By Matthias Mugisha Losiru
GO AWAY. Canâ€™t you see Iâ€™m naked! â€” I furiously screamed at a group of filthy children who invaded my crude makeshift bathroom. They were adamant. They stood their ground as their white eyes fervently preyed on my nudity.
I was exhausted after a grazing expedition and was panting under the glaring afternoon sun. My host, Margaret Ichumar, had placed a basin of cold water in a makeshift bathroom shielded with multi-coloured asukas. The asukas worn by men in this region, as their only clothing â€” no pants please!
The homestead, composed of six huts is part of a bigger kraal of many families, with hundreds of huts. Each homestead, within is separated from the rest by a fence. The entrance to the kraal is so low that one has to bow to get in and out. The cows use a bigger entrance that is usually closed with tree branches.
It is like a small township. Intermarriage take place within a kraal.
Here, a man, who hides his nudity, is suspected to be concealing some sickness.
So, many faces watched with curiosity as I entered the bathroom and removed my asuka.
A dozen dirty childrenâ€™s feet, some with toes almost falling off because of jiggers, stormed the bathroom to peep at me.
Most Karimojong men do not wear trousers or underwear. They wrap themselves in asukas. They move with stools called ekicholong. When they sit on them, their private parts dangle and â€˜kissâ€™ the ground.
â€œThey are well endowed. Their â€˜thingsâ€™ grow unhindered in conformity with the laws of nature â€” gravitational pull,â€™â€™ people say of them.
After taking a bath, Peter Lochoro, a warrior I had been grazing with, requested to become my friend. I agreed. He named me Losiru, which means mosquito. I donâ€™t know whether the name is connected to what they saw as I took a bath.
In Namalu town, Nakapiriprit District, the previous day, I had bought the tribal gear. Clad in asuka with my neck decorated with ngachilo (beads) and my feet in ngamuk (sandals from car tyres), I looked a typical Karimojong warrior as I moved around the town with my ebela (walking stick). I was disappointed when most people called me a Masai after failing to speak the language beyond maata, their greeting.
That evening, as the sun shed its golden rays over Roperot village, I entered one of the kraals, which was to be my home for the next 24 hours. A swarm of flies and the stench from a mixture of cow dung and urine greeted me. The elderly and the young â€” some licking mucus from their noses, rushed to greet the foreigner under the dying twilight.
My host, the LC1 chairman, Sisto Amuge was not at home, but his wife, Margaret Ichumar pampered me.
Like most Karimojong, she does not know her age. Ichumar, speaks a few Luganda words but perfect Swahili, a language I hardly speak. We became a mismatch. Her pregnant daughter, Florence, 20, saved the day by interpreting into English.
My camera thrilled many. Ichumarâ€™s son, Aparemo, who is in Primary Two got obsessed with the gadget. He begged me to show him how to use it. He learnt within minutes and became my official photographer.
As the women cooked in the compound using blackened saucepans, the cows returned home. My host watched in disbelief when I started milking, amidst Aparemoâ€™s blinding flashes.
Later, Florence looked on as I emptied a plastic plate of ngakiria(posho) and washed it down with ngakibuk (sour milk) as my super at 7:00pm.
After supper, I had a lengthy tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte with Florence around a fire. Unlike other Karimojong girls, she was pregnant without a husband. The boy responsible for her pregnancy was a student who disowned her. I learnt that a girl can be courted by up to 10 warriors. The first warrior to get organised (with enough cows for bride price), forces the girl into sex. The girl automatically marries him. The only deterrent that checks the warriors from raping as many girls as possible is the prohibitive bride price of 30 cows on average.
The men, apart from grazing cows and defending the homestead in case of a raid, do nothing else. It is the responsibility of a woman to build a manyanta (hut), look for food, firewood and cook for the family.
I retired to bed at 10:00pm and found they had furnished my hut with a mattress. Another odd item in the hut that I shared with Florenceâ€™s three brothers, was a Pansonic radio cassette player. I pressed the play button and dance hall music blared out. It put me to sleep.
By the time we finished milking the cows the following morning, word had gone around about the visitor from Kampala. A crowd of begging palms shot out to me. â€œIâ€™m hungry,â€™â€™ one warrior declared. â€œI need money to buy tobacco,â€™â€™ another one chipped in, sparking off a begging spree. I had enough coins though I was later to run broke.
After breakfast at 7:30am, which was a big bowl of maize porridge, a traditional dance, edong, was organised in my honour. Edong which usually takes place at night provides the opportunity for warriors to lure their brides.
After the dance, a warrior who had been looking at me suspiciously as I danced, interrogated me. He spoke Swahili. Was I after their cows?
â€œI came to inspect a womenâ€™s project,â€™â€™ I began my story â€” which was not a lie. A daughter of the soil, Grace Lolem who runs an NGO called Karamoja Self Help Project (KOSH) had brought me to the kraal the previous day, so that I could experience the lifestyle of the Karimojong.
The curious warrior is Michael Lochowon, an LC official. However much he tried, Lochowon failed to pronounce my name, Mugisha. He settled for Matia ( for Matthias). Convinced that I was not after their cows, he accepted to take me for a grazing expedition.
At 8:15 am, in the company of several warriors and young boys, we set off with about 100 cows, 70 sheep and several dozen goats. As we moved on, I saw that one of the warriors with an AK47 and I froze with fear. Lochowon also carried a bow and arrows. Did they want to kill me?
Was this one of the warriors involved in cattle raids, who had not been disarmed by the government? Did they want to kill me, so that I do not report the gun? As I was wondering what to do, one of the warriors signaled me to join them in the bush. Nervously, I went over.
While I was planning my escape, a boy called Peter Sagal showed up. He lived in our kraal and spoke English.
The armed warrior whispered something to Sagal. I trembled. â€œHe says he is hungry,â€ Sagal translated. A sh500 coin bribe, turned the warriorâ€™s stone face into a broad smile. All the warriors converged on me and my pockets bled. The gun still nudged me.
â€œDo you know how to repair this gun if gets a problem?â€™â€™ I asked. The warrior dismantled it and assembled it in a matter of seconds. I laughed. My excitement made him happy. â€œThis gun belongs to the government,â€™â€™ he said. I relaxed.
We became friends. They taught me their language. I learnt the art shooting with a bow and an arrow. They asked if I owned a plane and bus in Kampala. They offered to get me a good wife for 30 cows.
I admired simplicity. I forgot the problems of Kampala. I forgot about my Landlord, airtime and service fee. Above all, I forgot about newsroomâ€™s deadlines, the traffic jams and the pool table in Ntinda.
A reminder that I was not in paradise came when the security conscious warriors went to check for Pokot raiders in the Kadam mountain ranges. They left me behind with the boys. My hosts were from the Pian tribe. The Pokot also known as Ngiupe, usually raid their cows from across the mountains. Hours later, they came and reported no threat.
Around 2:00 pm, we leisurely headed home with the cows. It was time to leave the kraal. After a good meal of chicken and rice, washed down with a mug of water, I left the kraal at 3:15 pm. My new friends Lochoro, Sagal and Aparemo my photographer saw me off. My 24 hours dream of living like a warrior came to an end.
When I reached Amaler Mission Guest House, which was my base, I noticed that my Nokia phone was missing. I had forgotten it in the kraal. Karimojong do not steal useless things. They only steal cows. Sagal went back and brought the phone. That night, at Amaler Guest House, Florence gave birth. She could not name the baby after me, as she had earlier promised, because the baby was a girl. Ends
Journalist Turns Into A Karimojong Warrior