In Lotirir village, deep in Kotido district, you would be lucky to find a house roofed with iron sheets. Do not count on finding a fully dressed child either.
The story of old men hunched over tiny wooden stools with long sticks between their knees and only tiny red shawls to
conceal their modesty is a tired story.
The sun in this part of the world shines with a vengeance. Our car trudged the dusty roads and disappeared into the thick brown powder of a straight murram road. We paid dearly for visiting in January, one of the driest seasons of the year here.
Nine months later, I was in Atedeoi village in Mogoth parish, Rupa sub-county, Moroto district.
It was much cooler. Together with a couple of journalists, we were visiting a traditional Karimojong homestead to get a feel of life in a typical manyatta. It was a reasonably short drive from Moroto town, about 30 minutes along bumpy dirt roads and whispering streams.
Like hungry snakes on their way to find prey, the tiny paths wriggle their way around little obscure paths. Sometimes, we were thrust upwards, sometimes downwards as our strong Rav 4 vehicles negotiated the rugged paths. We drove along a straight murram road bestrode by grand sunflower fields.
From the comfort of the car, the green plantation seemed to speed past us, creating a dizzying green spectacle. And soon, Atedeoi village was staring right at us.
This is one of the many villages in Karamoja’s Moroto district. Atedeoi has one of the largest manyatta’s in Moroto — a homestead of nearly 20 individuals that are somehow connected to each other. From the outside, it looks like a huge kraal with tiny dry fencing.
From the start of the visit, we were warned to look about ourselves lest we stepped on ‘landmines’ — a euphemism for human waste that is strewn around the homestead. Toilets, we were told, are not very popular. “It is risky to dig toilets here,” our guide told us; “they easily cave in and kill people.”
We tip-toed to the manyatta and here we were introduced to a whole new world. This is a common homestead in Karamojong communities, tracing its roots to the old nomadic communities in Kenya and Uganda. The entrance to this most interesting home is a tiny square opening framed by tiny little pieces of wood, only big enough for a three year old to walk in.
We had to get onto our knees to squeeze through the tiny gateways that lead into the homestead. And there, an expansive compound of little grass thatched huts greeted us. The huts spread over nearly 50 metres of land.
From a distance, the sharp triangular roofs of the huts form an impressive conical yard. It is here that entire families live: mother, father and children, all finding refuge in tiny rooms smeared with dung and mud for the floor and with only an odd collection of dry grass for a mattress.
In Atedeoi, the clock seems to wind back several years to the times where people lived in nice little huts and depended on nature for food. Girls go on about their business with only tiny colourful wrappings around their curvaceous waists; and with their full moon breasts freely bouncing like balls against their nubile torsos.
Toddlers run around the compound with thick paste of yesterday’s soup plastered on their bare bellies. No one cares about wearing sandals, not even under the looming threat of human ‘landmines.’ Teenage girls and boys eat from fresh sunflower shells with the white contents of the oily raw seeds foaming on their mouths.
A truly Karimojong lifestyle comes to life in Atedeoi, where people still cherish their indigenous ways of life and where the trappings of modernity do not hold sway.
Old men, women, youth and children live as one community. The boys go out with their fathers in the morning to graze cattle; the girls remain home to help their mothers attend to the granaries, grind sorghum on the grinding stone and prepare food.
We entered an elderly woman’s house; her name is Longok Arupe. We squeezed our way into the pitch dark room. It is a hollow tiny place with a fire place and a stash of rugs, which act as Arupe’s beddings. “I live here alone,” Arupe told us,
“My husband left me to find young girls.” She now depends on the yields from the field and the milk from the community cattle. Arupe agrees that it is the young girls’ turn now to be nice and pretty.
You see them playfully, seductively dancing away to attract prospective male admirers around the manyatta. Soon they will be married; soon they will start their own families. And life in Karamoja, in Moroto, in Atedeoi will go on.