Karamojong people in Uganda
Karamojong People are a cultural Tribe in Uganda that has stuck to their ancient ways which and acts as a cultural tourism feature in the Safaris Uganda tours. The Karamojong are a group of semi-nomadic pastoralists who live in the northeastern part of Uganda. This group of people are Nilotic speaking are agro-pastoral herders who live in the southern part of Karamoja.
The Karamojong are known for being fierce. The word “karimojong” translates to mean “the old ones who stayed behind” in reference to the times when different tribes migrated to different locations in search of food and water and better living conditions. The phrase Karamojong is also said to have originated from the phrase “ekar ngimojong” which means “the old men can walk no farther”.
Origin of the Karamojong people
The unique culture of the Karamojong people can be seen in different aspects of their ways of life such as dress code, local arts, and crafts, jewelry, traditional dances, food preparation, and the marriage and initiation ceremonies and many other aspects of the ways of life of the Karamojong people.
The Karamojong originated from Ethiopia and got divided into two groups which include the Kalenjin and Maasai group in Kenya. Another group called the “Ateker” migrated westwards and split into many other groups which include the Turkana, Iteso, Dodoth, Jie, Karamojong and the Kumam.
Presently in Uganda, the Karamojong are found in districts such as Kaabong, Abim, Kotido, Moroto, Napak and in Nakapiripirit. The Karamoja region is bordered by Kenya to the east, South Sudan to the north, Kumi, Sironko, and Kapchorwa to the south and in the western districts of Kitgum, Pader, Lira, Amuria, and Katakwi.
A large number of livestock owned by the different groups of people is partly responsible for the further movement from the ancestral land in search of pasture and water for their animals. The growing number of people within the ethnic group also led to the migration of people to different locations.
Ways of life of the Karamojong
The Karamojong live in houses known as manyattas which are made using local materials like grass, mud, and dung. These houses are enclosed in a fence with consists of thorny plants to keep the animals from roaming out of the fence and it is also a form of protection from dangers such as wild animals attacking the local community.
The livestock kept by the Karamojong people include cattle, goats, sheep, and the products got from these animals include ghee, meat, milk, skin, and others. The Karamojong were originally known as the “Jie” people.
According to the Karamojong people, a man is valued according to the number of cattle he has. This is because of the fact that the Karamojong greatly depend on their animals for survival and are always in search of pasture and water for their animals.
They can be seen during a visit to Kidepo valley national park. this national park is one of Uganda’s remote national parks and is known for its wilderness and good wildlife viewing opportunity. Some of the wildlife species include lions, lesser kudu, mountain reedbucks, giraffes, klipspringers, cheetahs, and many others.
Bird species can also be seen in Kidepo valley national park and they include ostriches, little bee-eaters, dark chanting goshawk, red and yellow barbet, chestnut weaver, Jackson’s hornbill, greater kestrel, Karamoja apalis and many other bird species.
The way of dressing of the Karamojong consists of a blanket like a shawl which can be of different colors such as red and black, bangles, beads, cow horn rings, cowhides, and skin. The women are known to adorn a number of colorful beads worn around their necks, arms and patched in different patterns on their clothes. The men also carry sticks as they herd their cattle.
Local arts and crafts for the Karamojong include calabashes, baskets, bows and arrows, pottery, wood carvings. These people are also known for their unique hairstyles. The traditional dance of the Karamojong is very unique and involves jumping while chanting songs and the Karamojong people often perform these traditional dances to welcome visitors to their community.
Labor at the manyattas and kraals is divided according to gender, age, status among the Karamojong people. Children start helping their elders with chores at a young age, for example, the young girls assist their mothers to take care of their younger siblings.
Girls also practice building huts which is a duty carried out by the girls at a more mature age. Other chores done by girls include clearing land, cultivation, harvesting, winnowing and storing grains, feeding and milking cows and cooking.
The boys among the Karamojong carry out chores such as learning to build barriers, watching over the goats as they graze and as they grow older, they also watch over the cattle. The duties of the boys are assigned according to age, ability, and responsibility. The boys also fetch water and firewood and hunt small game.
The elders among the Karamojong are responsible for decision making and play important roles during meetings, the initiation ceremonies and during marriage rituals. Then elders of the community also supervise the younger boys as they do their chores.
Mediation is also another role of the elders in the Karamojong community is also to punish the wrongdoings of the young ones in society and they also act as peacekeepers in the community.
Marriage among the Karamojong involves giving of cattle as bride price for the family of the woman. The taking of cows to the girl’s family is a form of recognition of the status of the man in society and this awards the man with 3access to participate in decision making in the society.
The men who are unmarried cannot engage in decision making in society and the women who are not married with cattle, in the same way, have no say. In incidences of death of the husband, the woman is obligated to remarry within the same clan of her husband and the children got after payment of bride price become children of the clan.
Marriage and receiving cattle is a big deal among the Karamojong youth who view this as a rite of passage for them and is termed as a good trait of s good Karamojong boy or girl. The skin is decorated with certain patterns that make the females more attractive to the males according to the Karamojong.
Children born outside the marriage are taken in by the husband who pays the bride price and his clan and they are considered a blessing. Both the male and female children are equally valuable among the Karamojong people.
Polygamy is a common practice among the Karamojong people especially the men and women are expected to be faithful.
Bride price among the Karamojong people is in form of cattle, goats and other livestock is given to the girl’s family and this bride price can be shared in the family of the girl and with the rest of the clan. The question of suitors taking raided cattle as the bride price is still being questioned.
Women who are barren are seen as a curse among the Karamojong people and are denied the adult role in society. During the burial, married people are mourned in comparison to people who die when they are unmarried and this includes children.
The Karamojong people believe that animals and plants have spirits in them and that their god known as “akuju” manifests through them.
A common practice among the Karamojong people is cattle raiding and the cattle raided is distributed among the families. Traditional cattle raids involved the use of spears and this advanced to use of guns to raid neighboring villages.
The guns were referred to as family guns and required permission from the father and the mother at home before using it.
As a rite of passage among the Karamojong in the olden days, before a man marries a woman, he is supposed to wrestle with her and if he wins, he will be allowed to marry the woman which also applies for men from other tribes who wish to marry Karamojong women.
Description of the Karamoja region
The Karamoja region is characterized by vast dry plains, seasonal rivers. Climate changes such as unpredictable rainfall patterns are among the challenges faced by the Karamojong people due to the long dry spells which make it difficult to practice agriculture.
People in Uganda refer to the Karamojong in a negative phrase which states “until Karamoja develops” in reference to the somewhat backward nature of these people who are considered still backward due to their tendency to walk half-naked.
Despite all the negativity that some people attach to Karamoja, the beautiful culture among the Karamojong is a worthwhile experience full of a lot to learn, listen to, participate and to see.
The habitat of the Karamojong people is a plateau characterized by thorny plants and grass which changes color during the rainy and dry seasons. The dry seasons are characterized by winds and small paddles with little surface water.
Visiting the Karamojong people.
The Karamoja region can be accessed by both flights and road means. The long driving distance to this region is one of the notable factors that make the area remote.
- By road, Karamoja can be accessed using the
- By flight, Karamoja is accessed through domestic flights form Entebbe airport.
Food of the Karamojong people
Every culture in Uganda has a staple food that is unique to their culture and the type of food prepared by the Karamojong people includes sorghum. They also plant beans, maize, and millet and keep livestock for milk, meat and other milk products, blood.
“Visit the land of the Karamojong and experience the beauty of the wild and culture of nomads.”