The Pokot may historically be one of the least visited tribes, but this is by no means a reflection of their culture, which is laden with intrigue and mystique. This tribe resides in the Baringo district in the Western Pokot district in Kenya. A location that demanded hours of driving through dirt roads to reach. A journey that is worth every hour and more. The Pokot were once considered members of the Kalenjin community, who were highland Nilotic people originating in Southern Ethiopia and migrating southward into Kenya as early as 2,000 years ago. They have left their footprints in various parts of Kenya, as well as a permanent imprint in my memory.
When it comes to the rituals and traditions that form the fabric holding the community together, the main ceremonies mark notable transitions in the social lives of individuals and communities, to which I was able to bear witness. There are a number of ‘cleansing’ ceremonies that struck me as especially important within the tribe, including the purifying of a couple expecting their first child, newborn infants and their mothers, twins and other children born under unusual circumstances. Other ceremonies that struck me as significant included the male and female initiation, marriage, the coming-of-age ceremony for men called ‘Sapana’, as well as the summer solstice, harvest, and healing rituals.
Alongside their practices, physical appearance also carries major significance to the Pokot tribe. Much like other tribes, they turn to beaded necklaces made from the stems of an asparagus tree and elaborate hairstyles to illustrate their culture. Painful scarification and the removal of lower central incisors are more invasive methods of adornment, but are equally as customary, with the majority of the Pokot people I interacted with possessing all the aforementioned physical modifications. The concept of the universe the Pokot subscribes to is divided into two realms, with the realm above us playing host to the most powerful deities, and the realm below being inhabited by humans, animals, and plants. They described to me that humans are responsible for the realm in which they inhabit, however they rely upon higher divinities to ascertain peace and prosperity. I watched how, through prayer and sacrifice, the Pokot communicate with their deities, devoting all their attention to the moment they were in. To truly sit in peace and muse on one thing. That is one lesson, in particular, I took away from my time spent immersed in this community. The tranquility of forcing yourself to be entirely present in one moment.
Their superstitious demeanor and unwavering faith in sorcery govern their actions, with their steadfast trust in oracles and prophets being a guiding force in their lives. As an outsider, it was inspiring to witness such conviction and devotion. The Pokot truly are strong-willed individuals who remain unswayed by external influences. Similarly to their ceremonies, the songs and decorative arts, in particular body decoration, are also extremely appreciated amongst the Pokot. It became apparent to me very quickly that they are an extremely expressive tribe, with many of their beliefs being immersed in their tangible possessions.
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