Visit The Karamojong
If you ever want to see how the Bushmen lived before civilization set in, the karamojongs are the best example. These are found in the North Eastern part of Uganda and they have lived in the area for many years and we are going to look at what they do best and their overall culture in this article and you will not want to miss to know who they are and their way of life.
History of the Karamojongs in Uganda
The Karamojong migrated into Uganda around 1600 from Ethiopia and settled around Moroto Mountain. They speak Akaramojong language which is loosely translated as “the old tired men who stayed behind.” There are more than 370,000 Karamojongs in the country at the moment and these can be found in the different parts of the country.
Karamoja does not get a lot of visitors as it is not known by most tourists but once you visit the area you will not regret it as you will experience something that is rarely found in other parts of the world.
The karamojongs became ruthless especially after the Idi Amin regime where they got guns which they used when they went cattle rustling their neighbors’ cows. This made them to be feared by many and they were immensely isolated. It was of recent that the government has started confiscating all the guns that are owned by civilians that the karamojongs have lost most of their guns. These semi nomads we’re not afraid to kill as long as they got what they wanted.
As other areas were being developed by the colonialists, the karimojong region was not as the whites failed to control them. Karamojongs are pastoralists who were well known for cattle rustling from their neighbors and they live in the districts that are neighboring Sudan and Kenya.
These people walk almost half naked as civilization is hard to come by this side. These Nilotic pastoralists are proud of their culture and are seen practicing it day I day out. Although some have embraced the trending culture in the country and the ever changing technology, there are those that have still stuck to the old traditions.
Most people in Uganda see Karamoja as a part of their country that is backward, not educated and lack the necessary education. This comes after they have rejected almost all the new technology that is introduced to them and they have also failed to adapt to the different religions that are in the country as they believe and worship their god Akuj who they believe has been there for them from time immemorial.
The karamojong culture
These have a very unique culture and they believe that cattle is a sign of royalty and the more cows that one has the more prestigious they are in the community. They will do anything for their cows even to the extent of killing for them.
Farming is a secondary activity to the karamojongs and is only carried out in areas where cultivation is possible. It should be noted that Karamoja is a semi dry place and farming is hard to come by creating food scarcity in the area.
The women are inferior when it comes to the karamojong culture and their major role is to stay at home take care of their husbands and children. The men are also allowed to marry as many wives as they want as long as they pay dowry for them. Dowry is an important part of marriage in Karamoja and it is paid in form of cows. If you can’t pay the dowry, then you cannot marry any girl in Karamoja.
Like any other tribe in Uganda, the karamojongs are ruled by elders who make decisions for them and these are the ones that they follow in order to keep their culture alive.
The men mostly do the cattle rearing, construction of the settlements that they live in and later in the evening, they gather around to enjoy a pot of local brewery. Everything in Karamoja is done communally and many things are shared from food to cattle and they move to search for water and food for their cattle.
The Karamojong are known not to kill their cattle but do this in case of a ritual when appeasing their god Ajuk or when the cattle is asked by the elders. Ajuk is appeased for wealth, protection against enemies, good health and successful raids.
The main delicacy that is enjoyed by the Karamojongs is milk mixed with blood from the cattle. The karamojongs spear the cows in the necks and the blood is drawn from them till the cow faints and it is mixed with milk to create a unique mixture which is locally known as Ekyalakanu and this is stored in curdled form so that it does not go bad.
The karamojongs are known to be wasteful people in that if the cows are slaughtered, no par goes to waste that is the meat is eaten and preserved for when there is hunger, the blood is mixed with milk and drunk by the people, the hides are used for making different items like blankets and cloths, the urine is used to clean gourds and wash hands and mixed with mud in the construction of their houses and the scrota is used to make bags.
The social life and organization of the Karamojong people
The karamojong are socially organized and they are ruled by a group of elders who rule till it is time to hand over to the next elders. The ruling of elders normally depend on the generation and in order to avoid conflicts within themselves, when it is time to hand over it is done peacefully to the next generation of elders.
The Karamojongs are not social people as per say mostly to their neighbors but they live in good clusters where they are very social to each other.
Like other cultures, in order to become a man and considered to be one in Karamoja, one has to wrestle the woman that they intend to marry and if he wins the wrestling match he is considered to be a man and therefore allowed to marry any other woman if he wants as long as he can pay their dowry. In case the man fails to win the match, then he is considered less of a man and therefore not allowed to marry any Karamojong woman but can marry any other woman from other tribes.
The wrestling match is to prove that one can take care of their family and cattle in case of any trouble. After the fight, the dowry negotiations begin and the man is supposed to pay whichever amount of cows that they have asked.
If any man who is not a Karamojong wishes to marry a karamojong woman, then he is not exempted from the ritual of fighting in order to win over the woman that he actually wants to marry. The women are cut on their faces with different cuts and this is done to improve on their beauty and attract men for marriage.
It is also very easy to identify a karamojong especially due to the clothes that they adorn on that look like Masai gabs. For the women they adorn Metallic bands that are tied around their ankles, colored neck beads and colored beaded skirts whereas the men just drape themselves with a colorful piece of cloth and add plastic bangles to their cloth and body.
It should be noted that the social, religious and political life of the Karamojongs all revolves around their cattle and that is why they are treasured most.
A visit to the Karamojong Manyata
The Karamojong villages are known as manyatas and these are an enlightening experience for a trip once you decide to visit the Karamojong area. The Manyatas are located next to Kidepo National Park and once you get there, you will be able to see the different animals in the park and also enjoy the unique culture that is portrayed by the karamojong people.
Once you decide to visit the Manyata, you will need to do the following in order to enjoy your trip:
- You should put on sun block and insect repellant to avoid insect bite.
- Due to the hot weather, you need to put on light clothes to avoid heat and a wide brimmed hat.
- Karamoja is a land filled with thorns therefore you will need to put on jeans to avoid being scratched by thorns and you will have to ask for permission to take their photos.
When you visit the Manyatas, you are welcomed by smiling children who you will find playing around the homesteads and you will also get a chance to see the different cultural dances that are performed by the ladies mostly. The singing and dancing around a built fire is the best way to wind up your day when you visit the Manyatas of Karamoja.