Pokot Tribe of Africa
Location: West central Kenya; also northern and south-western Kenya, Africa
Language: Pokot (Nilo-Hamitic)
Neighboring Peoples: Maasai, Turkana
Types of Art: Most Pokot art is associated with body ornamentation, including beadwork and intricate coiffures and wigs that are worn by young men to signal their membership in a given age-grade. Other forms of art include richly patinated gourds and containers used by women for storage.
History: Pokot history is difficult to sketch. Linguistically, they seem to be related to numerous peoples who live in the region with ties to both the Nilo-Hamitic peoples who come from the north and to Bantu peoples who come from central Africa. For purposes of the Kenyan census Pokot are placed in the Kalenjin group, which consists of many diverse groups of people who share Nilo-Hamitic ancestry and history. There are two main subgroups among Pokot. The nomadic way of life that most Pokot live has allowed them to come into contact with numerous different peoples throughout history. This interaction has allowed them to incorporate social customs that in some circumstances included marriage with other communities. Many specific Pokot customs seemed to be borrowed from their Turkana and Karamojong neighbors.
Economy: About one quarter of Pokot peoples are cultivators ("corn people"), while the remaining are pastoralists ("cow people"). Among both groups, however, wealth is measured by the number of cows one owns. Cows are used for barter, exchange, and most significantly as a form of bride wealth. A man is permitted to marry more than one woman, as long as he has sufficient number of cows to offer to her family in exchange. This is the primary way for wealth and resources to change hands in Pokot society. Cows are rarely slaughtered for meat because they are much more valuable alive. They provide milk, butter, and cheese, which provide an important component of Pokot dietary needs.
Political Systems: Pokot society is governed through a series of age-grades. Group membership is determined by the age at which one undergoes initiation. For young men this occurs between ages fifteen and twenty, while for young women it usually occurs around age twelve at the onset of menarche. After initiation, young people are allowed to marry and are permitted to begin participating in local economic activities. Young men and women form close bonds with other members of their initiation groups, and these bonds serve for future political ties. When a man or woman reaches old age among Pokot, he or she is accorded a certain degree of status and respect. Responsibilities of elders include presiding over important community decisions, festivals, and religious ceremonies.
Religion: Tororot is considered
the supreme deity among Pokot. Prayers and offerings are made to him during
communal gatherings, including feasts and dances. Such ceremonies are usually
presided over by a community elder. Diviners and medicine men also play a
significant role in maintaining spiritual balance within the community. Pokot
believe in sorcery and use various forms of protection to escape the ill will of
sorcerers. Pokot also revere a series of other deities, including sun and moon
deities and a spirit who is believed to be connected with death. Dances and
feasts are held to thank the god for the generosity and abundance, which he
bestows upon Pokot communities.
Christopher D. Roy also see credit page
Professor of the History of Art
The University of Iowa