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Turkana locals throw caution out, turn to fruits of death

By | Aug 4th 2011 | 3 min read
By | August 4th 2011


For many years residents of Turkana County have relied on wild fruits to relieve hunger pangs occasioned by drought.

However, some of the wild fruits have caused death and misery to the residents.

When Ms Anne Ngipuo Epem, 32, who was then eight-months pregnant was overwhelmed by hunger, she went to look for wild fruits in a bush.

The mother of one said she had been feeding her family with Doum Palm fruits, locally know as engol, which she said locals have been surviving on.

But last week when she resolved to trek several kilometres in search of the fruits little did she know they would terminate her pregnancy.

"I started complaining of stomach pain and severe headache and initially thought that the ailment was due to fatigue," Epem said.

She added: "I sought the services of a traditional herbalist but the condition worsened."

And after five days of experiencing pain her stomach got abnormally swollen.

"What worried me most is the fact that I could not answer the call of nature," she said.


One night while Epem was asleep, the pain overwhelmed her and she decided to massage the stomach, not knowing she was losing the baby.

"When I discovered that I was bleeding I knew the fruits could have terminated my pregnancy," she said.

According to Turkana taboos, the fruits were not to be consumed but when drought became severe, people resorted to eating them to relieve hunger pangs.

She said families whose names are not in the Government’s relief programmme mostly depend on the fruits to stay alive.

Lodwar District Hospital Medical Officer of Health Gilchrist Lokoel said the fruits cause indigestion.

"It leads to intestinal obstruction and predominantly foecal impaction in the stomach," said Dr Lokoel.

He added that excessive consumption of the doum palm fruits blocks the intestinal canal and can lead to death if not treated in early stages.

The health officer explained that the fruits interfere with blood flow to the intestines due to excessive pressure.

Epoem said she could not believe what they have learnt to be their ‘meal’ for a long time would turn out to be a killer. For thousands of Turkana residents who are faced with starvation, hopes of putting put food on the table remain uncertain.

For Epem and many residents in Ngirito village in Nakurioe location, hunger has become a common phenomenon.

Though she was lucky to survive, she fears that severe effects of hunger might force her to take the fruits despite the health hazard.

Epoem is not the only one who has suffered the pain of eating the wild fruit. Nakwawi Ekale’s daughter Ekaro Ekale aged nine, is also a victim of the fruits.

She said her daughter has not answered the call of nature for one week and has been in pain.

Since Ekaro experienced the problem her mother has been forced to abandon search for food to take care of her. "I don’t know where to get food for my children," she said, adding that, "she could not travel to Nakurio trading centre 30km away to collect relief food.

The mother of five recalled how she watched her two children aged four and six die of hunger two months ago.

She said amid sobs: "I was helpless. I could not save them because I had nothing in the house to offer them."

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