Turkana warriors' call to arms: How an egalitarian society mobilizes for cattle raids

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3 Scopus citations


Humans are able to overcome coordination and collective action problems to mobilize for large-scale intergroup conflict even without formal hierarchical political institutions. To better understand how people rally together for warfare, I examine how the politically decentralized Turkana pastoralists in Kenya assemble raiding parties. Based on accounts of 54 Turkana battles obtained from semi-structured interviews with Turkana warriors, I describe the precipitating factors, recruitment process, exhortations and leadership involved in marshalling a raiding party. Details of this ethnographic case shed light on how voluntary informal armies are mobilized, and illustrate how culturally evolved institutions harness our cooperative dispositions at multiple scales to produce large-scale warfare. This article is part of the theme issue 'Intergroup conflict across taxa'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210144
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1851
StatePublished - 2022


  • collective action
  • cooperation
  • informal mobilization
  • pastoralists
  • volunteer army
  • warfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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