10 GODZ poster series
For the Turkana, the ‘above’ is a world divided between Akuj (God) or Akuj Nameri (God of the Stars) and Nipen or Ngiapan (spirits). Animal sacrifices are made both to Akuj and the spirits, so as to placate them at times of drought, famine, flooding, animal epidemics or any other disaster beyond human control.
There’s one supreme God – Akuj – who is associated with the sky, and who can be addressed through prayer or through intermediaries such as diviners and living-dead ancestors. Like most people living in dry lands, the Turkana associate God with the provision or non-provision of rain. If God is happy, he will give rain. But if he is angry with the people, he will withhold it.
His plans can be ‘read’ by “dreamers”, and he can be called upon in times of need or during important ritual life-stages such as birth, the confirmation of marriage, and in death. At other times, little concern is given to his existence, as indeed the Turkana believe that God pays little heed to them, and this to such an extent that he sometimes needs to be reminded of their existence.
Akuj resides in the sky, or else is the sky itself. Akuj also lives near the tops of mountains, particularly those responsible for rain. Akuj, however, is neither thunder nor lightning, for the Turkana know that there can be lightning without rain, but there cannot be rain without Akuj.
The word Akuj (Akuji, or Kuj) itself derives from the same root as the words for ‘up’ or ‘above’ (nakuj means sky or heavens). As the provider of rain, Akuj is thus a benevolent force, although also both the giver and taker of life. The Turkana have no God-centred creation myth as such, but Akuj’s role as rain giver, and thus life-giver, is commonly misconstrued by some ethnologists to mean that he is also the Creator.
Anthony J. Barrett. Sacrifice and Prophecy in Turkana Cosmology (1998; Paulines publications)