The Karamojong or Karimojong, are Nilotic-speaking agro-pastoral herders of Ateker ethnic group living mainly in the north-east of Uganda, precisely in Karamoja region. The Karimojong (Ŋikarimojong), the largest Karamojong group, live in southern Karamoja and are traditionally subdivided into the Bokora (Ŋibokora; mostly in what is now Napak District), Matheniko (Ŋimaseniko; in Moroto District) and Pian (Ŋipian;in Nakapiripirit District).
Karamojong warrior with tribal hairstyle and body marks
Karamoja has been overtaken by modern Africa. The Karamojong way of life has been torn to pieces by the introduction of automatic weapons, tight border regulations and a general ignorance on the part of the rest of Uganda and most who come into contact with them.
Karimojong girl with awesome hairstyle
The Karamojong tribe has been stereotyped by Ugandan officials for having a reputation for being violent, uncivilised and stubborn, when in an actual fact. The Karamojong have been victims of military persecution and of the automatic weapons that have flooded into their society after the defeat of Idi Amin’s army.
It is said that the Karamojong were originally known as the Jie. The name Karamojong derived from phrase "ekar ngimojong", meaning "the old men can walk no farther". The Karamojong are one of the African tribes with the most fashionable hairstyles.
Karamoja’s huge dry plains and the mountain ranges and volcanic plugs which they surround are inhabited by a complex mosaic of ethnic groups. The vast majority of the region’s inhabitants (as many as eighty-five percent) belong to the Eastern Nilotic Karamojong Cluster (originally referred to by Gulliver as the Karamajong Cluster) (Gulliver, 1952; Knighton, 2010).
Karamojong settlement at Karamoja
The Karimojong (Ŋikarimojong), the largest Karamojong group, live in southern Karamoja and are traditionally subdivided into the Bokora (Ŋibokora; mostly in what is now Napak District), Matheniko (Ŋimaseniko; in Moroto District) and Pian (Ŋipian;in Nakapiripirit District). The Karimojong lands are bordered to the north by Kotido District, inhabited by the Jie (Ŋijie). The final Ugandan group of the Cluster are the Dodoth (Ŋidoso) who live in Kaabong District in the north of Karamoja.
Karamojong people fetching water
These three ethnicities are commonly referred to as the Karamojong (the term is externally imposed, but has become accepted by the people to whom it refers). They share the same descent and speak related and mutually intelligible languages or dialects: Ŋakarimojong, Ŋajie and Ŋadoso (together known as Ŋakaramojong). The Cluster also includes non-Ugandan groups: the Turkana (in Kenya), Dongiro (in Ethiopia and South Sudan), and the Jiye and Toposa (in South Sudan) (Dyson-Hudson, 1963; Gulliver, 1952 and 1953; Knighton, 1990 and 2005; Olowo Onyango, 2010).
Karamojong man and a curd
The Karamojong share Karamoja with a number of other groups. The Southern Nilotic Pokot or Pökoot (formerly referred to as Suk) live in eastern Karamoja, primarily in Amudat District (as well as western Kenya). The Western Nilotic Ethur (who comprise JoAbwor and JoAkwa) occupy Abim District. Smaller relict communities of the Ik (known to the Karamojong as Teuso), Soo (Tepeth in Ŋakaramojong) and Nyangyia –who originally spoke languages belonging to the possibly Eastern Sudanic family of Kuliak or Rub languages –are also scattered throughout the region (Bollig, 2000; Ehret, 2001; Gulliver, 1952; Knighton, 2005; Peristiany, 1951a and 1951b). Prior to Eastern Nilotic expansion, Karamoja was inhabited by Oropom who might have been of ilotic origin (Knighton, 1990 and 2005).
Karamojong speak Karamojong (ŋaKarimojoŋ / ŋaKaramojoŋ) language.
ŋaKarimojoŋ is a Nilotic language of the Nilo-Saharan language family spoken by at least 370,000 people in Uganda – the ŋiKarimojoŋ (or ŋiKaramojoŋ) people. The name approximates to "the old men sat down", dating from a time of migration 300 or more years ago when this group refused to travel further on (to what is now Teso).
They are a cattle-keeping people practising transhumance which is reflected in the language as are their traditional religious beliefs; settled cultivation is relatively recent and thus words associated with this are usually borrowed from neighbouring languages or from languages introduced by, or as a result of, colonialism – English, luGanda, kiSwahili. Modern technical words come from these latter also.
Closely related languages and dialects are spoken by many more peoples including the Jie, ŋiDodos, iTeso (Uganda), ŋiTurkana, iTesyo (Kenya), Jiye, ŋiToposa, (southern Sudan), also by at least one tribe in Ethiopia.
These peoples are part of the "Karimojong Cluster" of Nilotic tribes (also known by some as the Teso Cluster).
ŊaKarimojoŋ is a verb-initial language. Verb forms differ in aspect rather than tense; first person plural personal and possessive pronouns has inclusive and exclusive forms. Nouns and pronouns have gender prefixes, which can change meaning, eg ekitoi (m) means tree or medicine obtained from a tree / bush, akitoi (f) means log or firewood, and ikitoi (n) means twigs used for lighting cooking fires. The neuter often implies a diminutive – edia means boy and idia means little boy. There are no articles.
Pronunciation is phonetic (similar to Spanish), except as otherwise noted. There are no letters "F", "H" "Q", "X" or "Z" (but see next paragraph). "Ŋ" (or "ng" – as in "singing") and "Ny" are consonants in their own right. Sometimes "P" sounds more like "F" in English (so, when learning English, ŋaKarimojoŋ speakers sometimes confuse these sounds). "L" and "R" are NOT confused. There is tendency to mouthe a silent "O" or "U" on the end of some words ending with consonants. Adjacent vowels are usually pronounced without diphthongs.
The Roman alphabet is used, orthography rules were established by Missionaries in the 1960s. These rules varied slightly between the mainly British Anglicans and the mainly Italian Roman Catholics (RC). The most obvious example of this is the sound which is halfway between an "S" as in "sausage" and" th" as in "think". This was tendered by the Anglicans as "th" and the RCs as "Z". These days both "S "and "th" are used.
Rules also varied also between different people writing down different languages. For example, most Nilotic languages in and around Uganda spell the sound 'ch' as in church "c", whereas in the Bantu languages, at least in Uganda (and excluding kiSwahili), this sound is spelled "ky" (as in Burmese).
There is some confusion between the use of "I" and "Y" where there is a vowel following. General tendency is to assume that the "Y" sound comes from the conjunction of the vowels rather than being a separate letter, but not exclusively. But sometimes there are very similar words with different meanings: edia means boy, edya however means vegetables and any difference in pronunciation has little to do with the "y". Somewhat differently, akimat means old woman, or, to drink. If you say acamit ayoŋ akimat you are saying you want the old woman rather than you want to drink, so in this case the infinitive is rather oddly replaced by the vocative, thus acamit ayoŋ tomat to avoid confusion when you need a drink.
Almost all plural nouns are pre-fixed with ŋa (f) or ŋi (m & n). Special uses of these can be seen above for the language and people. There are generally suffixes on plural nouns which, to the learner at least, have little regularity, for example emong / ŋimongin – ox / oxen and akai / ŋakais - house/s, or even removal of last letter, thus emoru / ŋimor – mountain/s and aberu / ŋaber(u) – woman / women.
Most traditionally known liquids such as water, ŋakipi, and milk, ŋakile, are feminine plural (though the eng prefix has been lost in some dialects) whereas more recently introduced liquids such as (bottled) beer – ebiya are masculine singular. Male names mostly begin with "Lo" whilst female names begin with "Na", thus Lokiru and Nakiru are a boy and a girl born at the time of rain. In other Nilotic languages in the region, this rule applies without the "L" and "N".
Some commmon words and phrases
Ejoka? - Hello! [literally "Is it good?"]
Ejok-nooi - Hello! [response]
alakara (nooi) - Thank you (very much) [literally "I am (very) happy"]
Ie-ia? (papa/toto/ikoku)? - How are you (father/mother/child)?
Ikianyun! - See you! (as "good-bye")
Ngai ekonikiro? - What is your name?
Ee - Yes
Mam! - No!
Akuj - God (apparently feminine - also means "north" and "up")
Ŋakipi - Water
Akim - Fire
Akine - Goat
emoŋin - Ox
emusugut (m sing), amusugut (f sing) - White person
Ai ilothi iyoŋ? or ai ilosi iyong? - Where are you going?
The main books written in the language are the New Testament, published in significantly different Anglican and RC versions in the 1960s, and a joint one published in the early 1990s. More recently there have been some educational books and there are various grammars and dictionaries produced mainly by RCs. The Old Testament is in process with a number of books already completed.
