Where donkey meat is a delicacy and wonder-drug
In other parts of the country, the donkey is considered a means of transport but for the Turkana people, it is more than that. Some of the people here believe that consuming donkey meat cures various diseases.
The donkey's meat in Turkana is popularly known as 'Epong Edewa'. It is a word derived from aloe vera that treats several diseases.
Joseph Arukon 32, a Turkana resident says it has been years since he visited the nearest health centre to get treatment for any ailment. He explains that this stems from the fact that his parents embraced donkey meat that has been their daily dose.
"My parents believed in donkey meat. They also believed that hospital drugs do not treat well, so I decided to follow suit and that is why I do not go to the hospital but instead consume donkey meat," explained Arukon.
The meat is openly sold without any interference from the local government. However, in towns like Lodwar, Kakuma, Lokichar, Lokori and others which are cosmopolitan, meat vendors do not sell much and prefer to sell at the village level.
"We are selling it only in the villages because villagers do not have enough money to go for treatment in hospitals. They also prefer this meat," said David Apus a vendor in Kanamkemer village.
"I do house to house selling, going around the village shouting 'epong Edewa' epong, epong, so that's how they get to know that am around," he added.
Donkey meat takes a lot of time to cook and therefore means a lot of patience and firewood.
Donkey's meat soup is believed to treat several diseases, like skin rashes, stomachache, leprosy, cleansing blood and also strengthening the immune system.
James Lokolita a resident of Napetet village told The Turkana Guardian that he has been a vendor of donkey's meat for the last 15 years and the thriving business has enabled him to take his three children to school.
"This business is like any other in town. My customers buy the meat early in the morning. Anyone who does not have money when I am passing near his or her home, I give them the meat then collect the money later in the evening. That is how I have been surviving for the past decade and a half," said Lokolita.
Compared to other areas where the donkey is whipped to force it to work and carry luggage, in Turkana things are totally different. The donkey is regarded as a family member. They are not forced to work. Working is voluntary and when it is not ready to work, it shows some signs which the owners understand.
James Kisike, 47, a resident of Kalemng'orok area in Turkana South Sub County said that beating a donkey according to Turkana culture is taboo because as a family member a donkey plays a vast role in the community.
"When you decide to beat a donkey, it means you have a problem. The donkey is our child, is our father, our vehicle and it dislikes anybody to force it to do things it does not want to do,” said Kisike.
Turkana people seldom sell donkeys because it is their main means of transport especially when they are migrating during raids and when looking for greener pastures for their livestock.
Joseph Losuru the chairman of Turkana livestock marketing council said they are receiving a low number of donkeys being brought to Lodwar livestock market to be sold because the owners consider it as a precious animal.
'As Lodwar livestock market we receive one donkey after one to two weeks this is because the donkey owners are not interested in donkey business," said Losuru.
According to Turkana County Director of Medical Services (DMS) Dr Gilchrist Lokoel no research has been conducted to ascertain whether donkey meat is a cure for diseases adding that it is a belief.
"I want to state categorically that there is no research that has ever been done to confirm such allegations. What we know scientifically about donkey meat is that it is rich in protein compared to your normal beef and mutton,” said Dr Lokoel.
Donkey owners in Turkana are supported by one of the local organisation in Turkana known as Agency for Crossborder Pastoralists Development (APaD) that advocates for donkey welfare.
“As ApaD, we are ensuring that the donkey is considered as any other animal that needs treatment and rest. That is why we treat them and sensitize the community about the importance of the donkey,” said Sam Kimeli, the director for APaD.
Elsewhere in China, donkeys are farmed for their skin. The donkey skins are used to make gelatin for a product called ejiao, a product that has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.