Visiting the Karamojong and IK of Kidepo-Uganda Safari News
Not like in the old documentaries of the African jungle but just a little different from that. Kidepo Valley National Park is one of the few places in Africa where you can have a feel of the “untouched” African wilderness in the 21st century. Kidepo is a popular Uganda wildlife safari destination since its home to a lot of endemics but not alone that its home to unique “un spoiled” African cultures of the Karamojong and IK.
The word Kidepo comes from a Dodoth verb “akidep” meaning “to pick up” which can literally be described as telling you to come and pick up the true African safari experience during your safari in Uganda. The park was formerly occupied by the Dodoth pastoralists and IK farmers, later on gazetted as a game reserve in 1958 during the British colonial government. They decided to leave this place alone purposely to protect the animals from hunting and prevent further clearing of the bush for tsetse fly control. The game reserve was later converted into a national park in 1962, the year Uganda gained her sovereignty.
Kidepo valley national park described as Africa’s hidden gem by CNN is located in the district of Kaabong in North eastern Uganda between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya. Featuring a rugged savanna with red thorn acacias covering about 1,442sqkm (557sqmi) in Karamoja region dominated by the 2,750m(9,020ft) mountain Morungole. This most isolated park in Uganda has an altitude ranging between 914m – 2,750m above sea level transected by the seasonal Kidepo and Narus rivers. The open savanna terrain makes the Narus valley the parks best viewing position for both wildlife and bird watching tours in Uganda tourists.
The Karamojong cultural experience in Kidepo Valley National Park
The communities that occupy the areas proximate to the park include the Karamojong people- a group of formerly hunter gatherers similar to the Masai in Kenya and the IK people. On a tour in Kidepo, visiting the Karamojong communities offers a remote experience like no other. You visit the “manyatta”-the local houses constructed from mud and sticks and surrounded with reed. Manyatta’s are made in form of communities with a single group distant from the other. The homesteads alone are a unique way of settlement with each manyatta having almost close relatives.
During the Karamojong cultural experience, you can involve in the traditional activities like herding cattle, crafting, traditional dance and singing. The dance is based on jumping, the higher you jump the better dancer you are and the best is the one that jumps highest. During the tour, a local guide keeps explaining to you about the traditions of the community, one of the most interesting one being the marriage culture. When a Karamojong girl is getting married the intending groom plans a kraal of cattle where the girl’s parents come to choose from dowry. Standing at the edge of thousands of cattle, the strongest man from the girl’s side throws an arrow through the kraal and where it ends is the number of cattle take. This is very amazing because only what saves your cattle is the weakness of the one throwing the arrow.
The IK cultural experience in Kidepo Valley National Park
The other group of the communities living here, known as the IK (one of the smallest tribes in Africa) live on Mount Morungole. To visit this small group of people you will have to hike for about 2,749m (9,019ft) to where they live. When you reach there, a spectacular view below is what you will sight, not any easy to see in any remote park.
According to folklore, the Ik have wandered through much of East Africa, and came from Ethiopia hundreds of years ago. Praying to ancient gods, the Ik believe they will one day have to move on from Kidepo Valley. But they are fighting to preserve their unique culture and language, which no rival tribes understand.
“It’s like a museum,” he says. “It’s a storehouse of historical information, cultural information, ecological information. When a language like that dies, you could liken it to a library burning down. Losing a window to the past that will never be recovered in the future.” Terrill Schrock a linguist working with three generations of Ik stated.
A visit to the IK will expose you to their traditions from cattle keeping, agriculture, marriage, entertainment and much more. You spend a day here interacting with the locals.
Kidepo Valley National Park is distant from Kampala, Uganda’s capital and with few tourist numbers but a drive to this magnificent park is one of the most rewarding Uganda safaris as you get a chance to experience the wilderness without commotion. From Kidepo many tourists love to connect to Murchison Falls National Park for a wildlife experience or even to Mount Elgon National Park for a hiking experience to the beautiful Sipi falls as they cool off the Kidepo heat.