Karimojong youths dancing
Karamojong belong to the Nilo Hamitic group of tribes who are closely related to the Jie and Toposa of Sudan and Turkana of Kenya. The Iteso, Turkana, Toposa and Karimojong lived together in bar-el-gazelle, Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as one ethnic group about 700 years ago.
According to anthropologists, the Karamojong migrated from present-day Ethiopia around 1600 A.D. and split into two branches, with one branch moving to present day Kenya to form the Kalenjin group and Maasai cluster. The other branch, called Ateker, migrated westwards. Ateker further split into several groups, including Turkana in present day Kenya, Iteso, Dodoth, Jie, Karamojong, and Kumam in present day Uganda, also Jiye and Toposa in southern Sudan all of them together now known as the "Teso Cluster" or "Karamojong Cluster".
Karamojong girl. circa 1897
"They owned large herds of livestock and depended entirely on them. In time, both the people and the number of livestock increased necessitating further movement of groups of people away from their ancestral lands. This culminated into a large tribal movement southward. The Turkana moved and settled in northern Kenya. The second group also left Ethiopia around 1600 and attempted to join the Turkana but were repulsed by the Turkana who had earlier on settled around Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana).'
The second group then decided to move westwards and settled at Kidepo Valley in (what is now) northern Karamoja around Mount Moroto. Their situation was made worse with the setting in of drought and resultant famine. This state of affairs caused internal and external conflicts and the worst of all was the outbreak of human and cattle diseases. Consequently, people began to discuss the possibility of moving out to new places. The young men were in favor of migrating to other places. The older men, urged them not to do so. They were worried that the young men would be killed by hostile tribes or be eaten by wild animals. In their arguments, the young men mocked their fathers (elders) “Akar Imojong” where the word
“Akar” means stay behind and “Imojong “meaning oldman. In other words”The old men stay behind”
Akar imojong in turn called the young men “Atesia” meaning graves. The word “Atesia” also meant children. From that day the Akar imojong remained settled near Mt. Moroto in the region presently known as Karamoja sub region. Later, they acquired the name Karimojong (tired old men). The young men who were called Atesia moved southwards where they finally called themselves Iteso.
Before British colonialists arrived on the scene, the people of Karamoja were a collection of tribes (the Dodos, Jie, Labwor, Bokora, Pian, Matheniko and the Upe) with historical links. Their way of life was communal. A person was an individual only to the extent that he was a member of a family, a community or a clan. The means of livelihood were cattle and cultivation of land. The means of livelihood were never owned by an individual but by all the people. And no single individual could dispose such communal survival means.
It is also important to note that before colonialism, pastoralists in Karamoja and the neighboring regions were accustomed to free possession of firearms whichfor many decades had been obtained from Ethiopian gun runners and Arab and Swahili slave traders, poachers and merchants from the East African Coast.
In the first half of 1888, the East African coast had been the conduit for as many as 3,744 assorted firearms, mainly Breech-Loaders and Winchester rifles. By 1910, a private army operated in Turkana border lands with Ethiopia and Sudan, which were organized in units of between six hundred and one thousand fighters. They were mainly armed with single shot rifles and they operated in smaller tactical units. Therefore Britain had to “pacify” Karamoja and Turkana regions before they could claim full administrative control of this sphere of influence.
After the transfer of Uganda Rudolf Province to Kenya in 1926 and the creation of Kenya and Uganda as they are known today, the British tried to confine the Turkana and Karimojong within the newly created states. Before the arbitrary colonial delimitation sliced their grazing areas, the Turkana and Karimojong had lived with in the Rudolf province where they shared natural resources under a system of social reciprocity. After the partition of Kenya and Uganda, these transhumant societies were expected to respect the invisible meridians that delineated the newly created states.
In order to get protection from the colonizers, each ethnic community was expected to lay down arms they had acquired over many decades and stop cross-border livestock rustling.When they refused to surrender guns peacefully, Britain conducted a disarming campaign codenamed “Operation Tennis” from the Turkana side of the Kenya/Uganda common border. The operation was unsuccessful due to lack of proper coordination and the evasive agro-pastoralists who simply relocated to rugged mountainous terrain, out of reach of colonial patrols.
Consequently, Karamoja and Turkana regions were declared “closed districts” where movement within and outside was restricted without a valid pass. This decision was ostensibly aimed at containing the spread of livestock diseases down south, particularly rinderpest and pleuro-pneumonia. In addition, by restricting transhumance, the policy had the impact of impoverishing the two communities who previously had a thriving agro-pastoral economy and barter trade in grain, iron ware, and livestock. It also insulated them from mainstream nationalism and fervor of patriotism that was going on in the southern half of each country. It remains to be seen whether the cattle rustling and violence the Karamojong have meted on their neighbors is related to the effects of this confinement.
Settlement, Economy, Division of Labour and Tade (Livelihood Systems in Manyattas and Kraals)
Labor is differentiated by gender, age and status at both manyattas and kraals. Young children begin to work alongside their parents at a very young age (around three to four years). Young girls assist their mothers or other female relatives with domestic duties, including caring for younger children. At several manyattas and kraals we saw miniature huts and animal enclosures built by young children. Girls begin building these miniature huts at about seven years of age as training for constructing full-size huts, which is the work of older girls (beginning at about age 14) and women.
Within both manyattas and kraals, girls are also responsible for most domestic duties, including gathering wild greens and fruits, collecting firewood, preparing the fire for cooking, cooking food, fetching water, and caring for younger children (including feeding and soothing them if their mothers are away). Among the Bokora and Matheniko, girls also help prepare charcoal and take charcoal and firewood into town for sale or exchange for residue (the dregs from traditional beer-brewing).
In the manyattas, girls participate in clearing the land, planting, weeding and cultivating and watering or milking any animals not in the kraals. If there is a harvest, girls participate in bringing in the harvest, threshing, winnowing and storing the grains. Indeed, the favorite activity of a group of young Matheniko girls was threshing and winnowing, as it indicated a successful harvest, up-coming ceremonies and the availability of food.
At the kraals, girls take part in preparing food and watering and milking animals. Girls also help to cook blood, although only males bleed animals. Girls said that working in the kraals was much easier than and preferable to working in the manyattas, as the work load is lighter and they are usually guaranteed access to blood and milk.
In addition, pre-pubescent and teenage girls bear the primary responsibility for carrying food back and forth between manyattas and kraals, and may stay in the kraals for anywhere from a few days to several months at a time. The girls take blood from the kraal to their family back in the manyatta, and carry any items from the harvest, food purchased in town and/or relief items to the kraals. Young girls also make the trips from kraals to the towns in order to sell firewood and charcoal and buy food.
Just as young girls build miniature huts, boys of a similar age begin to construct small-scale barriers as practice for their adult roles of building and maintaining the enclosures around the manyattas and kraals. Young boys acquire a high degree of responsibility at a very early age through shepherding goats, a duty which begins at roughly four or five years of age. The young boys keep their herds close to settlements. Responsibilities increase as boys grow older, and boys graduate from shepherding goats on to calves and eventually to cattle.
Very young boys (age three to five years) present in the kraals. These boys are responsible for watching the kid goats that remain at the kraal while the herd goes out to graze. The older youth assist and supervise the young boys in their shepherding duties. For instance, male youth at a Tepeth kraal explained the daily system of animal management, which involved labor roles assigned carefully based on age, ability and responsibility. Younger boys are sent in from the fields first with smaller animals, while older boys and men round up stray animals and do a final security check. Young boys are more likely to assist in traditionally female labor roles when at the kraals (as opposed to at the manyattas), including fetching water, collecting fuel, and watering the animals. Young boys also hunt small game around both the manyattas and kraals, usually with bows and arrows that they have crafted themselves.
There is not a set numerical age at which a boy becomes a youth or at which a youth becomes a man. These transitions are marked instead by gradations in responsibilities and roles within the community. Young boys care for small animals, adolescent boys care for larger animals, and the young men are responsible for the large herds as well as the protection of the community. Young men are expected to prove their worth by committing acts of bravery. In the past this might entail killing a large animal in a hunt, such as a rhino, elephant, leopard or lion.
Large game is no longer abundant in northeastern Uganda, leading some to posit that young men have few options other than raiding through which to prove their courage and worth.
Women at the kraals are responsible for preparing food, watering animals, collecting firewood, fetching drinking water, tying young animals, collecting wild foods and milking any animals that have milk (many animals stop producing milk in the dry season). The women at the kraals are in charge of food preparation, including overseeing girls preparing food, and food is eaten communally. (In contrast, at the manyattas food is not usually shared among households.) Male youth and elders reported that men will cook for themselves at the kraals in periods when women are not present.
