I am writing this down because I have interacted with the Karamojong people and appreciated their uniqueness and richness in the culture as a way of life as a people. The Karimajong are believed to have migrated from as far as Ethiopia and get their name from the words Ekar Ngimojong meaning “got tired and stopped.” The people who continued walking are known as the Itesots. So it’s common knowledge that the Karamojong people and the Itesots are related. They put on Asuka. This is largely because of their nature as pastoralists and the Asuka can easily provide warmth in areas where it cold while grazing.
These people stay in Eastern Uganda in the districts of Kotido, Kaabong, Amudat, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Moroto and Abim. They are pastoralists and value their cattle so much. They stay in homesteads known as Manyatta which consists mostly relatives. Sorghum is their main staple food and a house without sorghum and cattle is not respected. Sorghum is used in making their favorite local brew called “Ekweete”.
The love for cows is exemplified in many ways; the karamojong used to ask for bride price as big as 100 cows and they also greet in the name of cows as a sign of respect. The men will also move many miles away to the green belts of Kapchorwa and beyond and leave their families behind to find pasture for the cattle. The most interesting part is that a young bull (Emong) is identified and a bell (Ekadong) put in its neck (that bull cannot be slaughtered for food, cannot be killed, stolen, or asked as bride price) to mark it as a treasured bull. If anyone raids on it, it will be followed wherever it’s taken no matter the distance and brought back. Stealing the bull with the Ekadong is equal to waging a war against a family.
Women don’t own cows in the karamojong culture but are given lactating cows to provide milk for the young children. The women own the land and spend most of their time cultivating it as they are responsible for feeding the family.
The Karamojong love animals and while they love (d) hunting, they had designated hunting areas to protect some animals from extinction. They have different traditional instruments they use in their homes that include;
- Spears; these are used for hunting, fighting and protecting the home.
- Ebur (Food flask); made of wood and animal skin. It’s used to keep food especially dried meat. They can keep it for over a year.
- Etuo; this is a calabash used to keep milk
- Adere; this is a calabash well shaped and used as a plate to eat food.
- Ngitoroi; Tired on the men’s legs while dancing. Dances amongst the Karamojong include the Edonga dance.
- Ebela; this a walking stick and is mostly used by the elders.
The Karamojong have different ethnic groups of people that included the Ethur (mostly found in Abim district), the Dodoth (found in Kaabong and are a result of intermarriages with the SouthSudanese), the Bokora (found in Napak), the Mathenike (found in Moroto), the Ik (found in Kaabong), the Upe (found in Amudat), the Pian (found in Nakapiriripirit), and the Tepeth (found in Moroto). The Ik and the Teleth live in mountains.
The Karamojong people value marriage and have a very beautiful traditional marriage ceremony called “Ekiitan”. Initially in the past, the father used to identify a bride for the son from a family they like most however things have changed. Today when a karamojong young man identifies a woman to marry, he will inform his parents who will write to the parents of the girl. Thereafter a day will be set where the parents of the boy visit the parents of the girl and negotiate bride price. And while in the past over 100 cows were asked as bride price, today due to poverty and other reasons, the number of animals depend on the negotiations between the two families.
In most cases relatives contribute to the bride price because they look at the wife as a wife to the clan and not for the individual.
Adultery isn’t accepted as you could even be killed. And if a woman was divorced, she would return the bride price paid for her and take all her children with her. This has changed however as the constitutional court of the republic of Uganda ruled against the refund of bride price.
Karamoja is full of many attractions including Mt. morungore (Home to the Ik) where you can have a panoramic view of Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan, Mount Moroto (Home to the Tepeth). Here you can see cattle graze at as high as 2500m above sea level. There is also a volcanic mountain called Mount Kadam which is the 2nd highest and lies partly in the Upe wildlife reserve. The Karamoja region is one of the best destinations for cultural tourism as you will find very entertaining dances from the karamojong warriors and visit the smallest indigenous tribe in Uganda, the Ik people. There are known for their unique huts that go as far as 2metres under the ground and are also famous for bee keeping. You will be treated to a whole different way of constructing houses with the Manyattas (Homesteads with huts facing each other) that will give you a roller-coaster experience.
Karamoja region is also blessed with Kidepo National park with a variety of wildlife including Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, and is the only home to Cheetahs for the domestic tourists who may want to see a cheetah roaming the wild and charging at lightning speed to catch its prey! What next?? Go and visit Karamoja!
Story written by: Pius Muhamya
Photography: Pius Muhamya