Loolel Kookoi: The Great Commander (Turkana community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya
Loolel Kookoi: The Great Turkana Commander
The Turkana community’s contribution to Kenya’s independence is immeasurable and unequalled, but unfortunately, this fact has never been fully recognised.
Before the nineteenth century, the Turkana had a large army and commanded such great respect among their pastoral neighbours that they always provided the Paramount Chief of the region. Their army was tailored for pastoral raids and predatory expansion, well suited to the social and physical environment of the semi-arid region of northern Kenya.
One of their most fabled leaders was Loolel Kookoi.
He was born in the late 1880s near Kokuro on the banks of the Lomogol River and showed leadership skills from a very early age. Through apprenticeship he acquired the knowledge to become a diviner and medicine man.
He had great role models; before him there had been the charismatic example of Lokerio and Lokorijam, who had given the Turkana a renewed sense of identity, pegged to military prowess. Kookoi grew up to become a hardened fighter and respected medicine man. With these qualities he was able to unite all the Turkana.
His greatest test came with the British colonial army’s entry into the North of Turkana. This happened at a time when the Turkana people were experiencing divisive rivalries between their diviner-cum-military leaders.
Kookoi decided to take the initiative in order to assert his own authority and to galvanise Turkana resistance to British intrusion. He was aided in this ambition by his equally warlike friends and age mates, Nathura and Ebei, as fellow commanders.
The Turkana army campaigns of 1910 to 1917 saw the emergence of one of the most fearsome fighting forces in the land, known as the Ng’iruru. In time, the word Ng’iruru came to describe courageous and well-trained opponents to British rule who were highly dependable when forming military expeditions.
By the end of 1917, Kookoi was able to mobilize as many as 5,000 men to defend the Lomogol River which was crucial to British strategic ambitions.
British campaigns were routinely resisted by Kookoi’s fighters. This forced the British to launch one of the largest punitive attacks against an indigenous people in 1918. Meant to neutralize Turkana military power, once and for all.
A combined force of around 5000 troops drawn from Sudan, the King’s African Rifles, joined by fighters from groups antagonistic to the Turkana, launched an operation that led to deaths, confiscation of livestock and the scattering of Turkanas to places like Samburu, Isiolo, Marsabit, Laikipia, Cherengany and other areas in northern Kenya and beyond.
Vowing not to surrender, Kookoi was forcefully arrested by British soldiers, chained and marched to a prison on the Kenyan coast, either on Kismayu or Manda Islands. Loolel Kookoi was never to be seen again yet his example remains etched in the collective mind.
Lowalel Kookoi's legacy lives on
Water is essential for our planet. It is vital for people and Water is essential for our planet. It is vital for people and wildlife – it needs careful management because there’s not always enough to go around. Like Loolel Kookoi we should be relentless to save what is important to our well-being. Turkana County is famed for Lake Turkana, the world's largest permanent desert lake.
The lake is also the world's largest alkaline lake. The lake is rich in fish and is a source of sustenance and economic wellbeing to the local community. It is important to take measures to ensure that our lakes and water bodies remain to serve future generations.
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 30 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team.
National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer
Nature Kenya - Other Contributors
The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)
Daisy Okoti - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shani Mutarura - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Jeff Muchina- Shujaa Stories Ltd
Brian Kiraga - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Masidza Sande Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Eddy Ochieng - National Museums of Kenya
Linda Tambo - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Juelz Laval - Shujaa Stories Ltd