It is the work of the younger able-bodied women to collect and prepare food for the older women and men in manyattas or kraals who are no longer able to do these tasks themselves.
The building of huts (at both kraals and manyattas) is the duty of older girls and women, as is building and maintaining the fences immediately around the homesteads, and building the enclosures for the goats and calves inside the fences. Young men are primarily responsible for the outer fence of the manyatta or kraal, but may receive help from women to collect and carry the branches and thorn bushes. When a kraal moves to a new location, women pack up the households and load the supplies onto donkeys or, more rarely, camels for the journey.
One of the main livelihood activities for Bokora and Matheniko women and older girls is the collection and sale of firewood and charcoal. Charcoal is more commonly made in areas that are close to towns than in more outlying areas. Men often take the lead in burning charcoal, but it is the job of women and girls to carry charcoal into town for sale. The Tepeth and the Pokot reportedly do not burn charcoal. The Tepeth do not know how make charcoal and, more importantly, that there is a cultural taboo on cutting live trees if dead ones can be found. A Tepeth elder explained that the male elders of his community had decided at an ekokwa meeting to issue an order not to cut trees, as “the thick forests protect us from enemy attack and produce food for us and our animals.” Tepeth and Pokot women and girls pointed out that because they still have animals (often in greater numbers than the Bokora or Matheniko), there is no need to engage in natural resource exploitation. Indeed, even to the casual observer, the natural environment of the Tepeth and Pokot is much more intact than that of the Bokora and Matheniko, who rely more heavily on sale or exchange of firewood and charcoal for survival.
Women and girls generally leave the kraals earlier in the year than the men and boys in order to prepare gardens at the manyattas for the next season’s planting. In cases when most of the family is at the kraal, as with many Tepeth and Pokot, better-off families who have been able to sell some animals and purchase food will leave kraals earlier to begin preparing for the planting if the rainy season looks to begin well. Those who do not have the cushion of purchased food remain behind in kraals and wait until the rainy season has nearly begun before they leave the better pasture.
Karamojong shepherd with the herds of Cattle
Agriculture is traditionally, but not exclusively, the domain of women. Data show that many young men participate in agriculture at some or all stages of cultivation, although the nature of participation differs from one group to the next. Data collected by the Dyson-Hudsons in the mid-1950s (1954-1958) on Karimojong (Bokora, Matheniko and Pian) agricultural patterns also indicate that farming practices are shared between the sexes. Women were found to be responsible for all agricultural activity conducted inside the settlement (such as drying, threshing and preparing grains and vegetables), but men and women shared agriculture tasks that took place in the fields, with men contributing substantial labor for planting sorghum and millet, weeding, and harvesting. Both male and female children helped in the fields, although this task fell more heavily upon girls due to the boys’ role in shepherding.
Although the Dyson-Hudson data are fifty years old, many of the findings hold true today. Male youth in all groups we studied discussed participation in agriculture, and reported performing such tasks as cultivation, weeding, harvesting, clearing the gardens and fencing the gardens (men only). Men do not appear to take agricultural goods to town to sell; this is the job of the women and girls. Women in all communities where we worked stressed that decisions regarding farming were taken by women, not men. One Tepeth woman expressed shock when asked if men or women decided what should be planted: “How can a man make decisions about the crops that I am going to put in my garden? It is for me to decide!
Bokora men are more actively engaged in agriculture than their Matheniko, Tepeth or Pokot counterparts. For example, Bokora male youth described sharing tasks with women and girls in the fields, including cultivating and weeding. Bokora male youth work communally to harvest, moving from one garden to the next. The owner of the garden provides a good meal and some traditional brew in exchange. The practice of communal harvesting in rotating work groups has been adopted from the Teso people, and is less common elsewhere in Karamoja; for example, our informants said that it is not practiced by the Matheniko. Similarly, Bokora men are frequently found working alongside their wives in the gardens, also believed to be a pattern picked up from long-standing interaction with the Teso. These adaptations are indicative of a shift in livelihoods in accordance with the loss of livestock and decrease in viable pastoral livelihoods, as well as a shift in the female-to-male ratio as more women and girls out-migrate in search of economic opportunities.
Male youth are primarily responsible for livestock care and for the security of settlements. Livestock are moved to grazing and watering areas during the day, and young men often must dig wells in dry river beds during the dry season. Male youth are constantly on the lookout for raiders or thieves while grazing their animals, and conduct regular patrols around the grazing areas.
Patrol teams venture out from the kraal each morning to look for footprints that might signal an impending enemy raid or thieves scouting the area. These groups also go on missions to check the water levels in a particular dam or the pasture conditions in a given area. Grazing animals are kept close together, as thefts are most common when an animal strays from the herd. Most raids occur at night, and all youth in an area will respond in a collective defense if a manyatta or kraal in their immediate area is attacked. Although the majority of young men move to the kraals with the animals, in periods of heightened threats a portion will stay behind to protect the manyattaswith metal sheets and/or large acacia branches.
Young men maintain the outer fences of the kraals and manyattas, and both young men and women gather the firewood for the men’s sentry fires at night at the kraals. (The women complained about the back-breaking work required to haul the large logs to keep the sentry fires burning through the night.) At a Tepeth manyatta, young men explained that they check the perimeter fence for any problems before going to sleep. They wake at least once in the night to check for any possible intruders or signs of hyenas and other wild animals.
The kraals are usually in less secure areas than the manyattas and have less substantial fencing due to their mobile nature. Young unmarried men at the kraals sleep out in the open near to the animals to monitor for problems. Those who are married and have wives present at the kraal may go to the huts of their wives for intimate and sexual contact, but will then return to sleep in the open with the other men. Wild animals are also a threat to livestock in some areas. In Matheniko and Tepeth kraals we visited, the young men keep large fires burning just inside the kraal fences all night to ward off hyenas, lions and other animals, and sleep beside these fires.
Karamojong Pian Upe
Although women and girls do most of the trading in town, the sale or trade of livestock is handled exclusively by men. Men at Tepeth and Matheniko kraals explained that women accompany them when they take the animals to the trading center to sell, and the women then carry home the food purchased through the sale of the animal. Additionally, some male youth may engage in trade in other items. For example, Matheniko male youth are engaged in trading in Turkana, Kenya, and carry sandals made from tires, sisal leaves, and jerry cans of alcohol (waragi) to Lokiriama to trade. Women sometimes go with the men to help carry the jerry cans of liquor. The youth trade the alcohol and sandals for goats, which are then brought back to Uganda and kept or sold in Moroto town.
Most hunting is performed by young boys, but a group of Tepeth men at one of the large arigan explained that they also hunt in order to survive the hungry periods.
We also hunt. This is the way we survive here. We hunt dikdik, guinea fowl, wild pigs and even bigger animals that we might find, like water buck and antelope.
The responsibilities of the male elders center around decision making, mediation and negotiation with other groups for peace, access to particular watering or pastures areas. Ekokwa meetings occur daily to discuss basic management issues, while more formal and ritualized akiriket meetings cover aspects of ritual and ceremony. Male elders within a community are in charge of sanctioning, orchestrating and overseeing rituals, such as initiation (asupan) and marriage. Elders also play an important supervisory role in daily events. For instance, elders at a kraal will oversee the watering of animals and make certain that the young shepherd boys are correctly managing the animals. Elders also manage the other members of the community: they call people together for meetings, instruct shepherds when to take their cattle out or hold the animals back, and make decisions regarding the use and storage of food.
Mediation is one of the central tasks of the male elders, and they hear and settle disputes among neighbors, within households, and among age-classes. Elders also mete out punishments, including fines (usually livestock for men and local brew for women) and corporal punishment such as canings. Meetings between elders of different groups may lead to temporary or extended peace agreements. Some elders are considered to be particularly skillful in negotiations, and are characterized as “the sort of elder who will talk peace even if his son has just been killed by the enemy side.” These elders are respected as local “pillars of peace” and can be highly influential within their communities. According to key informants, these elders often prefer the quiet of the remote grazing areas, and are thus sometimes overlooked by civil society organizations working on peace mobilization. Successful peace agreements are critically important in order to maintain the mobility of animals, to decrease the mortality rates of youth frequently involved in or victimized by raids, and to allow for trade and commerce between different groups.
Seers, or emuron/amuron (male and female terms), play a special role within the social, economic and political systems of Karamojong communities. Seers are critically important for information at the kraals and the manyattas. At the kraals a seer will read intestines of a slaughtered animal to forecast the weather and to identify and attempt to mitigate any potential imminent security threats. For example, Matheniko elders explained that the kraal leader works closely with a seer to manage the affairs of the kraal. In response to a question on information regarding potential security threats, male youth at a Tepeth kraal said:
Seers look at intestines and they can see if the raiders are coming. Most of the information [that we get] is from understanding the intestines and then making the appropriate mechanisms for defense.
