t.greer recommended to me a paper on the mating patterns of the turkana of east africa (thanks, t!): Mating Structure of a Nomadic Pastoral Population (1982).

first, here’s a nice turkana person for ya (^_^):

turkana girl 02

the turkana mating patterns are interesting, i think, for a handful of reasons:

– they appear to uphold the notion that flatlanders tend to be outbreeders (see also here) — while mountaineers/peoples in marginal lands tend to be inbreeders;
– they also appear to uphold the notion that the greater the outbreeding, the looser the family and social structures (see…half of the blog);
– and they appear to contradict the notion that pastoralists tend to inbreed (see explanations from anthropologists the world over). hmmmm.

from the paper, the turkana live here in kenya:

turkana - map

and this region of kenya is fairly flat:

kenya - topography 02

the turkana who practice pastoralism (most of them — a few are agriculturalists) apparently do bring their herds (of camels and goats) uphill for grazing in the summer, but mostly they reside in the valleys, and they consider themselves to be flatlanders rather than mountaineers.

from the paper, we learn that the turkana have clans (28 patrilineal clans) [pg. 472], that they avoid marrying within those clans — in the study, 96% of those surveyed were married to someone from another clan [pg. 474], and that they even try to avoid marrying anyone closer than second cousins [pg. 472].

(one thing that the turkana do have which complicates the picture is polygamy. clearly polygamy, like cousin marriage, also results in closer relatedness [a lot of individuals in the population are half-siblings]. i haven’t thought through polygamy yet — what it means for relatedness. obviously it depends on if only a certain portion of the males get to mate and the remainder are left out or if the whole system is more of a rotating system of polygamy and women are swapped between most or all of the men. polygamy is complicated. i’ll have to think about it one of these days.)

so, what is turkana society like? what are their family types like? what about these clans then?

from Turkana (1996) [pgs. 16, 20-22]:

“The nuclear family is the basic social and political unit among the Turkana.”

uh…kinda.

“The family comprises a man, his wife or wives, his sons and their wives and children, and his unmarried daughters. In the homestead there might also be a grandparent or other relative and a concubine (a woman living in the household to whom he is not married).

“The man is the head of the family. The family is represented economically by its herd of livestock….

“The Extended Family

“Among the Turkana, the extended family (*ngi-tungakothi*) is made up of all males who can claim common descent on the male side. The unit could go back three or four generations. To members of the group, those within it are ‘our people.’ But strictly speaking, the extended family also includes the wives of each of these men if they have raised a child to walking stage. It excludes women who have married elsewhere and are no longer in the family.

“The core of the extended family, however, is essentially the son of a deceased father, his full brothers, his half-brothers, and his paternal male first cousins, along with the nuclear families of all these men…. Members also share fellowship on other such occasions as initiation, weddings, and judicial compensation, when there is mutual assistance in givings and receiving livestock.”

“judicial compensation” there is interesting. is that like wergeld? dunno. will have to find out more.

“The Clan

“Every Turkana belongs to a clan (*ateger*), of which there are about 20. They fall into two major types: the large, widespread clans, each comprising over 1,000 adult males, and the very small ones consisting of only about 30 members.

Clans are of little practical or political importance to the Turkana today, especially since clans no longer own herds or pastures or watering places…. Nor do travelling Turkana any longer expect help or hospitality from fellow clansmen. They would expect that help from bond-friends, people in various parts of the country to whom they have made a ritual commitment.

“bond-friends.” also very interesting.

from The Evolution of Human Societies: From Foraging Group to Agrarian State (2000), we learn that the turkana’s family and social structures are, indeed, really loose, and the whole “clan” structure seems to mostly be a system used to maintain the outbreeding (the exogamy) — a way to keep track of whom you’re not supposed to marry [pgs. 197-99]:

“Dyson-Hudson and McCabe (1985: 79-80) describe the degree to which Turkana groups form out of myriad individual decisions:

“‘Kinship, both agnatic and affinal, is an important basis for cooperative relationships. However since livestock are a readily partible resource, and since the frequent moves of camps and splitting of the major *awi* into satellite camps allow the breaking of old bonds and the establishment of new ones, a man has great latitude to choose to live with people he likes. A woman also has some choice: she can live with her father, her brother, or her grown sons, as well as with her husband. Flux and flexibility characterize [their] social networks.

Although the Turkana lack highly structured kin groups, territories, and a formal political system, they do establish and maintain large networks that amount to a kind of effective community for each homestead. First, hamletlike groups of close relatives and friends live and move together for part of the year. Second, such groups cluster within convenient walking distance of one another, and men in such a cluster meet often to take turns distributing freshly slaughtered meat and to share information on herds and pastures. These two levels of social organization (Gulliver calls them primary and secondary neighborhoods) provide the individual househead with a network of friends through which food and information flow, friends from whom he may beg insistently as a good Turkana should (Gulliver 1951; Patton 1982) and who will cooperate with him in defense against raiding. Although a family is free to move at will, in practice families tend to move with their neighbors and settle near them at new locations….

“The main cement of Turkana social organization, however, is the exchange of livestock. A nuclear family’s herds are all owned and managed by the father; and although their daily care falls to women and boys, spread over the countryside, there is a strong sense of the essential unity of the family and its herd. Some hamlet groups are the remnants of old extended families whose senior male has died: in such cases the brothers and in-laws continue to live near each other, and, because their herd once had a common owner, the men continue to feel part of one family. Often, as we have seen, the hamlet-size group also includes friends….

“How extensive is Turkana social structure? On the one hand, there are indicators of ‘tribal’ integration. The Turkana say, ‘We are all brothers,’ and respect this tribal identity by rarely raiding or using spears against one another (bandits, *igorokos*, are exceptions). They know and acknowledge the ‘territorial’ names of their regions. They also belong to clans, some of them small and localized, others widespread throughout Turkana land. In past times, apparently, whole regions of Turkana mustered thousands of warriors against non-Turkana enemies.

Yet in their daily life the Turkana are not conscious of themselves as a tribe. They have no tribal, territorial, or clan leaders, no corporate groups, and no genealogical reckoning beyond the grandparent level. They are highly individualistic and tend to migrate within circumscribed areas; even close-knit extended families usually separate at times in response to their individual needs….

also, from here:

There would appear to be no clan leadership or organisation. Gulliver states that ‘if one asks a Turkana who is head of his clan he usually replies *there is no head, we have no heads. They were all long ago.* However a few will give the name of a man of a clan recently alive, or an old man, who achieved fame and importance for some reason and say that he is the head. But enquiry shows that he has no authority over any of them outside his own extended family should he still be alive…’ (1951: 69).”

so, the turkana outbreed, and they have loose family and social structures. friends seem to be important (as important as family?). the turkana are individualistic, yet share readily with their friends.

they do go to battle, though. mostly with non-turkana peoples. sometimes the non-turkana steal the turkana’s animals, oftentimes it’s the other way around [from here]:

“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).”

i love how people justify their own actions to themselves. (~_^) don’t mess with the turkana, though! they have wrist knives. yikes!:

turkana wrist knife 02

(note: comments do not require an email. fighting with wrist knives! (O_O) )

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