The Turkana are nomadic pastoralists who live in the desert regions of northwestern Kenya. They live in the arid, sandy expanse of northwestern Kenya, from Lake Turkana to the Ugandan border and speak an Eastern Nilotic language of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Their language closely resembles that of the Teso.
The Turkana, like the Samburu and Maasai, still maintain their undiluted traditional way of life. They are distinguished as being great survivors, living in harsh and inhospitable terrain. As with all other pastoralist tribes in Kenya, livestock, especially cattle, are at the core of Turkana culture.
The Turkana people live a nomadic life, always moving from one place to another depending on the availability of pasture and water for their animals. The Turkana place such a high value on cattle that they often raid other tribes to acquire more animals. This may be seen as theft, but to the Turkana and other pastoralist tribes in Northern Kenya, it is a perfectly acceptable traditional custom. Cattle raids are common between Turkana and their neighboring tribes, especially the Karamoja of Uganda, and the Pokot and Marakwet of Southern Kenya.
Turkana are ardent pastoralists who give names to, sing to, and diligently care for their cattle. Milk and other dairy products (butter, ghee, and yogurt) as well as blood are important to the Turkana diet; hides, horns, and bones are likewise to their material culture. Camels provide milk and meat and are used for bride wealth payments.
The Turkana are nearly as colorful as the Maasai and Samburu in their regalia and dressing. Turkana men dye their hair with special colored soil, while the women adorn themselves with traditional jewelry and beaded necklaces. A woman’s social status or class determines the quantity and style of jewelry she wears. From the point of view of a Turkana person, one glance at a woman is enough to know her standing in the society. Some of the most beautifully crafted items from the Turkana are the bracelets and necklaces worn by the women. Turkana craftsmen also produce many other artistic items, especially weapons such as spears, clubs and knives. The Turkana also manifest special skills in metalwork, woodcarving, and stone carving.