The Stranded Nomads of Karamoja


Photos taken in Uganda by Jonathan Hyams:

The Northeastern plains of Uganda are home to the stranded nomads of Karamoja; semi-pastoralist herders, whose wealth, livelihoods and status are determined by the cattle they own. With a formidable reputation as fierce warriors, the Karamojong are caught in a cycle of armed cattle raids between neighbouring tribes. As heavy weaponry from the conflicts in neighbouring countries flooded the region and made its way into the hands of both the Karamajong and their enemies, the old tradition of cattle raiding took a deadly turn.

Often clashing with regional tribes, rebel groups, and the Ugandan military, their desperate fight for survival has become increasingly violent. The government response has been an aggressive crackdown on the Karamajong in recent years; forcibly disarming them of the weapons they claim were their only protection against rival groups, their way of life has been drastically altered.

Shunned by the rest of the country as ‘primative’ and ‘hostile’, and confined to the barren backlands, the Karamojong’s struggle for survival has recently encountered a new adversary: the region they inhabit is undergoing cataclysmic changes. Persistent droughts are destroying crops, causing severe food shortages and causing outbreaks of disease in the cattle so essential to the Karamoja way of life.

In 2010 I visited the Karamojong; my journey took me through a landscape that is wilting and dying around the very communities struggling to survive there. And yet, as these portraits show, survival and resilience are central to the Karamoja way of life; it is as evident in their colourful dress and headwear as it is in their proud stances, defiant of the unyielding environment they inhabit. These portraits illustrate the pride and resilience of the Karamojong- but they also allude to the challenges imposed by their environment and an uncertain future. Visually, the story of the Karomojong is unique and striking; however their plight as a marginalised community, facing the profound effects of climatic change and military intervention, are undoubtedly universal.”


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