Pokot people, Kenya/Uganda, 20th century, private collection from Finland.
The Pokot (Pökoot) are farming and herding population of about 100 000 persons who live in the West Pokot County and Baringo County in Kenya and in the Pokot District of the eastern Karamoja region in Uganda. The Pokot are a Kalenjin-speaking people whose language (ng'ala Pokot) incorporates words from the neighboring Karamojong and Turkana. The Kalenjin consist of eight principal groups: the Keiyo, Kipsigis, Marakwet, Nandi, Pokot, Saboat, Terik, and Tugen. Pokot farmers (pipapagh) cultivate millet, sorghum, maize and tobacco on their vegetable fields (shambas). Pokot herders (pipatich) tend Zebu cattle, goats, sheep, and camels. Among both groups. however, wealth is measured by number of animals one possesses. Cows and goats are used for barter, exchange and as a form of bride wealth.
In Pokot society, affinal and consanguineal relationships are overlain by associations based on membership in patrilinear clans (ortïn), circumcision groups, age-sets (Korongora, Sowa, Chumwa, Maina, Nyongu, Kablelech, and Merkutwa), and trading partnerships. Pokot men are traditionally divided into three groupings; boys (karachona), circumcised men (muran) and old men (poion). Men dominate the decision-making processes within the society, and the council of elders (wazee) is responsible for maintenance of law and order, security, social disputes, ceremonies, and decisions regarding agriculture and livestock. Pokot have moral rules (called kirurut) which guide them in their interpersonal relations. Kirurut entails rights and obligations. According to kirurut, quarrelling, theft from fellow Pokot, homicide and sexual offences (chepores) should be avoided. If person violates kirurut rules, he or hes children will be afflicted with illness.
In Pokot cosmology, the universe has two realms, the below and above (yïm). The realm below was the abode of vegetation, people and other creatures. The realm above was the abode of the deities, such as remote and unknowable god (tororot), rain (Elat/Ilat), moon (Araua), stars (Kokol) and sun (Asis). Wind is Ilat's "messenger" (kiyokin) and Ilat, in turn, is a messenger of Tororot. Pokot say that Totorot is the custodian of their moral rules. He punishes social offenders and those who neglect their religious duties. Tororot listens to (teroi) and hears (limoi) the prayers of his creatures while sun (Asis), the "eye of the above" (kong po yïm), witnesses their activities. Prayers (kisoianut), blessings (kisoyönōt) and offerings are made to Tororot during communal gatherings, including feasts and dances. Such ceremonies are usually presided over by a community elder. The ancestor spirit/ spirits (oi) both protect and punish offenders. The evil spiritual beings (called onyet) move about invisibly afflicting people with illnessess arbitrarily. Pokot believe in sorcery and use various forms of protection to escape the ill will of sorcerers/witches (ponu). Pokot believe that individual can afflict another with illness by using pan. Pan involves the manipulation of medicines (krïch), words and various bodily actions so as to affect somebody at a distance with illness. Some pan involves only medicines while other types involve the doctoring of items belonging to the intended victim - hair, footprints or clothes.
There are several categories of medical practitioners in Pokot society; an older women skilled in the diagnosis of most diseases and the use of herbal remedies (called chepsaketian), a specialist trained to foretell the future (koroyokyon), the midwife (kokeogh), a prophet who receives his powers by inheritance and is a key figure in the prevention and containment of diseases (werkoyon), a female diviner concerned with the problem of witchcraft (chepsokoyon), and a specialist believed to manipulate forces that cause mental imbalance (kapolokion).
The Pokot people are skilled craftsmen. Women traditionally weave baskets, work leather, make milk gourds and pots for cooking and water storage. Men traditionally specialize in woodworking, making beehives, headrests, and the handles for spears, knives, and hoes. Beautiful small elder stool carved from a single piece of wood and stylistically given anthropomorphic legs. These utilitarian objects had a multi-functional use as both a headrest and a stool. Circular convex top rising elegantly on tripod legs with flattened feet. Good condition. Age-related wear and sign of use. Aged minimal cracks and dents. Deeply matured polished patina. Dirt, dust and traces of pigments. Size approx. 15,0cm x 15,6cm x 14,0cm.
University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
The Threatened Ways of Kenya's Pokot People, Meyerhoff Elizabeth, National Geographic 161: 120-140. 1982
Pokot Folktales, Humor, and Values, H.K. Schneider, Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol.4, No. 2/3, pp.265-318.
Pokot Consepts of Health and Disease, David Nyamwaya, The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Vol.7, No.3: 2-18, 1982
Songs of Mobility in West Pokot, Barbara A. Bianco, American Ethnologist Vol.23, No.1, pp.25-42.
The Pokot people and their environment, O'Dempsey TJ., Ann Trop Paediatr. 1988.