Seers play similar roles providing guidance and communing with higher powers in kraals throughout the Karamoja Cluster.
In recent years, the security forces have come to play an increasingly visible—if controversial and sometimes highly problematic—role in the livelihood systems of communities in Karamoja. Disarmament and the associated problems are discussed elsewhere in this report, but security forces also play a more positive role in the everyday lives of many of the people we interviewed. For instance, the Tepeth from the Kakingol side of Mount Moroto have located their kraals near to the army barracks at Nakiloro because of the protection provided by the soldiers. According to male youth at two kraals in this area, it is the soldiers (mixed UPDF and local defense unit forces) who provide daytime security for the livestock. The soldiers mount patrols along the roads and the shepherds graze nearby, and armed soldiers accompany groups of grazing animals in some areas or mix their animals with the animals from the kraals and graze together. The Tepeth kraals also benefit economically from their proximity to the soldiers, and will sell the occasional goat to the families in the barracks and exchange milk for posho (a staple starch usually made from maize) on a regular basis. The men from the kraals sometimes socialize with the soldiers in the evenings, and the wives of the soldiers provide food for the children in the kraal if there is a food shortage.
Marriage in Karamoja
“Marriage with Cattle”
Marriage in Karamoja involves the exchange of cattle as a bride price payment from the man to the family and clan of the woman. These marriages are considered official and a couple is “married with cattle” when the bride price has been paid in full, although payments may be spread over many years. Being married with cattle brings specific benefits to the man, woman and children. For a man, the rituals of initiation and marriage bestow full recognition as an adult member of his clan and bestow the ability to participate in decision making within the manyatta and kraal. A man who has not married with cattle does not enjoy these benefits, and will hold a place of less importance within his age-class.
Karamojong man and his wife
A woman who is married with cattle becomes an official member of the man’s clan, and only then is she considered a full and active member of the community. The rights and protections of the man’s clan are extended to a woman and her children following official marriage. This is particularly important if her husband dies, as a woman will have rights to her husband’s property—including his cattle—only if they were officially married. The man’s clan is also obligated to care for the woman upon her husband’s death, often in the form of remarriage within the clan (discussed below). Any children born to the couple after the bride price has been paid are automatically a part of the man’s clan.
Female virginity is not necessary for marriage (or even particularly prized) and many young women have several suitors that they may be sexually involved with prior to taking a husband. Males may also court and be sexually involved with a number of females at a time, and this continues after marriage in the form of polygamy. (Women are expected to be faithful after marriage.) The ability of a suitor to pay bride price is an important aspect in selecting a husband, and the man who appears most likely to come up with the full payment in a timely fashion is most likely the man whom the young woman will marry.
A young woman is expected to be monogamous after the first portion of bride price in cattle has been paid to the woman’s clan. At this point the suitor is accepted by the young woman’s family as a serious candidate. Any children born from this relationship remain part of the woman’s clan until the complete bride price is paid, and the man must add an additional payment for each child (whom the woman’s clan is ‘losing’).
However, the man has no official claim upon the woman or her children until bride price is paid in full, and a man’s role as prime suitor (and his claim to the children) can be forfeited if it does not appear that he will be able to come up with the full amount. Another man may offer the bride price for the woman and her children, and the woman and her family may decide that this is the better offer.
Karamojong woman with tribal body bumps. http://www.en.rian.ru/photolents/20110912/166588682.html
Traditionally, a young woman remains in the home of her mother until bride price has been paid in full, at which point she moves to the manyatta of her husband. In practice, many couples are cohabitating without being officially married through the exchange of cattle. Some respondents lamented this trend and felt that this was a notable and negative shift within society, whereas others accepted the situation as unavoidable due to the difficulties of raising bride price, the burden a woman with children places on her maternal clan, and the realties of modern life.
Young women who are not married with cattle but who move to the man’s manyatta (including those that have children born of these relations) have a low status within the clan of their de facto husband, and were described as ‘concubines’ in several interviews. In their low status position they are subject to the will and orders of women who are in official unions, even if they are older than these women.
Women who are not married with cattle do not have as strong a voice in matters that pertain to women in the manyattas. Of note, women who are not in official marriages are traditionally not buried when they die, and their surviving relatives do not perform ritual mourning or carry out other rituals for the dead. Burials and associated mourning rituals are reserved for young men who are distinguished in battle and for men and women who are married with cattle. Other corpses, including those of children, are left in the open for the animals and sun to dispose of. The influence of the church has changed this in some areas, and members of a Christian congregation will usually be given a burial.
A number of cattle are required for bride price, from 10 to 150 cattle. (Other animals, especially goats, may also be included in bride price. Cash is also becoming a more common element of bride price payments, particularly if the couple has links to towns through relatives or salaried jobs, and also if the couple is educated. The inclusion of cash is much less common in rural areas.) There are a variety of reasons for this.
Bride prices differ based on the size of the clan of the woman, with a larger clan requiring more cattle for marriage. (Cattle are distributed to members of the woman’s immediate family as well as members of the larger clan). These discrepancies mean that some respondents may have told us the number of cattle required by a specific clan as opposed to an average number. Variations in the size of bride price are also based on who is reporting: a youth eager to prove his manliness may report a higher bride price. Likewise, high bride prices might be reported by men and women who are not in official marriages so as to justify the existence of their unofficial union. In other instances, low bride prices might be reported by those placing the onus on the young men for failure to engage in official marriage. The average bride price in Karamoja is between 40 and 50 head of cattle.
On their own, most young men are not able (or expected) to raise the number of cattle required for bride price. The man’s clan is expected to contribute the cattle required for his first wife; the bride price payments for any subsequent wives are his responsibility. They therefore ask their fathers, male relatives and male friends for contributions of cattle and, in return, promise to repay this debt from their future herds. In particular, young men may ask their fathers for cattle given to the family as bride price for their sisters; this is an important source of cattle for young men hoping to marry. However, some of our informants complained that their fathers are using cattle collected from their daughters’ bride price to themselves marry additional (and younger) wives. This practice is more prevalent than in the past. Both men and women said that this pattern can create problems and tensions in the family, as the men have difficulty in supporting multiple wives and children, and the sons grow resentful that there are no cattle left for their own marriages.
The role of raided cattle in bride price payment remains open to debate and requires more investigation. One hypothesis is that the pressure to marry with cattle in order to be recognized as an adult member of society pushes young men to raid cattle to meet bride price obligations. Key informants and several female respondents said that the pressure to acquire cattle quickly—if, for instance, a man had children with a woman and knew that other suitors may be near to raising the bride price—might prompt a man into raiding to secure the needed animals.18 Young men agreed that raided cattle could be included in bride price payments, but explained that most of the cattle either came from a man’s father or from the herd of the man himself. According to men of various ages, raided cattle are usually (but not always) sold quickly in order to prevent discovery and revenge raids.
In some cases a woman may be able to reject a suitor whom she does not fancy, even one who has sufficient bride price. In other cases, however, the girl’s parents may force her to marry against her will, particularly if the suitor is wealthy and has many cattle to offer. These forced marriages often involve a young woman being married to a much older man, as older man are more likely to have the cattle for the bride price payment.
Patterns of young women marrying older men are also thought to increase tensions between generations, as young men come to resent the loss of available women to their elders. There are few cases of young women killing themselves (in these instances by ingesting poison) rather than face marriage against their will. In other instances the women simply run away to an urban center. The female respondents who reported these cases stressed that, after the suicides, other families in the manyattas were much more hesitant to force girls to marry without their consent.
Children born prior to official marriage are considered a blessing to the eventual husband and his clan, even if the husband is not the father of the children. A man may claim the children from his wife’s previous liaisons by paying an additional fee per each in the bride price payment. The husband is then entitled to the labor of the children and any cattle that are given as bride price for the daughters.
Once the husband pays bride price and the fee for the children the biological father has no further claim to his offspring. If the husband and the woman’s family agree that he can pay off the cattle over time the man is allowed to take the woman as a wife and any children the woman has produced. However, as mentioned above, if the man fails to pay the balance of the cattle, any cattle coming from the future marriages of the daughters will go to the maternal clan.
Notably, throughout Karamoja, children of both genders are highly valued: boys for their roles in maintaining the family herds, girls for future bride price and return of cattle. Our team neither saw nor heard evidence to suggest that female children received less food, medical care, or access to education than their brothers. Likewise, we found no evidence to suggest that couples preferred to have male offspring over female offspring. We attribute the relatively high value given to girls to their ability to bring bride price to the family and clan. Families that were able to send children to school were sending roughly equal numbers of female and male children. Hence, on several levels, the role of bride price seems to have some positive affects on the treatment and valuing of girls within Karamoja.
