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Travel: Tobongu Lore Turkana – A Chance To Go Back Home To Where It All Began

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A Turkana sunset is unforgettable because of how magnificent it is, I have never seen anything as beautiful. As the sun goes down over the hills, the landscape turns into one of those paintings that you see of African sunsets, with a hue of colours, yellow, orange and red. You can’t help but be fascinated by the ball of yellow as it takes a bow to let in the darkness. It is one of those images that makes you itch to take a picture. Sadly, I didn’t. I thought I would have time to view it again and take pictures but I was unable to. The most amazing thing is that it didn’t have that harsh light experience that you would expect, it looked like a distinct yellow bright moon as it went down. It was unexpected and memorable.

Turkana sunset. Image from http://www.safari254.com/northern-kenya-magical-sunsets/
Turkana sunset. Image from http://www.safari254.com/northern-kenya-magical-sunsets/
You see what I mean. Image from http://www.safari254.com/northern-kenya-magical-sunsets/
You see what I mean. Image from http://www.safari254.com/northern-kenya-magical-sunsets/

We were heading back to town from Lake Turkana where we had spent the afternoon. If I had known that I would not see this beautiful sight again I would have told the driver to stop so that I could take it in for a few minutes and take a photo. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. That is the way it goes with unforgettable moments, sometimes it is all about the experience and you cannot capture the moment even if you tried.

I was in Turkana for the Tobongu Lore Festival. This was day 2 and we had managed to get some time to visit some tourism sites. We had started with the Kalokol Standing Stones – this is the Turkana version of Luanda Magere. According to the stories of the Turkana people, these basalt pillars who were once people. The legend goes that there was a village dance and a stranger came in and told the people not to laugh when he danced. The people agreed but when he started dancing people laughed at him. He cursed them and they all turned into stone, and they are in the position they were in when he cursed them. It is a spiritual power place and some Turkana people still come here to pray.

The road to Lake Turkana is bad, mostly untarmacked, some places you could tell were tarmacked a long time ago but the road has been neglected by the National government which is a shame because the area around Lake Turkana has great tourism potential.

It took a couple of hours to get to the lake because of some detours we had to take. Lake Turkana is beautiful, with a white sandy beach. I have to tell you my first experience with that sand is unforgettable. The sand was Hot, like very hot. I was wearing leather sandals and the sand scorched my skin. So lesson number one is to either wear covered shoes when you go there or go there either early morning or late afternoon when the sun is not turning the sand into a hot mess. We were having lunch by the lake side before swimming. Since I love the water I decided to forgo lunch and spend more time swimming as by the time we got there it was already after 1 pm. Also because lunch was not yet ready and to be honest I wasn’t going to walk to the lake and back with that sand burning the soles of my feet.

After the heat it was refreshing to enter the lake. The lake doesn’t get deep for a long way from shore but because at first I was by myself – the others were waiting for the food – I couldn’t venture very far. The surprising thing about the Lake is that there is a place where the water is colder then you swim like a foot away and it changes back to normal. It also has a place where the water gets deeper then almost a foot away it is shallow again. Later I was joined by the other guys so we went a bit deeper although I was not eager to go further after hearing that there are crocodiles in the lake. We could see one of the islands that are in the middle of Lake Turkana from a distance.

Lake Turkana is the world’s largest permanent desert lake and also the world’s largest alkaline lake. It has a couple of islands on it which are UNESCO tourism sites. I didn’t get to visit the islands but that is on my bucket list for the next time I am in Turkana.

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Turkana is a tapestry of cultures and ecosystems; it is a drumbeat in the heart of Kenya. A beautiful place that has potential and although it had largely been forgotten by the national government it is now coming out in its full beauty. It is like a Cinderella who had been neglected, given rags to wear, and been forced to hide its beauty as its step sisters (Nairobi lol) took all the glory, riches, and expose. Turkana is coming into its element now and like Cinderella at the ball Turkana is now showing its true self, its beauty and its potential. Turkana is not just a destination; it is an experience that sears itself into the mind.

