March 17, 2016 / 12:08 PM / 3 years ago

Turkana's semi-nomadic life amid livestock in Kenya

(Reuters) - On a hot day in January, tribesmen armed with Kalashnikov and G3 assault rifles bring their cattle to water in the dry Turkana region of northern Kenya. The men herd cattle, sheep and goats, protecting their livestock from rivals.

Turkana men sit with their rifles near Baragoy, Kenya January 31, 2016. Turkana men herd cattle, sheep and goats, protecting their livestock from rivals in the dry Turkana region in the north of Kenya. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

‪The Turkana are armed with clean, well-maintained rifles because of frequent feuding with other tribes, among them the Samburu and Pokot. Cattle raids and rustling of livestock are common. The hustle and bustle of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, with its pollution and gridlocked traffic, seem worlds away.

‪People and animals drink and wash in the same water pools that rise and fall with the seasonal rains. The main rainy season lasts from late March to early June, with shorter rains in October and November. Children plunge into the waters to cool off as temperatures regularly exceed 30 degrees Celsius. At night, when it turns chilly, locals sleep on goat or sheepskins and use light blankets for cover.

‪While the men take livestock to water or graze, families set up semi-permanent homes, often made of sticks and cloth, and sometimes caked in mud and cow dung that clings to the frame. The homes are placed in corrals fenced with brushwood, far from tarred roads and the nation’s power grid.

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Livestock are at the center of Turkana life, with the local diet based on meat from goat, sheep, cattle and occasionally donkeys. At breakfast, milk is sometimes mixed with fresh cow blood taken from live animals.

‪The women of the Turkana tribe wear thick, distinctive and brightly colored bead necklaces, and metal earrings, some of them hoops and others in the apparent shape of spearheads.

‪The hair of women and girls is often plaited on the top, while the rest of the head is shaved. White ash is smeared on to the head by their fellow tribes people.

Turkanas can take up to six wives, depending on the men’s wealth as dowries are paid in livestock. Men usually marry between the age of 20 and 22, their wives aged 18 or 19.

‪Some young men have mobile phones despite the patchy signal in this remote region, but they are among the few indications - along with their rifles - of the modern world. Otherwise, their lives seem to have followed a similar pattern for time immemorial.

Reporting by Goran Tomasevic; Writing by Edmund Blair and Brian McGee; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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