The Karamajong or Karimojong, are an ethnic group of agro-pastoral herders living mainly in the north-east of Uganda. Their language is also known as Karamajong or Karimojong, and is part of the Nilo-Saharan language group. They are found in the Kotido and Moroto districts in the northeastern part of Uganda.

The habitat of the Karamajong is a plateau 1,120 to 1,360 meters high; there are steep hills throughout, and higher mountains border the plateau. It is a region characterized by thorny plants and grasses. The savanna becomes green with the first rainfall, in April, but dries up again in November, when the rain stops. The dry season is very windy, and there is no surface water, except for puddles left over from the rainy season, which quickly dries up. River beds fill up in a few hours during storms, and dry up again after the storms pass.

History of the Karamajong
The Karamajong live in the southern part of Karamoja region in the north-east of Uganda, occupying an area equivalent to one tenth of the country. According to anthropologists, the Karamajong are part of a group that 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 Masai cluster. The other branch, called Ateker, migrated westwards. Ateker further split into several groups, including Turkana in present day Kenya, Iteso, Dodoth, Jie, Karamajong, and Kumam in present day Uganda, also Jie and Toposa in southern Sudan all of them together now known as the “Teso Cluster” or “Karamajong Cluster”.

It is said that the Karamajong were originally known as the Jie. The name Karamajong derived from phrase “ekar ngimojong”, meaning “the old men can walk no farther”. According to tradition, the peoples now known as the Karamajong Cluster or Teso Cluster are said to have migrated from Abyssinia between the 1600 and 1700 AD as a single group. When they reached the area around the modern Kenyan-Ethiopian border, they are said to have fragmented into several groups including those that became Turkana, Toposa, and the Dodoth. The group that became known as the Toposa continued to present day southern Sudan; the Dodoth, settled in Apule in the northern part of present day Karamoja. The Turkana settled in Kenya where they are now and today’s Jie of Uganda are thought to have split from them, moving up the escarpment into today’s Kotido District.

The main body continued southwards, reportedly consisting of seven groups or clans who settled in today’s southern Karamoja, eventually merging to become the three clans now existing: the Matheniko in the east around Moroto Mountain, the Pian in the south and the Bokora in the west. However, a significant sized group went west and formed the Iteso, the Kumam, and the Langi. It was this group who were said to have used the phrase “the old men can walk no farther”.

Karamajong was considered to be one of the deadliest places one will ever want to visit in Uganda because the people themselves were hostile in that they will attack any one not familiar they see in their area and also the place was made insecure for tourist during the early 2000 because of the lords resistance rebels who were terrorizing the place but because of civilization from the government and also the strong Uganda people’s defense force, these rebels have been defeated and chased away from the area and also the civilization has stopped the people from being hostile which has made the place very secure and safe for tourists  since Karamajong is blessed with many tourist attractions like the Kidepo national park.

Related to Turkana: the Karamajong language, the people and the language have the convenient prefixes ŋi- and ŋa- respectively. Lack of a prefix indicates the land where they live. All the above mentioned branches from Ateker speak languages that are mutually intelligible. (The Lango in Uganda are also ethnically and genetically close to the ŋiKarimojong, evidenced by similar names among other things, though they adopted a dialect of the Luo language).

The main livelihood activity of the Karamajong is herding livestock, which has social and cultural importance. Crop cultivation is a secondary activity, undertaken only in areas where it is practicable.

Due to the arid climate of the region, the Karamajong have always practiced a sort of pastoral transhumance, where for 3-4 months in a year, they move their livestock to the neighboring districts in search of water and pasture for their animals.

The availability of food and water is always a concern and has an impact on the Karimojong interaction with other ethnic groups.

Political set-up
The Karamajong is a segmentary society. Leadership was vested in the elders and the clan was the basic unit of political administration. The heads of the different clans constituted the council of elders which was constituted the council of elders which was responsible for administering justice, settling disputed, maintaining law and order, and punishing law breakers.

Social organization
The dominant feature of Karamajong society is their age system, which is strictly based on generation. As successive generations have an increasing overlap in age, this leads logically to a breakdown of the system, which appears to have occurred after rules were relaxed in the nineteenth century among their close neighbors, the Jie. However, the Karamajong system is flexible enough to contain a build-up of tension between generations over a cycle of 50 years or so. When this can no longer be resolved peacefully, the breakdown in order leads to a switch in power from the ruling generation to their successors and a new status quo.

As both a rite of passage into manhood, as well as a requirement for engagement, a young Karamajong man is required to wrestle the woman he desires to marry. If he is successful in winning the wrestling match against the woman, he is now considered to be a man and is permitted to marry the woman. This ensures that the man will be strong enough to care for and protect his wife. After a successful match, the dowry negotiations are allowed to commence. In an instance where the young man is unable to defeat the woman in the wrestling match, he will not be considered by his people to be a man and will often leave to marry a woman from a different people-group where a test of strength is not required. If a non-Karamajong man desires to marry a Karamajong woman, he is also required to go through this ceremony.

Other Attractions

Kidepo National Park

This National Park has a semi-arid climate with just one rainy season per year (April-September) and rainfall is light. The valley of the Narus River in the south of the park receives some 890mm of rain/year while just 635mm of rain/year falls in the Kidepo valley to the north.

Both rivers are seasonal, and dwindle and disappear in the dry season.

During these months, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools along the southern Narus valley near Apoka and as a result, wildlife is concentrated in this area. This consideration, combined with the valley’s open, savanna habitat, makes it the park’s prime game viewing location. Indeed it is possible to sight a good variety of wildlife simply by scanning the valley with binoculars from the comfort of the Apoka lodge.

Kidepo Valley is Located in Uganda’s remote north-eastern corner, some 700km from Kampala and tucked between the borders with Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley is our most isolated park. However the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja to visit it, would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses.

From Apoka, in the heart of the national park, a savanna landscape extends in all directions, far beyond the gazetted area of 1442km2, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges.

Bokora, pian upe, Matheniko game reserves

Karimojong are divided into different ethnic groups. Among them are the Bokora, the Pian, the Upe and the Matheniko and they all live in the game reserves carrying their name.

Pian Upe game reserve covers an area of 2788 sq. km from Mt. Kadam to Mt. Napak to the North. Within the reserve boundaries live giraffes, lions, zebras, antelopes, leopards, buffaloes and many other species. Pian Upe is the largest reserve in Uganda and one of the few places where to observe Rothschild’s Giraffe.

Together with the game reserve of Bokora and Matheniko create a larger ecosystem of savanna and mountains in a semi-arid area. Birdlife is particularly prolific around the swamp terrains. A good spotting place is the Loporokocho swamp

In this region we find many bird species difficult to see elsewhere like the Ostrich (Struthio camelus), Hartlaub’s Bustard (Lissotis hartlaubii), Jackson’s Hornbill (Tockus jacksoni), and the White-headed Buffalo-Weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli)


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