Karamoja’s undying love for 'rugabire'

By Geoffrey Mutegeki

Added 15th May 2019 03:34 PM

If you’ve traveled to Karamoja region, you may see many people wearing black tire sandals known as Ngatangai or Rugabire.

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If you’ve traveled to Karamoja region, you may see many people wearing black tire sandals known as Ngatangai or Rugabire.

 Karimojong men in rugabire. PHOTOS: Geoffrey Mutegeki
Karamoja is one of the regions in Uganda with so many amazing things. Karimojong culture is one of the strongest and exciting cultures in Uganda. They have the best some of dances in this country.
When it is time for dancing, everyone will dance and sing. They will jump; make ululations which will melt your heart. Even in the church, they will never disappoint.
The region has amazing hills and rocks, grasslands and the famous Mountain Kidepo, Mount Moroto and Kidepo National Park and other various tourist attractions.
Karimojong are strong people who love each other dearly. Even when the British were colonising Uganda, they put up a spirited fight that their culture was not penetrated.
During events, they will show support to their local artistes than to any of your so called top artistes in Uganda. I witnessed this during the Early Childhood activation event in Kotido.
In fact, people in Karamoja love doing things their way. You don’t have to force them but collaborate with them.
Because they love doing things their way, they always do things that satisfy their demands and careless about the world outside. They love staying in their own houses called manyattas.
Many Karamojong shun western style clothes and instead wear a shawl or sheet, traditionally referred to as nakatukok, often in red and black.

 Karimojong men wearing rugabire

The women wear elaborate beadwork with skirts paired with a vest.
If you’ve traveled to Karamoja region, you may see many people wearing black tire sandals known as Ngatangai or Rugabire.
They love durable, strong products. This explains the reason why they fell in love with rugabire.
It is not because, they don’t like shoes, but why won't wear a shoe that will break after a day.
Although Rugabire is not only won in Karamoja, it is common in areas of Karamoja where almost everyone, young or old, lady or gentleman wears them
As pastoralists, they move their cattle around a tough landscape in search of pasture. The only shoe to manage this is Rugabire.
“It is very durable, you can wear it for a very long time compared to other shoes,” says Kapelo Romano, the Kotido district education officer. 
He notes that, with the nature of Karamoja and the kind of life lived by the people of the sub-region, they require such strong sandals.
The vegetation in Karamoja is characterized by thorny bushes, cammiphora woodlands, occasional small trees and patches of grassland.
People in Karamaoja are mainly pastoralists who keep moving from one place to another herding their cattle.
“These shoes are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. Ngatangai is an all-weather all condition shoe,” says Francis Longom, a resident of Kotido.
He also says shoe shops are only limited in town.
Rev. David Look of Christ Church Cathedral, says people in Karamoja used to put on shoes made of animal hides.

 Elijah wearing shoes made out of animal skin

 “Rugabire has been adopted as a Karimojong wear, we are proud of it. We used to wear shoes made of animal hides but conservationists stopped this,” Look says.
Before Rugabire made its way to Karamoja, the natives would wear shoes made out of animals like hippos, rhinos, and buffalos among others.
In Karamoja, rugabire costs between sh8,000 and 10,000. A rugabire can be won for a minimum of five years no matter the conditions.
“Shoes made out animal skins do not last long like Rugabire, they easily get destroyed especially during the rainy season,” Look says.
Elijah Lubur, a local artist who dons sandals made of animal skins says many people love rugabire because it is easy to make and find.
“Rugabire is very famous; warriors used even to rob vehicles to get tires to make these sandals because they are durable,” Lubur says.
He says shoes made of animal skin have become too expensive, and are not as durable as rugabire.
Some might call tire sandals primitive, but what kind of shoe can roam that tough land of Karamoja while grazing and it doesn’t break.
The Karamojong are proud of their traditional lifestyle which is often misunderstood.

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