map pf Karamoja
(click for larger view)
The Karamojong or Karimojong
are an ethnic group of agro-pastoral herders living mainly in
the north-east of Uganda. Their language is also known as Karamojong
or Karimojong, and is part of the Nilo-Saharan language group.
The Karamojong live in the southern part of  region in the north-east
of Uganda, occupying an area equivalent to one tenth of the country.
According to anthropologists, the Karamojong 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 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".
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". According
to tradition, the peoples now known as the Karamojong 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".
The main livelihood activity
of the Karamojong 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 Karamojong 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
Karamojong's interaction with other ethnic groups.
The dominant feature of Karamojong 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 Karamojong 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. The next
changeover is expected around 2013.
As both a rite of passage into manhood, as well as a requirement
for engagement, a young Karamojong 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-Karamojong man desires to marry a Karamojong woman, he
is also required to go through this ceremony.
The Karamojong have been involved in various conflicts centered
on the practice of cattle raids.
The Karamojong are in constant conflict with their neighbors in
Uganda, Sudan and Kenya due to frequent cattle raids. This could
be partly due to a traditional belief that the Karamojong own
all the cattle by a divine right, but also because cattle are
also an important element in the negotiations for a bride and
young men use the raids as a rite of passage and way of increasing
their herds to gain status. In recent years the nature and the
outcome of the raids have become increasingly violent with the
acquisition of AK47s by the Karamojong.
The Ugandan government have attempted to broker deals for weapons
amnesties, but the number of cattle the Karamojong have wanted
per gun has proved too steep for any meaningful agreement to be