The main meal of the Karimajong called Ekyalakanu is a mixture of cow blood and milk that is curdled using cow urine before storage for future meals.
However, following the mass disarmament of the Karimajong, and notable developments in infrastructure and access, the region is now a favoured destination, particularly Kidepo Valley National Park, which can now be reached by road or even chartered flight. One of Karamoja’s best-kept secrets is its diversity of landscapes from the rocky hills of the northern part of the region to the lush vegetation of the volcanic mountain ranges in the northeast.
But just as appealing about visiting Karamoja is the possibility of an encounter with the proud, unique, fierce and extremely traditional semi nomadic Karimajong who have over hundreds of years shunned the trappings of modernity in favour of their indigenous ways of life. Today many visitors make the journey to the nomadic settlements where the Karimajong live, for an enriching experience of the cultural heritage of one of Uganda’s most intriguing peoples.
The Karimajong have inhabited Northeastern Uganda for centuries. They arrived in Uganda around 1600AD in a large Nilo Hamitic migration from present-day Ethiopia. The migration split into two branches, with one branch, the Kalenjin and Masai cluster moving to and occupying present-day Kenya, and the other, the Karimajong and Masai cluster settling in Northeastern and Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya.
The name Karimajong is derived from the phrase ‘ekar ngimojong’ which means ‘the old men can walk no further’ – a reference to the people that were left behind in present-day Karamoja when the Iteso and Kumam peoples who continued their march west. The seven or so clans that settled in today’s southern Karamoja merged overtime to form the current three clans of Karamoja; the Matheniko who inhabit the eastern region around Mount Moroto, the Pian in the south, and the Bokora in the west.
The Karimajong lived communally, with close historical and social ties with other tribes in South Sudan and the Tukana in Western Kenya. Like their neighbours, their main livelihood was cattle, and they freely roamed between the three countries in search of water and pasture for their cows, and also on large raiding parties that stole cattle from them.
During the colonial era in Uganda, the British tried in vain to access Karamoja and bring the region under their control on many occasions, but were never successful as the Karimajong. Rather unfortunately, when East Africa was partitioned, the Karimajong and the Turkana were expected to respect the newly demarcated virtual boundaries, cease their nomadic life and settle down, turn in all their arms, and most unsettling, stop the cross-border rustling that was central to their culture.
The British were not successful by any means and so instead, the Turkana and Karamoja regions of Kenya and Uganda were declared closed districts where movements within and outside were restricted without a valid pass. In the end, the Karimajong chose their traditional way of life over the mainstream nationalism and patriotic fervour that was sweeping Southern Uganda.
This blacklisting of the region would lead to the marginalisation of the Karimajong who would not benefit from any infrastructural or social development from the British. Today, the marginalisation continues as many Ugandans still view as backward and averse to development. A major turning point in their history came in the 1979 following the fall of Idi Amin when the Karimajong gained access to and abandoned and well-stocked arsenal of weapons and proceeded to arm themselves.
The AK47 transformed the nature of regional cattle raiding and many murderous assaults ensued between the Karimajong, Turkana and the Pokot. Karamoja’s isolation deepened until 2006 when the Ugandan army spent five years disarming the Karimajong. Today the region is much safer and only periodic armed cattle raids happen at the immediate border region with Kenya, mostly because the Kenyans have never disarmed their own pastorolists.
What You Need To Know
Climate And When To Visit
Located in the semi-arid northeast of Uganda, Kidepo experiences only one rainy season every year, from April – September and daytime temperatures regularly exceed 29°C. The dry season from October – March is generally considered the best time for game viewing in Kidepo because the multitudes of animals converge at known watering holes. However, birders will appreciate Kidepo more in the rainy season.
Apoka Rest Camp – Located inside the park close to the westerly Naurus Valley, the Rest Camp has a clear view of numerous animals that wander across the valley. It offers 16 self-contained chalets and 14 bandas, but does not offer any catering for food or drinks.
Kidepo Savannah Lodge – Located a stones throw from the southern boundary of the park near the Kalokudo gate this lodge offers 9 non-self contained tents and 8 safari tents on raised decks with panoramic views of the expansive Narus Valley and Mount Morungole.
Apoka Lodge – The luxurious Apoka Lodge is located near the park headquarters, on a charming little hill that overlooks the Narus Valley and is itself a perfect game viewing location where the wildlife sometimes come right to the doorstep. The lodge offers 10 expansive rooms with endless views across the savannah that can sleep up to 20 people.