Pokot girls undergoing lepana coming of age initiation at Baringo County in Kenya by beating a cow.
The Pokot people are agro-pastoralist and Nilotic Kalenjin-speaking ethnic group residing in West Pokot County and Baringo County in Kenya and in the Pokot District of the eastern Karamoja region in Uganda.
During the colonial period, the Pokot who are a sub-group of the larger Kalenjin ethnic group were called "Suk" by Europeans. To some Pokot, the older designation is a reminder of an era in which Africans lacked the power to name themselves; to others, it represents the clever ruse of a forebear who outwitted powerful strangers by disguising his identity.
In the first perspective, "Suk" is an ethnic slur that Europeans borrowed from the Maasai, who denigrated non-pastoral pursuits; the name is said to derive from chok, a short sword or staff used by Pokot cultivators to till the soil. In the second perspective, a Pokot elder, when questioned by Europeans, referred to himself as "Musuk," a term for the nearby tree stumps; his reply is said to exemplify ingenuity and cunning, two highly valued but morally ambiguous traits.
The Pokot are quite proud of their culture are bound to hold on to it in the future. Generally, Pokot women wear colorful necklaces and beaded headgears, brass jewelry and big loop type earrings whereas men wear just a few wrap garments and cowhide capes and shirts. They use beaded skirts to distinguish those females who have been initiated from those who haven't. Pokot warriors wear red clay on their hair, special headgears of feathers. Dances are an important aspect of their culture especially during social-cultural events.
The Pokot live in an ecologically complex region that extends from the plains of eastern Uganda across the highlands of northwestern Kenya to the plains of Lake Baringo. Most Pokot reside in Kenya's West Pokot District, a pestle-shaped administrative unit of approximately 9,135 square kilometers stretching from l°07I N to 2°40I N and from 34°37I E to 35°49I E.
West Pokot is the northernmost district in the Rift Valley Province. Situated alongside the Uganda border, West Pokot abuts the districts of Turkana to the north and the east, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet to the southeast, and Trans Nzoia to the southwest. Cool, rugged highlands that form part of the western wall of the Rift Valley run through the center of the district, separating the dry, hot plains. The highlands—the Cherangani Hills, the Sekerr Mountains, and the Chemerongit range—rise to over 3,000 meters; the eastern plains have an average elevation of 900 meters, whereas the western plains vary from 1,200 to 1,800 meters. Four perennial rivers, all of which feed Lake Turkana, flow northward through West Pokot: the Suam/Turkwel, the Kerio, the Weiwei, and the Morun. There are two rainy seasons—the long rains, from March to June, and the short rains, from mid-October to mid-November. Rainfall varies from less than 40 centimeters per year in the lowland areas to more than 150 centimeters in the highland areas, with deviations of up to 40 percent from these long-term averages.
Mean annual temperatures range from less than 10° C in the highlands to more than 30° C in the lowlands. Vegetation includes moist forest, dry woodland, bush land, and desert scrub. The soils, derived primarily from metamorphic rocks of the Precambrian Basement System, are shallow, rocky, and prone to erosion in some areas; deep, fertile, and well drained.
The highland areas are covered by forests, but deforestation owing to population pressure outpaces the designation of forest reserves; to increase forest cover, which is critical to water retention, the government operates a number of tree nurseries in West Pokot.
BY: Kweku Darko Ankrah