Polygamy is widely practiced throughout Karamoja. When asked, a majority of women felt that polygamy was harmful because men often take more wives and have more children than they can support financially. Women said that men with multiple wives would often stay with the wife who could best provide him food, leaving the rest of the women and children hungry. According to a key informant, in the past a man with many wives was known to be very rich in cattle and would not have had a problem supporting his family. Insecurity and cattle raids have resulted in impoverishment and difficulties in maintaining large families, even for those who were previously wealthy.
Respondents said that in the rare cases of divorce, children will remain with their mothers, even if the children had been brought into the man’s clan through a payment in cattle. Our informants had never heard of a man being able to take a woman’s child(ren) away from her, however the woman’s clan is supposed to repay the cattle paid by the man upon marriage. Likewise, female respondents reported that a widow’s children always belong to her, even if she has been inherited by a brother-in-law. The woman must always agree to claims made upon her children.
Children are highly valued within Karamojong cultures. Not surprisingly, the first birth from an approved union (regardless of marital status) is a cause for much celebration. According to Knighton:
To become a father or a mother is to experience
a significant rise in social status. The mother also
is grateful for the additional security, that she is
unlikely to be returned to her father for barrenness.
So is her clan, who would have to return the bridewealth."
The majority of women give birth in their huts, with only those in town going to hospitals. An old woman, usually a traditional birth assistant (TBA), is present to assist with a woman’s first birth. A woman remains alone in her hut for subsequent births and is only attended if she calls out for help. The sign of a successful birth is the cry of the infant and people come into the hut at this time to attend to the mother and to welcome the child. A TBA cuts the umbilical cord, which is then buried in a secret place near the mother’s hut. This is meant to ward of any witchcraft that might harm the child.
Knighton provides a description of the role of TBAs at births:
Traditional midwives are very efficient in their task, receiving the baby in front of the mother, while she pushes in a kneeling position. They wash it with cold water, tie the umbilical cord with fibre, cut it with a knife for a girl, or an arrow for bleeding cattle if it is a boy.
Any Western Program of primary health care needs to work with the highly influential traditional birth attendants to achieve their aims of health for the population.
Women reported that the child’s father is very happy when a healthy child is born. The father will go to the kraal and get milk for the mother and will buy clothes for the baby. There are prohibitions on sexual intercourse between the couple as long as the woman is breastfeeding, and this may last up to two years or longer.
Tepeth women explained that if the baby dies during or immediately after birth, it is possible that the woman will be thrown out of the house by the husband. This is reportedly more likely to happen in the case of the death of the first born. In such cases, the woman will return to the home of her parents. If the husband refuses to let the woman return to his homestead, the bride price paid for her will be returned and she will then be considered divorced.
A marriage cannot be fulfilled until children are produced from the union. Women who are barren are seen as cursed by Akujů, stigmatized by their co-wives, and are denied the status of an adult.
Female Genital Cutting
Of the groups we worked with, female genital cutting (also referred to as female genital mutilation, or FGM, and sometimes as female circumcision), is practiced among the Tepeth and the Pokot that cross from Kenya into Uganda.36 Both the Tepeth and the Pokot practice a form of genital cutting that excises the clitoris and the labia minora. According to the World Health Organization,
The immediate and long-term health consequences of
female genital mutilation vary according to the type and
severity of the procedure performed. Immediate
complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage,
urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury
to adjacent tissue. Haemorrhage and infection can cause
death. More recently, concern has arisen about possible
transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
due to the use of one instrument in multiple operations, but
this has not been the subject of detailed research. Long-term
consequences include cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation,
damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence,
dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse) and sexual dysfunction
and difficulties with childbirth."
According to women from both tribes, girls are considered ready for genital cutting after their first menstruation period. The ceremony (including the cutting) can only occur in years when there is a good harvest, meaning that there may be a delay of several years after a girl reaches puberty. Women and girls explained that a good harvest is necessary both because it is auspicious and also because girls fall sick after being cut and must be adequately fed. Elder women perform the ceremony with a special knife sharpened with a stone. The same knife is used on all the girls. Tepeth girls are excised but their vaginal openings are not sewn closed. Among the Pokot, however, the vaginal opening is sewn shut, leaving only a small opening remaining.
At the time of the ceremony, each girl is given a stone to sit on and stones are arranged in a line. The girls hold open their legs, or, if they “lack courage,” will be held by other women. Female members of the community sing “vigorous songs” around the girls to give them strength, and the tops of soda bottles are hung from surrounding trees to make noise. The songs the women sing are “heroes’ songs,” and the words remind the girls that they are moving from childhood to womanhood. “I am now a woman. I am grown up now. I am ready for marriage.”
After the cutting, the girls are taken to mats leaves where they will rest. Other women have collected these leaves over several days to make a comfortable spot for the girls. The girls will stay together in this area for up to a month until they are healed. If a girl’s wounds become septic, the old woman who performed the ceremony will cut out the septic area and treat the infection with either natural remedies or, in serious cases, with purchased western medicines. The mothers of the girls bring food and milk to keep their daughters “fat and healthy looking.” The girls do not bathe during this month.
After one month has passed the girls are taken to a river where rituals are performed. These rituals are meant to appease the river spirits in order to ensure that the wounds do not reopen. The girls bathe and are dressed in finery, and are then presented to the manyattas. Men will have gathered at the manyattas to see which girls/women are now officially available for marriage.
Some parents do not have their girls circumcised. In discussions with adult women, it appeared that the rationale for this was predominately economic as opposed to being based on health or rights. The family loses a month of labor after their daughter is circumcised and has to provide food during this time, which adds up to a significant expense. Any unexpected medical needs are a further burden. In addition, a girl’s family is expected to host a party for relatives, friends and neighbors when their daughter has recovered and is presented as a ‘woman’ to the community.
Socio-political structure and Culture
Generation-Sets, Age-Classes and Passage of Power
The name for the Karimojong’s and Jie’s sacred assembly is akiriket and is closely associated with Akujů, their God. The akiriket assemblies represent the active political, social and religious organization of the groups.
Lochoro Samuel, Jie Clan Elder, Kotido District, Karamoja, Uganda. Alfred Weidinger
Akiriket provides a living record. First its full members
are men. They are not there merely to exclude women
from power in a society, nor even as representatives of
their families or clans. They are there as a summation of
society before Akujů [their God] and, under His guidance,
to take responsibility for that society and act on its behalf for
its common welfare. Secondly, the men are strictly ranked
in order of seniority. Uninitiated men have no proper voice
in the assembly and have a status relative to it similar to that
of women, as ngikaracuna (they of the apron) or boys (ngidyain).
The initiates are divided twice, into generation-sets and into
age-sets contained within the generation-sets, but all initiates
have an equal right to speak in the assembly, even if different
voices carry different weight… Initiations are only held in good
years, and any planned for years that turn out to be bad are stopped."
The akiriket are formal and ritualized meetings and cover a range of ritual activities of communities in relation with Akujů. The akiriket are held in particular shrines set aside for this purpose, and only certain elders are qualified to handle matters of the akiriket.
Three young Karamojong shepherds
In contrast to the formal akiriket, ekokwa gatherings are informal and held daily by male elders at the manyattas and kraals. Ekokwa are much less reverent than akiriket, and deal with issues of daily management. News and information are shared, disputes are brought forward (and potentially settled), and day-to-day affairs of the group and conditions in the area are discussed. These gatherings are ideally held in the shade of a large acacia tree. Any respected elder can officiate at ekokwa, and this is the forum where most decisions are made. The ekokwa consist of male elders, but women may present their problems or requests at these fora as well.
Power is invested in an age-class, never in an individual. And, while one man may hold sway one day in an akiriket or an ekokwa, decisions are made collectively and a different man may have influence at the next gathering. When initiated, the members of an age-class are given a specific name by the elders that will identify the age-class for the collective life of its members. The elders select the name of an animal or, less commonly, a plant or geological feature, to give to the age-class when the group is roughly 18 years of age. However, elders will often wait to initiate a group until they are significantly older, as discussed below.
Each generation-set is compromised of up to five age-classes. Only two generation-sets can exist simultaneously—the senior generation-set, which consists of the elders in power at a given time, and the junior generation-set, which will eventually assume power. A man cannot be in the same generation-set as his father. At present, the senior generation-set in Karamoja is known as the Mountains (Ngimoru) and the junior generation-set is the Gazelles (Ngigetei). The current age-classes for the Karimojong males (Matheniko, Bokora and Pian) are laid out below, with the generation-set name in bold followed by the names of the age-classes (Table 1).
