From Raids to Peace – stories from the Karamojong

When we visited the Karamojong we were incredibly lucky in capturing two amazing stories. Stories which are told by the Karamojong on the long and dark evenings to entertain each other around the campfire. This second story was told by Elizabeth from Kautakou and she tells us what it was like growing up in a time of violence. 

A little girl is sitting hidden away in the corner of the house. She pushes herself as close to the wall of mud and branches as she possibly can. If she would’ve been able to vanish in a puff of smoke, she would have. In the stories they tell around the campfire people sometimes can, they disappear in thick smoke to reappear somewhere far away and she wishes she could now.  A loud scream from outside sets her teeth on edge. She recognizes the voice, it is her mother’s. She is shaking like a leaf and blacks out for a while until she feels another hand in hers. It’s her brother. He whispers: “You have to be brave little sister.” Together they silently crawl on hands and knees towards the exit of the hut. After the first robbery, the place feels different, not safe anymore. It feels like a normal hut instead of their home where they grew up. Her brother leads her outside where it is dark. Once their outside, he looks at her and puts both of his hands on her cheeks. They are warm and rough from working outside on the fields. “Run little sister, run as fast as your legs can carry you,” he whispers.  They both start running, his hand solidly holding hers. They run out of the village. The thorns are hurting the soles of their feet, but they don’t feel the pain. She hears a shot being fired, coming from the village. Her brother falls down. He looks at her and tells her with a weak voice: “ run, runnnnn!” From the village she can see men armed with guns coming their way. She turns around and starts to run again, as fast as she can, without looking back. Elizabeth grew up in a time when there were a lot of raids. She lost her brothers and parents in these raids.  “Around 1960,” Elizabeth tells us, “the white people came to Uganda from England. The English didn’t understand the Karamojong, and decided that they would not tolerate people who walked around naked. They would shoot them. Because there were fights between different tribes and because some of the tribes got their hands on weapons, the other Karamojong tribes also wanted them, so they stole them from the English. Between 1986 and 1995 was the height of the war between these tribes. There was hate, jealousy and weapons made it even worse.  After 1995 this all changed. The new government wanted the Karamojong to put down their weapons freely, Later they exchanged them for food and in the end they simply took the weapons away by force, killing the Karamojong when they needed to.  Since 2005 there are no weapons anymore and things are better. Everyone still know what happened and the hate is something hard to forget. Still, everyone thinks it is better now without the guns!”

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