What is culture if it cannot be celebrated proudly by it’s people and admired by people from outside that culture. That is why with an impromptu invitation from long time friend Lokol, other culture hoggers, appropriators and I took a long rather scenic ride to what seemed like the end of the world to Kaabong in Northeastern Uganda. A place I would later describe as ‘where the dinosaurs lived’. This ended up being a road trip around Uganda with new friends,family and fascinating stories.
The Karamoja cultural festival is arguably the biggest cultural festival by a tribe in Uganda. This started as a tribal meet up in Kampala perhaps to escape the usual snore of urban culturally eroded lifestyle lacking the fashion and pomp in lifestyle, food and clothing. perhaps the love to involve the people back home or lack of ceilings high enough to accommodate the edonga jumping dance. Anyway the mtv premier league second hand clothes wearing minds of the concrete jungle would not really appreciate a major distraction in terms of this traffic stopping colourful cultural festival which clearly truely belongs in the beautiful flat, hilly, rocky savannah plains of Karamoja. So there was no venue more befitting this year than Kaabong which attracted all k’jong tribes from various walks of life. From the Turkana from Kenya, the Jiye and Toposa from South Sudan, and those from Ethiopia. So despite consuming the mind farts of many professors, historians and teachers I still cannot totally break down this very diverse ethnic group.
The usually traffic deprived streets of Kaabong this time were busting with energy and life with different sects dancing and singing in processions. Each displaying what is unique about them as K’jong. The Karamojongs are a big tribe divided dinstinctly by district borders. So we have different sect of k’jongs in Uganda coming from Moroto, Kaabong, kotido, napak, amudat nabilatuk, abim , Nakapirit, each having a major distinction from the other in some very unnoticeable way to a foreigner.
And what is a cultural festival without the food and drink. I got to taste the Agodish which is a flour meal mixed with ghee, milk, and some oil. I could only compare the sharp tingling taste to the Injeera from Ethiopia. Then there was the Emunna which would make the best snack ever. Emunna is a groundnut sim sim paste mixed with milk, ghee, and pounded meat. There should be other ingredients in this food but that is what my amateur tongue got to taste.
The scantily but smartly clad girls adorned in various ornaments and beads including the current Miss Tourism Uganda who I got a glimpse of got all the fibers in me raged to an unpleasant stiffness but I did not mind much with all the local brew ngagwee streaming through my veins in the scotching semi arid desert sunshine which unfortunately later turns into a bone biting cold breeze in the night.
It is hard to relieve this whole festival in a blog post but I got to take pictures of everything and anything with no one of the festival goers giving a flying squirrels posterior about it. Perhaps because here everyone was a moving exhibition of style and pomp. I myself was not left out as I followed norm and dressing, I felt k’jong, Scottish and female at the same time. The Shuka cloth for a trouser with barely nothing under and multiple colourful beads, many a fashion guru could use some ideas.
With the sound of energetic stomping, synchronised sing songs , 2 day sleep debt all still in my head, I had to bide farewell to the festival and return to the less colourful life.