It’s a chilly Thursday morning at Wilson Airport as we board an airplane en-route to Turkana for the Tobong’u Lore festival. As we touch down in this far flung region in Kenya’s northern frontier, fellow travelers are in high spirits in anticipation for the festival.
We are in Turkana to cover the annual festival and give our clients a memorable experience. For some, it’s their first time in Turkana adding to the anticipation and excitement.
“Welcome back home”, the driver says as we navigate through the muddy road and light drizzle to the Ekaale grounds in Lodwar, the venue of Tobong’u Lore Festival.
The Festival is a compelling reminder of what makes Turkana so unique. The region is endowed with one of the richest pre-historic fossil heritage dating over millions of years. Then there is the Lake Turkana, a miraculous anomaly of life-giving water in a parched and unforgiving land, unique in that it is the most saline of Africa’s lakes and also the world’s largest permanent desert lake. Not least of all are the extraordinary people with their vibrant traditions and culture.
It’s a slow start partly due to the rains that had descended the previous night. There’s got to be hundreds of people here already. You can spot the array of dancing troupes in different areas of the expansive grounds gearing up for the performance.
Dignitaries amongst them Governors, Ministers and representatives from neighboring countries are already seated. The chief guest, First Lady Margaret Kenyatta arrives minutes after the Governor of Turkana County, Josphat Nanok. The excitement in the air is palpable.
It is quite a site as groups embark on their presentations. Adorned with elaborate costumes, jewellery, fabulous headdresses and intricate beadwork, the dancers exhibit pomp and grandeur. There is an energizing display of music and dance from a myriad of groups, the Turkana, Burundi drummers, Samburu and Borana among others. In a nutshell, it is a rich bonanza, offering a cultural tapestry like no other, a perfect start to the ceremony.
We spend the rest of the day taking in all the performances and exhibitions. Part of the crew gets to enjoy some delicious mixture of goat blood. We watch as this lady makes an incision in the goat’s jugular artery with surgical precision, in this way it is possible to collect a reasonable quantity of blood without killing the animal; the wound is expected to heal within a few days.
The second day we make plans to hike up one of the many hills in Lodwar. The hill we choose is near the catholic mission. There are staircases leading up to the top where a massive statue of Jesus stands, in many ways similar to the world famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Another interesting place we stop by in Lodwar is the Kenyatta House, a landmark of Kenya’s struggle against British imperialism. The house is referred to as Kenyatta House because it served as a detention camp for five of the Kapenguria six (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Ramogi Achieng Oneko, Kung’u Karumba, Paul Ngei and Fred Kubai) as they served their sentence in Lokitaung prison. Kenyatta remained in prison until 1959, when he was detained in Lodwar under house arrest for two years.
A swelling Kawalase river has made our plan of crossing over to Eliye next to impossible. The rains however have remarkably transformed the landscape into a bustle of lush green a stark contrast from previous years when browns and tans of dried vegetation prevail. It certainly seems like we have to sleep in Lodwar for a second night in a row. We alter our itinerary and arrange for accommodation after which we visit the flourishing Napuu Drip Irrigation Scheme. We spend the second night at Cradle Tented Camp, a sprawling campsite (designed by Nameless a Kenyan musician and landscape architect) which also happens to have the only swimming pool in Lodwar.
Day 3 in the afternoon we try our luck again and successfully cross River Kawalase then head to the Jade Sea Camp. The following day we cross to Central Island via Kalokol, a small fishing outpost at the edge of Lake Turkana. We take a moment to savor the beauty of this setting, a cluster of palm thatched traditional dwellings straddling along an expanse of beach with the lapping waters of Lake Turkana gently rocking the fishing boats in the background.
Well, that’s it about the Tobong’u Lore festival, an undoubtedly ostentatious celebration, uniting communities of Northern Kenya and visitors alike. Looking forward to visiting again.
How to get there
- There are daily flights out of Wilson Airport including Silverstone Air which is the most convenient way to get to Lodwar directly.
- From Nairobi dive through the Rift Valley to Turkana County, past Nakuru, Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo which offers plenty of attractions. You can stay at Lake Baringo overnight and start early in the morning using the new tarmac road between Loruk and Nginyang.
- Book a Silversone Air flying package with a tailored itinerary designed by Turnup.Travel
Notable annual cultural festivals in Kenya
- Lake Turkana Festival in June 28th – 1stJuly 2018 in Marsabit County
- Lamu Cultural Festival in November in Lamu County
- Diani Beach Festival held in Kwale County in December
- Rusinga Festival in December in Homabay County