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Why Turkana residents cross fingers when August sets in

Updated Wed, August 7th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3
Turkana fishermen prepare for a fishing expedition in Lake Turkana. Last week, four fishermen were abducted by Merille militia and it is suspected they were killed. [PHOTOS: LUCAS NG’ASIKE/STANDARD]


Turkana, Kenya: August is a dreaded month among many fishermen in Turkana. They fear venturing into Lake Turkana, which is one of the world’s rarest desert lake, and is home to nutritious and abundant fish stocks.

But inside the lake, especially in August, death lurks, thanks to foreign militia from neighbouring Ethiopia.

The militia group from Merille community in Ethiopia raids fishermen mostly in August.

During the month, newly circumcised Merille youth are required to kill people from an ‘enemy community’ and bring back their private parts as a sign of heroism.

Both Merille and Turkana live on the border of their two countries. They have staged attacks against each other for years with the worst one being in 2011, which left over 60 Turkana men, women and children dead.

Turkana North OCPD Bernard Nyakwaka said during the 2011 massacre, they recovered bodies that had missing private parts.

“Men are targeted most for mutilation of their private parts and this happens in attacks in August,” he told The Standard.

During the attacks, many locals have been abducted and killed and their bodies are hardly recovered.

Old way of life

Ethiopian elder Lotikori Yarakal confirmed that August marks the season when young men among the Merille graduate into manhood.

“They congregate around River Omo (in Ethiopia) where they are circumcised and conditions set before they graduate to become men,” he said.

Yarakal, who refused to be photographed for this story, said the Merille are still steeped in tradition and old way of life.

“One of the mandatory requirement is that they go out and kill their ‘enemies’ and bring back their private parts,” he said. Yarakal also said the new initiates are required to steal from their victims by raiding villages for livestock.

“They arm themselves to the teeth and plan before staging a surprise attack on land or in the lake,” he revealed.

Yarakal said abducting the ‘enemy’ is a plus for the youth but when time does not allow, they kill and leave the bodies but chop off private parts and disappear with them.

On August 1, the Merille militia struck, abducting four Turkana fishermen, who are now feared dead. The fishermen, who doubled up as Kenya Police Reservists, were attacked and abducted in Lake Turkana waters as they fished.

Turkana North DC Erick Wanyonyi said a search for the fishermen has been futile, expressing fear they may have been killed and their bodies thrown into the lake.

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