Table 1. Karimojong Age-Classes
Date Names for Age-Classes Metal (body ornamentation
1897 Moru III (mountains), Kokoi (grey monkeys, grivets) Copper
a. 1898 Taaba (rocks)
b. 1898 Putiro (wart-hogs)
c. 1913 Cubae (blue monkeys), Rengelen (red ostrich feathers)
d. 1942-43 Baanga (ducks)
1956 Gete IV (Grant’s gazelles) Brass
a. 1956 Meguro (bat-eared foxes) there were initiations in
1957, 1959, 1964, 1966
b. 1975 Owa (bees) now closed – many initiates
c. 1999 Wapeto (eland)
d.Forthcoming Ru (small plant with green leaves and yellow fruit)
Forthcoming Moru (mountains) and Mirio (field-mice) Copper
Table reproduced from Knighton, ibid., p. 13 9.
Generation-sets and age-classes are identified by their name and chosen form of metal and body ornamentation, with the generation-set identification passing from grandfather to grandson. Age-classes may choose their own physical identification, such as a specific tattoo pattern, type of earrings, or scarification pattern, and they maintain these for life.
There is disagreement in the literature on the current structure and relevance of the age-class system for women. The system of age-classes for women traditionally mirrored that of the men, but Sandra Gray’s research shows that the last women’s age-class was initiated in the 1940s and that this system has since fallen into disuse. This was also the impression of three of our key informants, both male and female. Ben Knighton, on the other hand, says that the female age-class system is still functioning.
Clearly, even if the female age-class system is continuing the system of hierarchy has much less weight or meaning for women than it does for men. It is known that the structure of female age-classes was traditionally parallel to that of the males. When a male age-class opened and was formally named, parallel age-classes also opened for women. Like men, the age-classes of women had distinct names. However, while the initiation for men requires the spearing of oxen, for women, a marriage with cattle was the central facet of initiation. Women’s generation-sets and age-classes traditionally mirrored those of their husbands, and women wear the same metal or marking emblem as their men, thus making it very clear which generation-set the sons should join.
The symbolic, ritual and real passing of power occurs when the senior generation-set of male elders promotes the junior generation-set in a succession ceremony. There are no set formulae or timeframes for this process. The promotion is meant to occur when all age-classes within a generation-set have been “open” for a number of years, meaning that all males within that generation-set who are of an appropriate age will have had an opportunity to be initiated into an age-class within that generation-set. The junior generation-set will perform certain acts to show allegiance and respect for the senior generation-set, and will tell them they are receiving pressure from their own sons to be initiated and begin making requests for the transfer of power. The senior generation-set, however, may refuse to relinquish power, for, once they promote the junior generation-set, the elders will no longer be the decision-makers for politico-religious affairs.10 This may continue even when there are not enough elders living to perform the rituals.
As Knighton explains:
The uninitiated are always keen for their turn, but
‘the elders say “No!” because problems will be
inherited, not blessings. Initiations are continuing
now, but, because there is no peace, no new
age-set will be initiated, for the problems must remain
with the old names. Thus, Karamojong ritualism holds
together the real and the nominal, the political and the
symbolic, power and convention, causation and time."
The last time power passed from one generation-set to the next was in 1956-1958. The Mountains generation-set took the position of the senior generation-set and became the official elders and leaders of the Karamojong, opening up a new generation-set (called the Gazelles) and a new series of age-classes. These generation-sets have occupied the senior and junior position for the intervening fifty years, with no hand-over of power in the interim. This delay in handing over power from one generation-set to the next is unprecedented. There is, however, always reluctance on the part of the senior male generation-set to relinquish control. This failure to cede power can cause crises among the groups and tensions between the generations, resulting in a pattern that appears to closely replicate the situation of today:
When the senior generation-set becomes few in
number and incapacitated, owing to the natural death
of their peers, the culture regularly enters a period of
crisis. Older uninitiated men drift into raiding, as the
only means whereby they can increase their standing
in the community. The junior generation of initiated men,
which itself contains men older than the most junior
age-set of the senior generation, is itching for power.
They will show, short of revolution, various displays
indicating that power should now be handed over
to them, while some rituals fall into abeyance for lack
of elders, and men move their herds totally independently."
The failure to hand over power to the next generation-set results in a large number of men who cannot be initiated, as a man cannot belong to the same generation-set as his father. This is best illustrated with an example: say a man was born in 1940 and initiated into the Gazelle generation in the late 1950s, and shortly thereafter began a family. Today the man is approaching 70 years of age and has many children, including male children in their 30s and 40s, and many grandchildren. The old man, however, is still in the junior generation-set, as there has not been a succession ceremony since the Mountains took power. Because men cannot be in the same generation-set as their father, none of his children has been initiated into an age-class, and these individuals have no official standing or power. As Sandra Gray notes:
A number of male informants, who were in their late middle age in 1998-1999, complained that they were nothing more than “rats” (ngidoi), or uninitiated men, without a formal identity in the traditional power structure of Karimojong society.
Knighton, referencing Dyson-Hudson, is careful to point out that reluctance to hand over power, delayed succession ceremonies, and resulting tensions between generations—all culminating in a ‘period of crisis’—is an historical pattern, not a once-off occurrence. The junior age-class is eventually promoted and a new generation-set opens up into which their sons can be initiated. When this happens, the former ‘trouble-makers’ conform to the established patterns of allocated roles and re-emphasize the hierarchy of the age-class system.
Currently, the groups in Karamoja are experiencing the ‘crises’ that Knighton discusses, as the junior generation-set yearns to take power and the senior generation-set refuses to relinquish its hold on control. The senior generation-set is now very old, and many of its members have died, while others are infirm. However, the lack of clear leadership combined with failed harvests, droughts, and increasingly violent military confrontations with the Ugandan security forces means that very few ceremonies and initiations have taken place, as major ceremonies should occur in times of peace and prosperity. The frustration of the uninitiated continues as this group advances in age and their own sons reach adulthood. The events described by Knighton—an upsurge in raiding by the uninitiated and heightened tensions among the generations—have contributed to the instability that has been occurring in the region for the past two decades.
The causes for the delay in succession are multi-faceted. On the one hand—as discussed by Knighton—there is always a period of tension as the power of the senior generation-set begins to wane and the juniors push to take control. Those in power are reluctant to let go, and the younger generation experiences increased pressure from their sons and begins to lose faith in the leadership abilities of their elders. Looking beyond standard inter-generational power struggles, the ceremonies for succession are meant to take place in times of prosperity—such as a year or series of years with good harvests—and peace. These two aspects have not occurred simultaneously in many years. All groups are meant to hand over power simultaneously, but the present cleavages among these groups make this almost impossible.
The final factor in the succession delay relates to ceremonial site where the hand-over from one generation-set to the next is meant to occur. The succession ceremony traditionally occurs at Nakadanya, between Koten Hill and the Apule River, a location considered the heartland of Karamoja. The Karamojong believe that Nakadanya is the sacred site from which the Karamojong tribes dispersed, and thus this is the location reserved for the most important and reverent of events. Many Karamojong believe that Akujů has cursed the Karimojong (Bokora, Matheniko and Pian), as evident by the bloodshed and violence that has spread across the land. This curse originated from an unsanctioned raid and the resulting death of the most respected elder’s son. The sacred site of Nakadanya must be cleansed in order for this curse to be lifted and for the handover of power to occur. Some efforts were made by a civil society organization to cleanse Nakadanya several years ago, but it is the view of many people that short-cuts were taken and the rituals were not followed properly. As a result, efforts to restore the power of Nakadanya and reverse the curse failed.18 A number of elders from various Karamojong tribes are reportedly aware of the problems, and are seeking to find ways to resume the cleansing and process towards succession at Nakadanya.
Beautiful karamojong girl
Akujů is the supreme deity of the groups in the Karamojong cluster, although the exact name for the deity differs in the Tepeth, Pokot and Teso groups. (The word akuj refers to a god or spirit.) He resides above the earth and is invisible but is known to the elders and they can communicate with him. If he wishes, Akujů can answer the prayers of the elders. Akujů has the ability to bless the people in all aspects of their lives— social, political, economic, cultural—and can intervene to protect people or remove any threats. The will of Akujů often presents itself in the intestines of sacrificed animals to the diviners or seeks (male seers are emuron; female seers are amuron), as well as to some elders,
The Karimojong have a very strong believe that animals and plants have the spirits in them. They in the first place reflect the origin of plants and animals to some Supreme Being who manifests himself through the animals and plants.
Among the Karamojong, some places were held as sacred, such places were those crowded with trees, called in the Karimojong language “ Akiriket” in such places sacrifices to the gods were made in quest for the welfare of the community, or in quest for rain when a dry spell was anticipated, or to avert enemies when the foreteller has communicated about impending attack or any community need and rescue demanding the intervention of the gods.
