The Pokot or Pökoot tribe mostly reside in the West Pokot and Baringo counties of Kenya and the eastern Karamoja region of Uganda.
There are two groups of Pokot: the Hill Pokot who occupy the rainy highlands in the west and the Plains Pokot, the pastoralists who live in the dry plains.
During the 19th century, the Pokot broadened their territory into the lower part of the Kenyan Rift Valley. As the tribe attempted to settle in the Elgeyo escarpment, the Samburu people raided them.
It is said that a wizard among the Pokot formed a charm in the form of a stick and placed it in the cattle of the Samburu. Subsequently, the cattle died and the Samburu people emigrated to Kerio Valley and established a settlement in En-ginyang.
The Pokot then began occupying Kerio Valley.
Since the Pokot people have been associated with peculiar or controversial practices.
Though widely discouraged, female genital circumcision has been practised throughout Africa for centuries.
It has been documented that FGM is practiced in Pokot County, Kenya as a rite of passage for young girls into adulthood. It also signals when a woman is ready for marriage. As with many African customs, FGM, although it is dangerous, is performed to uphold norms and prevent exclusion, ridicule and stigmatization.
As published by the Journal of Child and Adolescent Behavior citing UNICEF, “FGM/C in Kenya is common mainly in remote rural areas. Demographic and Health Surveys conducted on national samples in Kenya demonstrate a decrease in FGM/C to 27% in 2009 from 32% in 2003 and from 38-40% in 1998.”
The report went on to explain, “West Pokot is a Kenyan county where the Pokot people live and where FGM/C was found as a common practice (85%) among girls and women.”
Cases of FGM in Kenya and Uganda are now banned in 2010 in the former, and those found performing FGM can be imprisoned for 10 years in the latter, as reported by ReliefWeb. Despite these amendments in law, FGM is still practiced, unfortunately.
This opens up another discussion of a shocking aspect of culture practiced in Kenya and Uganda.
The Pokot are known for being extremely courageous and fearless. One case in point is their constant interaction with wild animals such as spearing bulls during the Sapana ceremony – which symbolizes a boy’s transition into manhood, as written about by Haron Matwetwe.
The Pokot however, are acutely aware of spirits and fear death.
So much so that they are known for abandoning their households if a family member is near death. The home is permanently vacated as well.
The reason is that the Pokot believe that looking at or touching the deceased increases the chances of others within the same vicinity dying as well.
Solomon Oleny, a reporter at New Vision commented, “It is easy to convince a Pokot to wrestle down a lion, but impossible to persuade them to look at a dead body. It is believed that he who looks or touches a dead body will be the next to die. As such, as soon as they realise that a patient is about to die, the relatives abandon the place, never to return.”
Another interesting tidbit is deceased men are mourned rather quickly – in a period of one day as opposed to women.
Mourning the death of a woman can take years due to the loss incurred which is the bridal price of cows that are to be earned when she is to be married.