Karamoja celebrates 8th cultural festival

The Karamoja Cultural Festival, a week-long celebration of Karamoja culture, was recently held at Matany Town Council in Napak District from September 4th to September 9th. This year, the festival ran under the theme, “Preserving our cultural identity and diversity for a dignified, peaceful, and resilient future.”

Karamojong attire features more prominently in a multicolored variety

The cultural festival brings together members and well-wishers alike of the Karamoja ethnic grouping that arises from the lineage of one Ateker. It includes the Ik, Turkana, Dodoth, and Ilema subtribes. These are from the following nine districts: Abim, Amudat, Kaabong, Karenga, Kotido, Moroto, Nabilatuk, Nakapiripirit, and Napak. Beyond these, the festival also welcomed participants from Lango, Teso, Kenya (Turkana), Ethiopia, and South Sudan.

Founded in 2014, the Cultural Festival is aimed at the development of the Karamoja subregion, as well as the preservation of the cultural fabric and pride of its people. “Karamoja holds a rich cultural heritage, and “with that comes great tourism potential,” noted Emmanuel Tebanyang, the Spokesperson of the Karamoja Cultural Festival, “which many of the ethnic groups in Karamoja, collectively referred to as Ngakarimojong, gather to celebrate every September.”

This year’s event sought to involve several clusters within the Karimojong community, such as youth and women and cultural and political leaders.

This was achieved through several dialogues between parties of interest during the course of the festival. “All resolutions (from the dialogues) will be read out and submitted to the plenary during the closing ceremony of the event,” Mr. Tebanyang stated, adding, “The theme of this year’s event spoke volumes, as it encompasses issues related to diversity, peacebuilding, climate change, food security, and gender issues.”

Images from the cultural celebrations among the Karamojong in north-eastern Uganda

Among the activities of the cultural festival was the construction of a memorial monument at the Nawaikorot mass grave. This commemorates the Karimojong, who were massacred during the infamous Idi Amin regime for resisting modern clothing and preferring their traditional attire and regalia. Other activities include trips to Lokopo Rock in Lokopo Sub-county, famed as the point at which the Karimojong staged resistance against the colonial settlers.

The week-long event culminated on Saturday, September 9th, with the performance of the Ekimwomwor, a cultural parade and procession showcasing various Karimojong dances, attire, and regalia.

The parade spread from the Town Council of Matany to the grounds of St. Daniel Comboni Secondary School. “The Ekimwomwor includes, in addition to dances and clothing, the display of our traditional dishes (food), cultural artifacts, and other cultural performances.”

Who are the Karimojong?

Part of the celebrants at the Karamoja fete dressed in cultural regalia.

The Karamojong (also called Karimojong) are descendants of the Nyangatom of Ethiopia, a nomadic pastoralist people group. They are believed to have migrated southward to north-eastern Uganda around 1600AD in search of pasture and water for their herds. During the migration, the travelers are believed to have separated, with one group moving toward the shores of Lake Turkana and, in so doing, becoming the Turkana group. Intermarriages with the locals there birthed the famous Maasai and Kalenjin tribes of eastern Kenya.

Another group moved toward present-day South Sudan, becoming the Toposa and the Jie tribes. The Karimojong are cousins of the Jie, who moved further south into north-eastern Uganda. The young among the Jie of Uganda carried on their nomadic lifestyle in search of water and pasture.

The elderly group opted to settle down, exhausted by constant movements. In ridicule of their elders, the Jie youth named them the “ekarimojong” to mean “the old who are tired and cannot walk any more.” These youth are those who, from intermarriage with the then locals, formed the Itesot of Eastern Uganda. The Karimojong speak a language called Nga Karimojong and are of the culture “Nagi Karimojong”.

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