Such a shrine was held with great owe and no person whatsoever was to tamper with any plant in it, cutting of firewood from such a point was absolutely prohibited. Any such victim caught in the act of cutting, was either punished by killing a bull and preparing beer for the elders who would be the intermediaries in appealing to the gods to seek for forgiveness. Such honour was equally extended to big trees. The Karimojong respected these trees because they related them to some Supreme Being who must be a habitat of the tree and giving it its long existence.
Animals were greatly respected for besides their use for food, pride – being a source of riches, enhancing human relationship through dowry, gifts to friends and other purposes, animals were also used for sacrificial purposes and acting as a bridge between the human kind and the gods. This gives the relationship that the animals and the plants have and the attachments. This is why the animals are sacrificed in the shrines and these big trees.
Animals were sacrificed for the same purpose of maintaining the good relationship between the gods and the community, they were sacrificed to create harmony in society.
Karamojong people listening to the gospel
Traditional way of burial among the Karimojong people
When a village member die, there is unrestrained weeping. If a woman lost a child through any cause, she would often attempt suicide. Women were known to keep a special cord in their grain baskets for this purpose.
It was unusual for a man in Karamoja to attempt suicide; but it was common for women in the event of loss or failure of crops. Near Latome, there is a stream called “the stream of hanging”. By the banks of this stream, it is said that bodies were constantly found hanging from trees.
Karamojong people jump dancing
The elder of the village is buried in the center of the calf or sheep kraal. He is buried with his head pointing in the north because the Karimojong people believe that they came from the north.The body was covered with cow dung and soil and then stamped on. Then a large stone would be placed upright on the grave.
If an elder died away from the village, his body would be carried home, usually on a donkey. Death and burial ceremonies tended to vary from clan to clan but generally, mourning and weeping would proceed for a couple of days.
Among the Karimojong people, the Ng’inga’aricum clan do not bury their dead. The dead body is usually left outside, preferably at a place where the harvester ants had carried off the seeds and left a bare patch on the ground. The corpse was laid on its side with its head upon a stone, and left there to rot and dry. There were no burials for the lepers and suicide victims.
Karamojong girl laughing
After burial, the male members would shave the front of their heads while the women would shave off all their hair. All neck ornaments were taken off and the widow would, in addition, remove her earrings. Children and women would also replace their skins with old and tattered ones.
In some clans, the widow would wear a long skin extending from the chest to the feet she would also put on her late husband’s sandals which she would not take off even if the gourd was muddy and even at night when she lay down to sleep. She would also carry her late husband’s stick and gourd form which the spout would have been knocked off as a matter of custom.
Because Karamojong cultures have strong gender and generational divisions of labor, it is extremely difficult for traditional Karamojong women to live without a husband or male provider. Thus, most widows are inherited by a brother-in-law.
This practice occurs for several reasons, including to keep the livestock assets within the family and clan, to provide an adult male to look after the herds (which the woman inherits from the deceased husband), and to provide the widow and children with access to food, particularly animal products. However, it was noted by a number of our informants that these altruistic aspects are usually not central in cases of wife-inheritance and that many women and their children are treated poorly or neglected. In some cases, women explained that their brothers-in-laws (now husbands) did not provide food, shelter or any assistance for the woman or her children. These women were left caring for their children without the help or assistance of a man, but were unable to seek another husband. As one widow put it, “It is a problem to be a widow. The other man comes to inherit you but gives you problems instead of giving you life.” However, a widow may take her case to the elders at the ekokwa and seek arbitration, and may receive help from the elders for her needs and the needs of her children.
Widows are entitled to the herds of their deceased husband under customary law. However, the brothers-in-law of some widows took these cattle from them by force, and then used the animals for bride price to acquire a new and usually younger wife. Widows who did inherit their husbands’ animals often sold off much of the herd shortly after their husband’s death in an effort to meet their survival needs. This included widows who were inherited—and supposedly provided for—by brothers-in-law. Indeed, in our study of out-migration in Bokora, we found that widows who were inherited by brother-in-laws were among the most vulnerable populations and reported high levels of abuse and neglect of themselves and their children.
Not all widows are inherited. In particular, a woman who was not married with cattle has no obligation to remain with the clan of her deceased husband. Wife-inheritance is possible in some of these cases, and it is up to the elders of the man’s clan to decide if a woman who was not officially married with cattle should have the option to be inherited and thereby remain part of the clan. Some women, including those married with cattle, said that a woman with adult sons could sometimes reject being inherited, as the sons could maintain the herd and provide for their mother. Overall, however, women who were married with cattle have few options upon the death of their husband, and several widows reported that they were unable to refuse to be inherited, even by men known to be abusive. A few women recounted instances of rape by a brother-in-law after they protested the second marriage. After the rape they said they felt they had no choice but to remain with the brother-in-law.
Karamojong little boy
When their hair had grown again but was still short, mourners would rub themselves all over with dust to rid themselves of the contamination of the dead. The dead man’s contemporaries would then kill his favorite ox and eat it. There were no supplications offered at this ceremony. The dead man’s relatives would come and if he had brothers, they would inherit his wives and part of the wealth.
But it was not usual among the Karimojong people to discuss inheritance until after quite some time.
If the man had no brothers, the eldest son would inherit the young wives but it would take several months before the formal distribution would be done.
Whenever a chief died, he would be buried in the center of the kraal. The wives and members of the family were usually buried round the sides near the entrance of the kraal.
Though they tended to have some elements of similarity with the Turkana of Kenya, the Karimojong people would not leave the village after someone had died like the Turkana did.
Cattle rustling or raiding has gone on for generations among pastoral groups throughout the Karamoja Cluster. Traditionally, and to some extent today, raided cattle were used to redistribute wealth and food in times of scarcity, acquire bride price, and to form alliances with other families, manyattas and tribes. Major shifts in power, governments and armies in Uganda, the relatively unimpeded acquisition of weapons and ammunition throughout Karamoja, periods of repeated and prolonged drought, the spread of livestock diseases—among other significant factors—have influenced and shaped practices of raiding and have been discussed in depth by a number of authors. Historically and today, raiding has caused tensions between the Karamojong and their neighbors, as well as within Karamoja itself, and these tensions have a direct impact upon livelihood systems.
There was an important shift in the nature and impact of raiding in Karamoja in the 1970s. The traditional Karimojong alliance of the Pian, Moroto and Bokora collapsed in the first half of the decade. Several years of poor harvests exacerbated tensions over access to natural resources, and small scale thefts, retaliatory attacks and raids—never before sanctioned against other Karimojong groups—increased. The Matheniko cemented their friendship with the Turkana in the late 1970s, creating a formidable force in the eastern part of the region and across the border with Kenya. These events set the stage for what many remember as a turning point in the violence in the region—the raiding of the Moroto barracks by the Matheniko (with help from the Turkana) after the fall of the Idi Amin in 1979. The raiders made off with an estimated 12,000 weapons (mostly automatic G3s) and large amounts of ammunition. Jie in Kotido raided a smaller armory at roughly the same time.
In 1980, the Karamoja region was hit by a serious drought and famine, and the strong and newly-armed groups (namely the Matheniko and the Jie) turned on the Bokora and the Dodoth (who had not gained weapons from Amin’s barracks) and stripped them of nearly all their cattle. This widespread plunder spread throughout Karamoja and into neighboring districts, exacerbating the effects of the severe drought. The loss of livestock, out-migration of herds, inability to plant crops due to the drought and insecurity, and cessation of trade due to the threat of attack on vehicles resulted in rising food insecurity, and by early 1980 people began to run out of food. The Great Famine, called Akoro, had begun. An estimated 50,000 people would die before the famine’s end.
Raids by Karamojong groups had devastating impacts in neighboring districts throughout the 1980s. To illustrate, prior to the mid-1980s, the rural agro-pastoral populations and economies of neighboring Lango and Acholiland were relatively strong. The Acholi and Langi people had approximately 685,000 head of cattle in 1980 according to statistics from the Ministry of Animal Industry. Cattle were a form of savings, a means to send children to school, a way to offset crop failure or pay for medical costs, and were used as bride price. In 1986, the government of Milton Obote fell and the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came to power.
The Acholi troops loyal to Obote fled into Sudan, leaving the northern region largely undefended, while at the same time the NRM was consolidating power in the south and central regions of the country. Seeing that the NRM was making no moves to protect the Lango and Acholi regions, the Karamojong swept into the region with a large number of men and weapons, and repeatedly plundered the local communities throughout the latter half the 1980s. They stole nearly all the cattle, causing estimated herd sizes to drop to 72,000 by 1989 in Acholiland and Lango. Neither the NRM nor its army intervened to stop the Karamojong raids.
