety of shaped heads, many reminiscent of hockey sticks, into the surface of which metal studs and nails are embedded.  Certain sticks are used as hand weapons in the man to man duals with which Turkana warriors traditionally settled disputes.  Other types are used specifically for throwing." [reference omitted]


* Barbier/Benitez 1990 p114
"Together with the neighbouring Pokot (also known as Suk), Toposa, Didinga and Larim, they used narrow, rectangular, leather shields ...  These were made from rhinoceros or hippopotamus hide with a wooden support pole doubling as a grip.  Some of these shields appear with lines and stylised figures etched along the border and midrib.  The Acholi and Lango used wider rectangular hide shields painted with horizontal stripes.
    "Looking at museum specimens, it is difficult to ascertain which groups actually manufactured their shields.  It is quite possible that they were adaptations of shield used by the expanding and more militaristic Turkana.  During their many raids, the Turkana attached ostrich feathers to the bottom of the poles and used the shields to deflect, parry and strike blows.  They later developed iron versions, which were, in the words of older informants, safer, lighter and far better in combat than hide shields."

* Spring 1993 p

* Peers/Ruggieri 2005 p

Wrist Knife

* Spring 1993 p115
"The wrist knife is the most well known and widely distributed of all the arm, wrist and finger weapons.  It consists of a disc of metal with a hole in the middle to accommodate the wrist.  Both the sharpened outer edge of the blade and the inner edge encricling the wrist are sheathed in strips of hide of the same type as those used by the Turkana to sheathe their spears.  In fact the Turkana, among whom it is known as ararait, are one of the main users of this weapon ...."

* Life in Turkana  2012-01-08 online
"Turkana word: barait (a- nga) pl. ngabara  Phonetic transcription: abaraIt ; Nabara  Grammatical category: n.fem.  English equivalent: wrist knife
Wrist knives are produced by Turkana men or by the metal smiths (eketiakan) from pieces of iron or steel wire, beaten into shape with the help of a stone (a hammer is nowadays used) (Best 1993).
    "Wrist knives consist of a metal blade with pieces of cow or donkey hide on the inner and outer edges (akuroru) as protection from injuring oneself. The outer protective sheath has metal beads (ngidany) on the ends to secure the leather strap.
    "Wrist knives have different uses. They may be used as a close combat weapon or a tool with which to cut meat or carve various wooden items. They are worn exclusively by Turkana men as an ornament on the right hand.
    "Wrist knives are widely distributed throughout the Nilotic tribes. Also known as fighting bracelets among the Dinka, these weapons were produced by metal smiths and were frequently worn as an ornament by both men and women of this tribe.
    "The type used by the Turkana is the wrist type (Lindblom 1927:6 as quoted in Ocholla-Ayayo 1980), and is similar to that which Wood (1874) described as having a sharp edge used to strike the face or body of an enemy at close quarters. Lindblom considered the Turkana type to be limited to Nilotic and Nilo-Hamitic peoples, and among the majority of these tribes type two is prevalent (Ocholla-Ayayo 1980:106). Type two is the wrist knife, found among the Turkana, Suk, Karamojong and Lango among others."


* Spring 1993 p116
"Blades, spikes and hooks of various types attached to finger rings have been documented among the Karamojong, Turkana, PokotAcholiTeso and other peoples of the region. ...  The Turkana make a version with a smaller blade which, on occasion, is held in the palm of the hand when the owner feels inclined to carry a concealed weapon."

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Fighting Ring (1922.12.8)
"The distribution o finger hooks and finger knives coincides closely with that of fighting bracelets. These are found among several Nilotic and Nilo-Hanitic peoples of the Sudan, northern Kenya and Uganda and among some West African peoples in, for example, northern Nigeria.
    "The Pokot and Turkana peoples of Kenya used both finger hooks and finger knives. As weapons, they could be used to gash the face or gouge out an eye, but they were also used as utensils to cut and eat meat."