The making of the film ‘Mystery of Namoratung’a’

I just saw that the Lake Turkana cultural festival is coming up and it made me remember my times in the Turkana land in northern Kenya. This is a dry and hot area – I am talking about 40 degrees and above. The Turkana community who live here are nomadic pastoralists who have traditionally moved from one place to the other in search of pasture..a sophisticated scientific process.


So we travel up north from Nairobi to Turkana land, a two day journey. Our main mission is to develop a film about the heritage around Namoratung’a archaeological site. The temperature is unbearable and we decide to do most of the shooting in the early mornings or evenings, when it is a little cooler. We always attracted a big audience within minutes because; first we are not from the area and  second, all the equipment we carried with us.


Once you get talking to people in this area you quickly get roped into discussions about the Pokot otherwise known as the “enemy”. The Turkana and the Pokot communities are both nomadic pastoralists and have been tied in wars that are based on raiding and taking possession of the others livestock. Each person you talk to has a story about how they have lost a family member to the Pokot. I am sure if you work with the Pokot they will also tell you how many people and livestock they have lost to the Turkana.  Everybody here knows how to use an AK47. I do not pretend to have an understanding of this conflict as yet so I need to continue educating myself. What I desist from is thinking of these communities as primitive, blood thirsty, barbaric and so on. I do not find that a plausible or even respectable explanation. There is obviously a long term issue of marginalization which dates back to the colonial period, the effects of climate change, fragmentation of land and so on but I think it is much much more complicated than that.

All the people we worked with are extremely hospitable and generous. One of the times we were resting under the tree and a woman brought us tea….. and she did not know us! That is the true spirit of AFRICA. It was always great to see the dynamics of herding livestock (more about this in the film). If a family owns such a huge herd of livestock why are they considered poor? Just because you are not integrated into national or global capitalism? Isn’t the owner of this herd better off that a person living in an informal settlement in any part of the world?


Anyway, we worked ourselves insane because we only had three days in which to finish the shoot and head back to Nairobi. This meant working till 2am on some days. We needed to have all the footage translated into English. The translation was all done on top of a mountain which had a Safaricom (mobile phone Company) mast and the only power outlet. The interesting thing is that, this was also the point where people could come and charge their mobile phones. ( Safaricom being clever and providing the signal and power in an area that is off the grid….how else will they make calls and send text messages if they cannot charge their phones?) People came and left their mobile phones there and went to carry on with other business and no one stole anybody’s phone!  Those of us from “civilization” were puzzled by this. I guess this was a community with high social capital and some sense of decorum that the those of us in the ”civilized world” have since lost.

After that very long detour here is the trailer of the film.

And the final product/full film (14.27 minutes)

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