The Karamojong People and Their Culture


The Karamojong are an ethnic group nomadic pastoralists that live in the southern region of Karamoja in Kabong district in north-eastern Uganda. They also stretch to the districts of Kotido, and Moroto.   They speak a language called Karamojong or Karimojong which is a part of the Nilo-Saharan language group. The Karamojong live in a plateau that is approximately between 1,120 to 1300 meters high. The plateau is surrounded by steep hills and higher mountains. The plateau is characterized by thorny grasslands. the area is a semi-arid area with little or no rainfall. The savannah usually becomes green after the first rainy season in April but dries again in November when it stops.  The dry season is very windy and there is no surface of water, but for a few pools left over from the rainy season. These however tend to quickly dry up.

Origin of the Karamojong     

Based on anthropologists, the Karamojong are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia around 1600AD. They then split into two groups with one migrating to Kenya to form the Kalenjin and Masaai tribes. The other group called Ateker migrated westwards and it further split into numerous other groups. These included the Turkana in Kenya, the Iteso, Jie, Dodoth, Kumam and the Karamojong in Uganda and the Jive and Toposa in South Sudan. All together, these are referred to as the Teso and Karamojong groups. The Karamojong are said to have originally been known as the Jie and the name ‘Karamojong is derived from a phrase, ‘ekar ngimojong,’ which means ‘the old men can’t walk farther’. Traditionally, the recently known as the Karamojong group are said to have migrated from Abyssinia between the 1600 & 1700 AD singularly.

However, they are believed to have fragmented into numerous groups after they had reached in the present-day Kenya-Ethiopian border. These groups included the present-day Turkana, Toposa and Dodoth. The Toposa continued to southern sudan and the Dodoth settled in Apule in northern Karamoja. The Turkana settled in Kenya. The Jie are said to have split from them and moved up the escarpments in present day Kotido District. The main group whioch comprised of about 7 clans however, continued moving southwards and settled in the present day Karamoja region. These 7 clans later merged and formed three main clans that is the Matheniko in the eastern region of Mount Moroto, the Pian in the south and Bokora in the west. Nevertheless, a significant group went westwards thus forming the Kunam, the Iteso and the Langi.

Culture of the Karamojong

The Karamojong are traditionally nomadic pastoralists. herding livestock especially cows is their main social, cultural and economic activity. Due to the dry climate of Karamoja region, the Karamojong have always practiced a nomadic pastoral way of life. For instance, for around 3 to 4 months in a year, they move their livestock to the neighboring districts in search for pasture and water for their cattle. Furthermore, they are often faced with a challenge of scarcity of food and water. This has farther created conflict between the Karamojong and other tribes. However, they also practice growing crops as a tributary activity and it is commenced in those areas where it is suitable.

Political Set-up of the Karamojong

Leadership among thew Karamojong was bestowed in the elders and the clans were the elementary units for political administration. The council of elders was constituted by the different clan heads. The council of elders was responsible for maintaining law and order, enforcing justice, settling disputes and punishing law breakers.

Social Organization of the Karamojong

The Karamojong society is dominated by their age system which is based on generation. Despite the challenges that come with overlap in age which tend to break down the age system, the Karamojong system is flexible enough to last several years.

According to the Karamojong, a young Karamojong man is expected to wrestle the woman he intends to marry. This is seen as a rite of transition into manhood and an obligation for the engagement. In case he wins the wrestling match, he is considered to be a man and therefore allowed to marry the woman. And after the successful match, only then can the bride price negotiations proceed. This practice portrays that the man is strong enough to take care of his wife. But in case the young man is defeated by the woman during the match, he will not be considered a man by his people. Furthermore, he will be sent away to marry outside their tribe. Intermarriages are also accepted in the Karamojong society; however, the ceremony is still supposed to be undertaken.

Visiting the Karamojong The Karamojong people reside in one of the most remote areas in the country which means they do not meet a lot of visitors. However, visiting the Karamojong is one of the most amazing experience one can ever have. Getting to interact, mix and mingle with these nomadic pastoralists, spending time learning more about their unique culture and traditions is worthwhile. The Karamojong are usually included as part of the Uganda safaris to Kidepo Valley National Park, Pian Upe Game reserve, Matheniko Game reserve and Bokora Wildlife reserve.

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