THE KARAMAJONG PEOPLE

Karamajong homesteadThe marginalized Karamajong, at home in Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda, is one of East Africa’s most insulated, beleaguered, and colorful tribes. As with the Samburu, Maasai, and other Nilotic pastoralist peoples, life of the Karamajong centers on cattle, which are kept at night in the center of the family living compound and graze by day on the surrounding plains. Cattle are the main measure of wealth, ownership is a mark of adulthood, and cattle raiding and warfare are central parts of the culture. When cattle are grazed in dry-season camps away from the family homestead, the Karamajong warriors tending them live on blood from live cattle, milk, and sometimes meat. In times of scarcity, protection of the herd is considered so important that milk is reserved for calves and children.

The Karamajong have long been subjected to often heavy-handed government pressure to abandon their pastoralist lifestyle; their plight has been exacerbated by periodic famines, as well as the loss of their traditional dry-season grazing areas with the formation of Kidepo Valley National Park in the 1960s. While current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has permitted the Karamajong to keep arms to protect themselves against raids from other groups, including the Turkana in neighboring Kenya, government expeditions, targeted at halting cattle raiding continue. These raids and expeditions, combined with easy access to weapons from neighboring Sudan and a breakdown of law and order, have made the Karamajong are off-limits to outsiders in recent years.

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