This essay seeks to place the events in Turkan during the first decades of the twentieth century into a wider perspective. Despite their modest numbers and the wasteland they inhabited, the challenge to the Turkana did not come from their neighbors, whom they could raid with success or live in harmony with. The threat to their traditional way of life came from Ethiopian and British imperialism, the reasons and forces of which the Turkana were oblivious to. Britain could not tolerate an Ethiopian presence in Turkan and regarded the problem of the Turkana as largely an imperial contest with the “Abyssinians.” In the 1960s and 1970s revisionist historians challenged this interpretation, arguing that the Turkana, in order to defeat their African neighbors, adopted new leaders and military techniques in the 1880s that introduced into Turkana society a new and aggressive militarism. Since their territorial ambitions in Turkan appeared to have been satisfied by using these tactics by the 1890s, Turkana “militarism” was thereafter used to defend their pastures and waterholes from incursions by African neighbors, to recover livestock stolen by them, or to replenish Turkana herds lost to raids, drought, or disease. Turkana historians have thus argued that the representation of Turkana militarism for continued territorial expansion is more a Western creation, for the Turkana were more concerned to defend their acquired territory than participate in unprovoked belligerence against imperial invaders. Sadly, at the time neither of the protagonists could have predicted the subsequent unmitigated disaster for the Turkana in the aftermath of the Turkana Patrol of 1918, in which they had become the unwitting victims of a larger conflict for control of an imperial frontier.

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