Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Portfolio: Turkana Notebook

Turkana in north-western Kenya is one of those places that is about as alien a landscape as a suburban white kid from Ireland can witness. Being there is the type of 'edge of civilization' experience that jolts you awake in the pre-dawn every morning you're there, dried sweat candied onto your body, half wrapped in a mosquito net, gasping for liquid and eager to spend another day in this amazing place.

These images were made as part of my project on the Turkana. After making my first trips there with Irish NGO Trocaire, I returned to continue the work and to delve a bit into the culture of the Turkana people, beginning to show how the impact of Climate Change is slowly eroding their traditions and heritage.

It's a region which feels as old as time itself and like much of sub-Saharan Africa there is something 'essential' there in the air, in the people, in the cycle of life. I'm putting it down to being another 'mzungu', captivated by the colonial exoticism of it all, but it's a tangible thing, you can feel it.

The Turkana, tall and impossibly lean, perfectly adapted for life under a mad hot sun; the women with their braided hair and beaded necks, primitive goddesses to the last. The men appear bound to the earth, walking great distances with long sloping strides, without possessions except a hand-carved stool and a stick (and an AK47), custom designed for the life nomadic.

The Turkana stand at a cultural crossroads like almost all indigenous societies around the world, their traditions are slowly disappearing generation by generation, the pull of the towns and cities draws the youth away, their villages becoming places that represent only drought, conflict and food scarcity. These images are part of an ongoing project documenting that culture and the changes taking place within it. From indigenous rituals to the uneasy security of Christianity and the missionary life, Turkana culture is in a kind of flux that is further accelerated by Climate Change and the constant cycles of drought that we in the developed world mostly the cause of.


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