The traditional clothing of the Turkana is very simple and consists in a cloth knotted on the shoulder, to form a sort of tunic, for men; while for women the dress is made from two pieces of cloth or leather wrapped around their waist and chest.
Women are skilled at working leather and realize little skin skirts, adorned with multicolored beads and pieces of ostrich eggs.
Are the ornaments that make the Turkana one of the most distinctive and recognizable population, this is true especially for women who wear numerous necklaces of colored beads that can weigh up to 10 kilograms; the Turkana women use animal fat as a lubricant to avoid excessive rubbing on the neck sometimes mixing it with dog excrement.
Necklaces in the past were made with seeds and shells, but today colored glass or plastic beads are used.
These huge elaborate necklaces are a representation of the social status of the wearer; for women they have such an important value that are never removed, except in case of illness or bereavement of a relative, and men do their best to enhance and increase the number of necklaces of their wives.
Since their birth, girls receive from their fathers necklaces made with bright colors like red, green, blue and yellow; when they reach 20 years of age, or the age of marriage, they have accumulated the maximum of necklaces that can be worn; with marriage they will have to sell their necklaces to younger sisters and since then only wear necklaces that are given by their husbands; if they become widow, they will replace the colored necklaces with completely white necklaces.
The married women also wear a flat metal necklace that has the same function of a wedding ring.
The Turkana have also very elaborate hairstyles, in particular women shave the hair on the sides of the head while in the center intertwine them and enrich them with a coat of beads and feathers; while as a fixative for the hairstyle they use animal fat and wood ash mixed together; despite the proximity and the similarity with the Samburu in some respects, the hair styles are totally different.
The Samburu are also using other ornaments in addition to necklaces such as earrings, pendants and labrets; these last are jewelry that are inserted in the lower lip, as a sort of "traditional piercing."
In fact, in addition to the ear, the perforation of the lower lip is also practiced, the hole is made using a plug obtained from the acacia trees; this traditional practice is being lost today, only the older people still have labrets.
By looking at the necklaces, earrings, pendants and other female ornaments you can get some information on women who wear them; for example, you can tell if they are married or unmarried; also you can find out the family situation in terms of recent births, deaths, status of widowhood or temporary absence of the husband.
Men also use different styles of clothing and hairstyles to highlight the age groups, important occasions, the status passages; for example the Turkana boys commit several hours to prepare elaborate hairstyles that mark the end of the rite of initiation.
The Turkana men use some kind of headrest, that is called ekicholong, and is made of wood and is used to avoid damaging the decorations and hairstyles during sleep; these objects are then also used as stools during the day.
Hairstyles made with clay and ocher, called emedot, are a sort of bun on the back of the head and are decorated with ostrich feathers and identify the young warriors; later, when they pass to the next age group, the Turkana men shave completely.
The Turkana men, are skilled metal workers and, besides realizing aluminum earrings, they make a special bracelet that consists in a sort of wrist knife hidden in a goatskin leather seal.
Characteristic are also the sticks regularly used by the Turkana men: they seem common reeds decorated but they are defensive weapons, that also have another function: they usually are used in pairs, one to accompany the march and the other longer to conduct the cattle grazing.
Life, tradition and culture of Turkana people
- Turkana clothing and jewels
- Turkana rituals and ceremonies
- Turkana body care and modification
- Turkana religion
- Turkana society and the importance of breeding