Adventures in the North,Part IV: Turkana Women’s ‘Hands of Gold’’ Churning Out Exceptional Artifacts

As the world marks the International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8th March 2021, whose call to action is #ChooseToChallenge, a group of women in Turkana County, north-western Kenya are doing something that deserves some mention.

Turkana County in north-western Kenya is famed for many things.

You see, the people there boast of a rich culture, it is an incredible archeological site and home to the Turkana Boy and the Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world.

And there are many other things that stand out from that part of Kenya.

But what would probably catch your attention are the artifacts that originate from there, some that are a sight to behold.

Perhaps the most amazing thing is what natural talent can do whenever human beings decide to exploit their God given abilities.

Ms.Josephine Lobur, the coordinator of the Taste of Turkana Women Group shows some hand woven baskets that her group has made. The project is transforming the lives of many women who now earn meaningful living from it. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

This is what the Taste of Turkana Women Group is adept at. These exceptional women have been at it for almost three decades now.

The women who started out this group in 1992 under the aegis of the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, have now distinguished themselves as master crafters, and their handiwork is manifested in the quality hand woven laundry baskets and other artifacts that have become popular with locals and tourists alike. 

The over 200 women have made a mark not only in their lives, but also contributed greatly to the heritage of the County. With the proceeds from the weaving, the women can fend for themselves, in a dignified way.

Palm trees on the shores of Lake Turkana.They are important raw materials for the making of various artifacts. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode.

‘‘The money goes to the women. The women have benefited greatly from this project, which has helped them support their families,’’ says Josephine Lobur, the group’s coordinator.

Over the years, the business has been thriving largely on referrals from previous clients, and locals.

It is now quite commonplace to see domestic tourists who throng the area, coming out with a piece of the County; the masterfully created artifacts.

Lodwar Airport has opened up Turkana County for business. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

The Lodwar Airport has significantly boosted tourism in the area and so are other transformative infrastructure projects like the upgrading of the Eldoret-Kitale-Lodwar-Lokichoggio-Nadapal road, which has opened up the northern part of the country for increased business.

And a lot is going on there.

For Ms. Lobur and her group, the need no create stable market base is now an imperative. The need to expand their horizon. To reach out to more customers that may be interested in their products.

Handwoven table mats by the Taste of Turkana Women Group. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

The group, alive to the prevailing market dynamics, is now in the throes of coming up with an online platform to not only showcase their products, but also provide an easier way to connect with their customers far and wide.

‘‘We currently have no website but we intend to put up one soon so that customers can interact with us and even make orders online easily,’’ she adds.

Besides steady markets, other challenges include transportation for the raw materials, which they source locally from the shores of Lake Turkana, which is about 70km away as well as for the finished products to markets within and outside the county.

The upgrading of roads in Turkana County is making transportation easier and connecting people. PHOTO: Chiimbiru Gimode

Water is also a primary challenge in the arid area. They need it, not just for domestic use, but also as an ingredient for their work.

‘‘Making the products is also time-consuming due to the need to process the raw materials while balancing with other competing domestic chores,’’ observes Ms. Lobur.

In spite of the challenges, the women march on, weaving one artifact after another, and living true to their name, of giving their customers, far and wide, a ”taste of Turkana.”

Next time you visit Turkana County, and you are in Lodwar town, be sure to ask for some articles being produced by this group. You will be mesmerized.

And as the world marks the International Women’s Day on 8th March 2021, whose call to action is #ChooseToChallenge, the efforts of these women from Lodwar, Turkana County, deserves some mention.


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