Devolution is working for the counties and its effects are already being seen. There is a tarmacked road built by the county government. The national government needs to step in and do its part as most of the roads that need to be tarmacked are under its portfolio. Turkana is now a central focus for both local and international investors since oil was discovered in the region. It is also attracting other investors not just in energy but also in other sectors like tourism, industry and agriculture. I was told that there are some Israelis are keen to teach people in the region how to take advantage of the agricultural opportunities available.

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Tobungu Lore is a cultural and tourism festival that means coming back home and this was the 3rd edition. It is a celebration of the Turkana people coming together to celebrate their culture, including food, art, music, fashion and history. It also refers to the fact that Turkana is one of the cradles of mankind and so the land is welcoming all the people back to their home. I got the privilege to attend the festival courtesy of Skyward Express and the Turkana County Tourism Department. The cultural festival is an initiative of the county of Turkana to promote Turkana’s rich culture. It is an initiative of the Department of Culture in collaboration with the Department of Tourism.

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The festival featured traditional music, dance, poetry and performances from different wards in Turkana and also some secular music from various Turkana musicians. There was also a Miss Cultural Heritage pageant, Turkana Cultural night and excursions to various famous historical sites. We also got to hear the history of the Turkana people.

Tobongu Lore not only celebrates the living heritage and culture of the Turkana people but is also a vehicle for creating community bonds. It also acts as a peace tool, it is supposed to bring communities that have conflicts together. The festival also acts as a tourism attraction and it is hoped that the festival will attract both cultural and business tourists to see what is available in Turkana thereby enhancing socio-economic empowerment in the region.

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As a Kikuyu for whom most of our cultural ways and dressing has been lost, it was fascinating to watch the different attire worn by the people. It was a festival of colour, as people displayed their traditional clothing including lesos and skins, head ornaments, beading and paint. You could not only see them but you could hear them as well, as some wore bells on their legs and you could hear them as they walked. There were different dances and it was great to watch them albeit with a little sadness as I thought of how some of us have no cultural dances left. It left me thinking that maybe we too need a cultural festival to remind ourselves of our roots, and culture.

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One thing that stuck with me was how a dignitary from Uganda praised the Turkana women for staying true to their roots by still wearing their traditional clothes even if it is just for special occasions. He talked of tourists who don’t want pictures of people in modern clothing but want photos of people in their authentic traditional garments and make up. I found it sad not that we have lost our culture (not because of the tourism possibilities) but because generations from now the Kikuyu (and others) cultural dress will have disappeared. Already it is very hard to see it outside of cultural festival events. My nephew does not know how the Kikuyu used to dress and already our culture is slipping away from us, as we don’t even keep most of the traditions. It was a good time to reflect and appreciate those who are determined to make sure that generations to come will know the stories, language and other cultural elements.

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There was so much to see and too little time. I must do Turkana again and check out some of the attractions I missed like the South Turkana National Reserve, Central Island National Park, Rio (there is a statue just like the one in Brazil) and the springs. Turkana is definitely worth a visit. Planning a holiday around the festival is a good idea as you can get to experience the culture, and tourism spots all in one vacation. I can promise you it will be memorable.

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I was staying at the Sandfields Hotel which I would definitely recommend. The rooms are very comfortable and have air conditioning, and the food is excellent. The one thing they need to work on is the service. Each room has a tv with cable and there is Wi-Fi on the premises so you can check your emails and stuff. The best thing for me was unlike when I went to Marsabit the electricity is available all day so no worrying about charging gadgets. The network in Turkana needs work as sometimes one could not call somebody who was nearby. I don’t know whether this was because of congestion because of the festival or it is always like that. I hope Safaricom is putting in that booster as soon as possible.

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The festival was a great way to spend a couple of days. There was a lot to observe and it was an opportunity to also participate. It was an opportunity to immerse oneself in culture, song, dance, community and tourism. A chance to try new foods, make new friends, and a chance to create some memorable moments. So next year I hope you will make a plan to attend this festival.  Find out more about the Turkana Tobongu Lore Festival Is A Must Visit For Cultural Tourists.

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