Changes in Armed Raiding
While a number of authors have discussed the role of weapons in the practice of raiding, our report looks at several important shifts that have occurred in the practice of armed raiding among the Karamojong. The most notable shifts are the replacement of spears with firearms, the waning of the role of ‘family guns’ in the face of increased access to weapons and ammunition, changes in rules and practices of raiding, changes in the composition and timing of raiding parties, shifts in the role of elders in sanctioning raids, and the emergence of a crisis of authority with the lack of succession of power from the senior generation-set to the junior generation-set. Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that although peace agreements can last for decades, alliances among the Karamojong groups and with neighboring groups are in constant flux and no group remains permanently free of the threat of raids or attack.
Spears and “Family Guns”
Traditionally, the Karamojong used spears for hunting and raiding. Traders first introduced firearms into the area in the second half of the nineteenth century, and guns began to gradually replace spears as a more lethal weapon for hunting and raiding. But guns were expensive and few families owned even a single firearm. Only wealthier families could afford a firearm for use by their elder sons to protect the livestock while herding. The weapon was referred to as a ‘family gun’ and no action could be taken with that weapon without the approval of the father and mother. Elders and seers were involved in decisions regarding raids on other groups. Many Karamojong continued to use spears regularly until firearms became more widely available, beginning in the 1960s.
By the 1970s, automatic weapons began to flow into the region from traders in the extended Karamoja Cluster. The supply of firearms continued largely unabated and from different sources over the next three decades. The abandonment of Idi Amin’s armories in Moroto in 1979 and the subsequent looting in Moroto and Kotido by the Matheniko and Jie; lesser looting of barracks and police posts by the Sor, Jie, Pian and Bokora; attacks on military convoys by the Bokora; the war between the government of Sudan (GoS) and Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the arming of various pastoral groups by both sides; the provision of weapons to pastoral groups in Uganda in an effort to counter rebel uprisings in Teso and Acholi; and a growing regional weapons trade with markets in Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia combined to result in a massive influx of weapons into the region.
The total number of firearms in Karamoja and in southern Sudan increased further with the cessation of overt hostilities in southern Sudan in 2005. There were an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 firearms in Karamoja at the start of the first major disarmament campaign in 2000, and prior to the start of disarmament nearly every adult male carried a weapon in public. Guns were again widely visible throughout Karamoja prior to the military offensive launched by the GoU in 2006. Given the amount of firepower in Karamoja prior to the disarmament campaigns, a single large raid could (and often did) result in the deaths of hundreds of people, with many of the causalities among unarmed women, children and the elderly.
The Transformation of Raiding
In the past, seers, elders, warriors and women all were consulted and had a voice (though not of equal weight) as to whether or not a raid would be carried out. This consultation process arose out of the important, and in some cases essential, roles played by different groups in the manyattas and kraals in the planning and implementation of the raid. Seers provided information on the best timing for the raid, the proper animals to be sacrificed to ensure a successful raid, the best routes to and from the raiding site, the kinds of animals to raid, and so on. Seers passed this information to the elders, who would hold ceremonies and plan the enactment of the raid with the warriors.18 The women blessed the warriors and prepared meat in a special way for the men to take with them. Women also had the task of watching over the hide and wooden cup of the warrior (father, husband and/or son) while he was away. Ensuring that nothing happened to these personal possessions was meant to prevent any harm befalling the men.
Warriors also consulted with the sharpshooters and scouts who provided details on how to carry out the raid, which individuals should go on the raid, and what roles different people would play. Sharpshooters are men who have proven themselves to be very astute and brave warriors. They are often very good shots, being able to function like snipers by killing enemies at a distance. They may have deep and sonorous voices, and hence are able to project instructions (e.g., “move there,” “circle around there,” “move low over there”) during battles to their colleagues. They are also skilled at planning raids and or repelling attacks. Traditional raiding parties included both armed and unarmed men, with the latter driving the raided animals home. Raided animals joined the herds of the families of the warriors, and some were presented directly to the seers and elders in respect and appreciation. The involvement and benefit of the entire community meant that the raids were sanctioned and that all community members (for the most part) approved of and played an active role in contributing to the raid.
In the past, a series of elaborate rules dictated behavior before, during and after the raids. These rules included how spears could be used during armed attacks. Seers and elders performed specific rituals to ensure the warriors’ safety and success in the raids. Women worked together with the elders to bless and protect the raiders. Knighton describes how warriors would seldom go out on raids until being blessed by their mothers. The women anointed their sons with ritual clay to protect them from enemy bullets, spears and arrows. Additionally, specific rituals would be conducted to welcome the raided animals home and to ensure their continuing health. Rituals to appease the spirits of any victims killed by the warriors were also performed; these rites prevented the spirits from haunting their killers. Seers prescribed all of these rituals and passed them on to the elders. Seers and the elders, not the warriors, had the final say on whether to carry out or abort a raid.
Traditionally, the community targeted for a raid would be sent messages to warn them of the coming attack. The warning messages often included a challenge, such as: “We are coming to take your cattle on such and such day. Therefore, if you are men enough, rise up to defend your animals or else we will come and take them!” The battles themselves took place outside the manyattas by warriors dressed in full battle. Traditional battle regalia included spears, shields, and skin sandals to protect the feet from thorns. Today, battle regalia would include an AK-47, a full magazine of bullets, sandals made from tires, and a “stomach tightly fastened with a sheet to prevent hunger pains during the long journeys in search of target cattle.” Women and children would move away from the battle area in advance. Loss of human life was minimal, as taboos existed on the killing of unarmed women, children, and the elderly. Those who killed such protected persons were believed to be cursed. This contrasts Knighton’s reports on Jie views towards killing women. Knighton states that warriors mark their right arms for the number of men killed and left arms for the number of women killed. Knighton posits that killing enemy women is legitimate in the view of the Jie because they play such an important role in supporting raids, see Knighton (2005), 1 196. Perhaps it is because of the different cosmology of the Jie that it is legitimate for them to kill women and children during raids, while for other Karamojong groups it is taboo (see Lamphear 1 994 and Knighton op. cit. )
Women would celebrate the return of the warriors from a successful raid with ululating, singing and dancing to welcome the men and new animals home. Women also ululated to celebrate the safe return of warriors from unsuccessful raids (i.e., no animals captured). Women and girls played an important role in motivating men in their raids by singing in praise of mighty warriors or cajoling those who were considered cowards.
Today, the performance of extensive rituals and adherence to stringent regulations in the planning and implementation of raids is rare. More commonly, warriors draw up plans for raids in secret and then launch attacks against unsuspecting groups. Prohibitions on the use of force during an attack appear to no longer exist. For instance, during an attack, raiders might shoot into a manyatta or kraal where women, children and the elderly are located. Children will reportedly run out from their manyattas or kraals in different directions during an attack, taking various escape routes in an effort to avoid being killed. Warriors now try to minimize their contact with other warriors—who are likely to be armed—preferring instead to target the young shepherds or herdsmen guarding the animals.27 Young herders (nearly all males) we interviewed all spoke about their fear of being killed by enemies who might strike at any time while they graze their animals. Today, warriors may also launch attacks inside kraals, seeking animals as well as household property. Female respondents reported that enemy warriors will kill women and children found inside the kraals, including those attempting to flee. Huts are looted after their occupants are killed. Women reported that they no longer leave young children unattended in the kraals because of the threat of surprise raids on the kraals.
Respondents and key informants make distinctions between ‘thefts’ and ‘raids.’ Thefts are described as smaller scale, more opportunistic and more frequent, and thefts many involve only a few men who decide to try to grab some animals. Animals that become separated from the main herd or a herd in an isolated area are the most vulnerable to thefts. The element of surprise contributes to the success of thefts, as most occur when shepherds are unprepared to fight back. In contrast, raids are much larger, better organized, and much less frequent. Problems between groups can start with the regular occurrence of thefts, which may gradually increase in scope and intensity to become full-scale raids.
In the past raids mostly occurred across district, county or country borders and among different tribal groups. In part this was because it was easier to incorporate raided animals into herds that were far from their place of origin. More importantly, internal or territorial cohesion made it taboo to raid allied groups. This change has been most pronounced among the Karimojong ethnic group (Pian, Bokora and Matheniko), who did not engage in raids amongst themselves until the early to mid 1970s. Today, raided or stolen animals are often sold quickly, in part to prevent them from being traced or recovered in revenge attacks, and internal raids within the borders of Karamoja and among former allies such as the Matheniko and Bokora
The Karamojong Tribe
Karimojong girl children carrying their kids along Kampala street