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Traditional Mobile stool, symbol of power, leadership

It is common etiquette that when going to an event, one expects that the host provides seats for one’s comfortable stay, but among the Pokot community, adult men will always have their own special stool irrespective of whether sitting arrangements are provided or not, especially in remote areas where pastoralism is practised.

Pokot elders have cultural tools that are indicators and symbols of elderhood, power, leadership, and respect in the community.

Ng’achara, a traditional stool, is one of the cultural symbols of identity among elderly men when on transit or while relaxing at their homesteads.

A former Paramount Chief who is currently the chairman of the Pokot Council of Elders, Mzee John Muok, says the traditional stool was invented to help those practising pastoralism, unlike those in arable areas.

“The stool is used mostly by herders in dry areas where pastoralism is the major source of livelihood and people are always in search of water and pasture for their livestock. There are dangerous insects that could bite them whenever they sat down while herding their livestock, hence the invention of the stool,” explains chief Muok.

He adds that the stool helps the elderly any time they move around and even while sitting comfortably on their compounds.

“We must carry the stool even if we will be given chairs where we are going to visit,” he notes.

Mzee Muok revealed that there are different designs of the traditional stool depending on one’s choice, with some being multipurpose improvised to serve as both a seat and a pillow.

The Pokot and the Turkana sharing the borders also share the stool, as they share pastoral features among them.

The paramount chief confirms that the stool, which they call ng’achara is also shared by the Turkana community, who refer to it as charadum.

“We call the stool ng’achara, while the neighbouring Turkana community calls it charadum, and it serves the same purpose,” says Muok.

The council chair explains that there are specific indigenous hardwood trees preferred for the manufacturing of the stool, and experts from the community know them well.

“There are specialists known for making the stools, and not just anyone can do it,” reiterates the paramount chief, adding that the specialists can make different designs just for aesthetic value and not any other hidden significance.

According to elders, the stool is exclusively for men, and at no time are women allowed to sit on it.

“It is an abomination for a woman to use the stool, and our women know this and hence will never dare go against this,” he maintains.

In a situation where the owner of the stool passes on, friends, brothers, or neighbours of the deceased are allowed to inherit it on the anniversary day where all property belonging to the elder is shared, with the children of the deceased being exempt from inheriting the stool.

Muok adds that anyone aged 55 years and older is considered an elder and has the privilege of owning a traditional stool.

Another Pokot Elder, Mzee Nicholas Domokwang, adds that the stools are not shared at all and each elder moves along with his all the time.

Mzee Domokwang refers to the COVID-19 pandemic period, saying the stools came in handy since most elders would heed the health protocols of keeping social distance and not sharing some equipment.

“We, the elders, don’t mingle with the young; instead, they sit in a separate area during gatherings; therefore, the individual stools help in adherence to this,” he reveals.

Besides that, Domokwan states, elders walk along with a rungu, which signifies the elders’ power, respect, and leadership experience.

“A rungu is only used by elders, but a walking stick can be used by anyone for protection against attacks, among other purposes,” discloses the elder.

Domokwang adds that the traditional stools are usually one of the most honourable gifts given to elders and leaders visiting the community, irrespective of where they come from.

“We use the stools when anointing our leaders. Men of respect who visit our region are usually gifted with the stool as a mark for their courtesy and respect,” explains the elder, noting that currently the stools are being sold to anyone who wishes to have them as decorations for their houses.

By Richard Muhambe

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