The Karamajong or Karimojong are an ethnic group of agro pastoral herders living in the north eastern region of Uganda. Their language is also known as Karamajong and is part of the Nilo Sahara language group. According to the anthropologists, the Karamajong are part of the group that migrated from present day Ethiopia around 1600 AD and split into two branches with one branch moving to the present day Kenya forming the Kalenjin group and Masaai cluster while the other group called the Ateker migrated westwards.
Ateker further split into several groups including Turkana, Iteso, Dodoth, Jie, Karamajong, and Kumam in present Uganda hence all of them together now known as the “ TESO CLUSTER” or “KARAMOJONG CLUSTER”. It’s as well said that the Karamajong were originally known as the Jie. The name Karamajong is also got from the phrase “ekar ngimojong” meaning “the old men can walk no further more”.
In addition, the Karamajong are a pastoral group who inhabit the plateau region of Uganda. Linguistically, the Karamajong belong to the central group of the Nilote language family which includes several neighboring groups that speak a mutually intelligible dialect. The habitat of the Karamajong is a plateau, ranging between 1,120 to 1,360 meters high; there are steep hills throughout and higher mountains bordering the plateau hence it’s a region characterized by thorny plants and grasses.
The colorful blankets, piercings and beads they wear as well as the language and other cultural traits of the Karamajong set them apart from other tribes in Uganda. These differences and the cattle raiding that is praised across the border in Kenya has been a source of tension in the region. Therefore the Karamoja remains one of the least developed areas and one which is still a virgin destination for tourism.
Safety was once a serious issue but peace and calmness were restored in this region in a bid to develop tourism significantly by the government in recent years. This has encouraged continuous visits to the region, especially for hiking Mt. Moroto and visiting the magnificent Kidepo valley national park and the amazing cultural tours including the Wednesday morning cattle market in Kotido.
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’s 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 have to move their livestock to the neighboring districts in search of water and pasture. The availability of food and water is always a concern and a source of conflict between the Karamajong and other neighboring ethnic groups.
The Karamajong are one of the tribes with fierce warrior pastoralists found in the North Eastern corner of Uganda, bordering Southern Sudan and Kenya a region that is less visited, with beautiful and authentic culture and traditions.
During colonial times, the British governments failed to control this tribe of people and their area was simply set off limits. In their language, the Karamajong commonly use prefixes NJ-and nja respectively. Lack of a prefix literally indicates the land where they live, including all other branches of Ateker speaking languages that are mutually intelligible. And the dominant feature of Karamajong society is their age system which is strictly based on generation.
As both a rite of passage into manhood as well as a requirement for marital engagement, a youthful Karamajong man is required to wrestle the woman he desires to marry. If he’s successful and wins the wrestling match against the woman, he is accepted as a man and permitted to marry the woman.
This is a signal that the man is strong enough to care for and protect the wife and their family. After this test, the dowry negotiations are allowed to commence, for instance where the young man is unable to defeat in wrestling match, he will not be considered by his people to be a man enough to marry from a given clan.
When a non Karamajong man desires to marry a Karamajong woman, he is also required to go through this ceremony.