The Pokot Community of Kenya

Explore their colorful beadwork, headdresses, and annual festival

By National Museums of Kenya

Turkana festivalNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating our shared past, present, and future

Dating back centuries, the stories and traditions of the peoples of Kenya are some of the most fascinating in the world. They have enriched the country through social, economic, political and cultural activities, each with their own unique stories. Today, 44 communities are officially recognized by the government, and are classified into three linguistic groups: the Bantu, the Nilotic and the Cushitic speakers. The National Museums of Kenya holds objects telling the stories of the communities, which represent the country's ethnic diversity and vibrant cultures. Many of the cultural practices are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. This exhibit celebrates the country’s rich heritage through the Pokot community. 

Pokot Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

A look into the history and culture of the Pokot

The Pokot are a sub-community of the Kalenjin. They speak the Pokoot language. Key personalities from the community in recent times include the renowned athlete Tegla Loroupe, founder of the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, who in 2012 appeared in the African top 100 personalities of the year.

A view of lake Baringo, Baringo County

The Pokot are part of the Kalenjin community who are highland Nilotes originating from southern Ethiopia. They migrated southward into Kenya as early as 2,000 years ago.

The Pokot are economically divided into two groups: pastoral Pokot and agricultural Pokot.

HeadbandNational Museums of Kenya

Religion and beliefs

The Pokot community traditionally believed the world had two realms, the below and the above. The realm below was the abode of vegetation, people and other creatures. The realm above was the abode of the deities: Tororot, lat (rain) and Asis (sun).

Pokot man by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Social and political organisation

The two Pokot groups have similar social and political organizational structures. Pokot men are traditionally divided into three groupings; Karachona (boys), Muren (circumcised men) and Poi (old men). Governance in the Pokot community involves age sets and associations. Boys would join an age set once circumcised. 

Young Pokot Man by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Young Pokot man

A young Pokot man about to undergo circumcision. The headdress is in the first phase of building up a chignon.

Headdress for circumcised menNational Museums of Kenya

Headdress for circumcised men

This is a thin headdress made from beads and fiber from the sokotwo tree. Circumcised boys would have worn it on their heads, with strings in front, one month after circumcision.

Young Pokot warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Young Pokot warrior

A young Pokot warrior shortly after achieving adult status. He is wearing a headdress made of ostrich feather and black fur to denote his status.

Pokot Married Woman by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Married Pokot woman

A Pokot married woman dressed with several strands of beaded necklaces and metallic earrings. Her earrings are attached by a beaded string to hair-clips, and ornamented with bells, which denote her status and number of children.

Skin capeNational Museums of Kenya

Wedding cape

Leopard skin cape used by the groom during a wedding, for jumping dances.

Cooking potNational Museums of Kenya

Economic pursuits

About half of the Pokot are semi-nomadic, semi-pastoralists who live in the lowlands west and north of Kapenguria, and throughout Kacheliba and Nginyang Divisions, West Pokot and Baringo Counties. They herd cattle and mainly rely on their livestock products for their livelihood. 

Bleeding BowNational Museums of Kenya

Bow

This is a bleeding bow (liona) made by men from sitet wood. The bow string is made from cow sinews. It was used by men to shoot stopped arrows when drawing blood from cows and goats.

ArrowNational Museums of Kenya

Arrow

Stopped arrow (terema) used for bleeding animals to draw blood. It was made by a livestock owner. A tourniquet would be put round the animals neck and the arrow shot into the jugular vein from a distance.

AxeNational Museums of Kenya

Axe for cutting wood

This axe (oywa) was made by a blacksmith from a metallic head fitted with a wooden handle.

To make the axe head, the blacksmith would get an iron piece, cut the metal to the desired size and hit it to make the right shape. The handle would be made last. He would make the metal red hot and place it on the heavier part of the handle, making a hole to fix the axe head.

It was used for cutting wood, to carve wooden objects such as stools and mortars.

BeehiveNational Museums of Kenya

Making beehives

This hive (mogtten), was made from a hollowed log by men, and the thatching was usually added to keep out rain. It would be hung on a tree to attract bees.

Honey was used for making beer, eaten as food, used as medicine, or traded.

Stool (1975)National Museums of Kenya

Craftsmen

The Pokot people are skilled craftsmen. Women traditionally weave baskets, work leather, make milk gourds and pots for cooking and water storage. Men traditionally specialize in woodworking, making beehives, headrests, and the handles for spears, knives, and hoes.

NecklacesNational Museums of Kenya

Ceremonies, festivals, dancing, and music

The main ceremonies among the Pokot mark transitions in the social lives of individuals and communities. The notable ceremonies include the cleansing of a couple expecting their first child, the cleansing of newborn infants and their mothers, the cleansing of twins and other children who are born under unusual circumstances, male and female initiation, marriage, sapana, harvesting and healing ceremonies.

Dancing Outfit by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Sapana ceremony

At around 20 years of age, Pokot men would traditionally undergo the Sapana ceremony. It was a vital rite as the men would get recognized as adults, and hence they were allowed to attend elders meetings (kokwo) and participate in offering sacrifices (kirket).

HeadbandNational Museums of Kenya

Headband

A headband worn by women of all ages for beauty. It is made of threads, beads, shells and aluminium coils.

CombNational Museums of Kenya

Comb

A small pronged wire comb covered with beautifully woven wire. The ends are covered with strands of coiled wire, which holds the ostrich feather.

It was used for hair dressing and worn on the head as an ornament by young men who would wear a mud-pack hair-do.

HeaddressNational Museums of Kenya

Ceremonial headdress

Headdress worn by men during ceremonies.

Dancing TubeNational Museums of Kenya

A booming sound

This simple hollow tube is a musical instrument that makes a booming sound, rather like a "digiridoo".

It was made and played by skilled men on ceremonial occasions as an accompaniment to dancing. The player would blow his cheeks out and produce the same note at regular intervals. He would hold it vertically and blow it down, usually frog jumping round the dancers, honing every time he jumps down.

LyreNational Museums of Kenya

Lyre

This lyre is made of wood and the resonator is covered with goat skin. It was made and played by young men in the 'sikuronjo' (young men's hut) to accompany singing.

Beer potNational Museums of Kenya

Ceremonial pot

This ceremonial pot (tere-ma) was used during traditional wedding ceremonies. The pot would be put in the middle of the bridegroom's compound, and the elders would sit around it according to their age-sets.

Turkana DanceNational Museums of Kenya

Experience the Pokot culture

This is an annual Turkana Tourism and Cultural Festival that takes place at Loiyangalani in Turkana County. This three-day event features traditional dances, performances, a trade fair, and a market. The experience is a unique blend of culture, entertainment and party nights.

In 2008, the National Museums of Kenya established the Desert Museum in Loiyangalani, to preserve and promote the unique cultures of the eight communities living around Lake Turkana region, namely: El Molo, Turkana, Pokot, Rendile, Samburu, Gabbra, Watta and Dassanach.

Turkana DanceNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating Kenya's communities today

Many of the cultural practices of the Pokot are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. The heritage and culture of the Pokot community, along with the more than 44 communities in Kenya, continues to fascinate and inspire. The National Museums of Kenya invites everyone to celebrate the intangible cultural heritage of all communities which makes up this great nation. 

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curator: Philemon Nyamanga, Cultural Heritage Department. pnyamanga@museums.or.ke

Bibliography and research
1. Fedders A, Salvadori C. Peoples and cultures of Kenya. Nairobi: Transafrica and London: Rex Collings, 1980.

Photography and Creative Direction: Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini. Gibs Photography

Exhibit Layout: Barnabas Ngei and Brian Maina Kamau.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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