In Loiyangalani a small town on the shores of the Jade Sea, the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival is held every year in June.
Loiyangalani means “a place of many trees” in the indigenous Samburu tongue and it is the home of El Molo, a community almost in extinction as compared to the other surrounding ones.
El Molo and Turkana are now growing tourist destinations in Northern Kenya because of their distinctive cultural experiences.
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The Lake Turkana Cultural Festival widely known as Tobong’u Lore is regarded as the largest cultural festival in Kenya celebrated in the second-largest county in Kenya.
During the celebrations, locals exhibit a variety of their cultural heritage varying from songs to food, dance costumes, rituals and artifacts.
Labelled as “The Cradle of Mankind”, the county and its event draws thousands of domestic and foreign tourists, especially the ones from neighboring South Sudan, Uganda and Ethiopia whose cultures have remarkable parallels with that of the Turkana are usually in attendance.
“The festival is about showcasing Turkana cultural heritage through its people, nature and archeological artifacts.
“We seek to promote and open up Turkana as a preferred tourist destination and its potential for investment,” said Philip Lokaala, the county’s deputy director of culture and heritage.
The real reason for this festival however is said to be reconciliation of the communities that celebrate the festival.
It is meant to strengthen the diminishing bond between all tribes affiliated to Loiyangalani that are near Lake Turkana, namely Borana, Burji, Dassanech, Elmolo, Gabbra, Garee, Konso, Rendille, Sakuye, Samburu, Somali, Turkana and Wata.
The main occupation of the tribes hovers around tourism, fishing and gold panning. At some point, these ethnic groups fought over grazing rights for their livestock. They also have troubling histories of conflicts and “mutually exclusive world views.”
The first Lake Turkana Cultural Festival took place in 2008 to mainly unite the communities that live in the Loiyangalani area.
That same year, the National Museums of Kenya officially opened the first and only Desert Museum in Loiyangalani which showcases lifestyle and culture of the people.
The Lake Turkana Festival was proposed by the German embassy and it is organized by the National Museums of Kenya.
As part of the festivities, a three-day carnival is held on the main street now known as ‘Festival Avenue’ because of the celebrations.
The pinnacle of the festival is on the third afternoon of the celebrations where everyone from the community gathers at the festival grounds. The leaders and politicians of the communities take turns giving speeches.
When all the talking is said and done, the tribes take turns to showcase their cultural traditions to onlookers mostly through their music and dance. When the sun goes down, there is an enactment of a “message-driven drama” followed by a traditional costume fashion show then a “disco capped by a famous local singer.”
When planning a trip to Kenya in June, make sure to witness the Lake Turkana Festival to enjoy the beautiful exhibition variety of rich cultures and don’t forget to take a camera along to capture all the beautiful moments.