• The Stranded Nomads of Karamoja
    by Jonathan Hyams
  • The Northeasternplains of Uganda are home to the stranded nomads of Karamoja; semi-pastoralistherders, whose wealth, livelihoods and status are determined by the cattle theyown.
    With a formidable reputationas fierce warriors, the Karamojong are caught in a cycle of armed cattle raidsbetween neighbouring tribes. As heavy weaponry from the conflicts inneighbouring countries flooded the region and made its way into the hands of boththe Karamajong and their enemies, the old tradition of cattle raiding took adeadly turn.
    Often clashing withregional tribes, rebel groups, and the Ugandan military, their desperate fightfor survival has become increasingly violent. Thegovernment response has been an aggressive crackdown on the Karamajongin recent years; forcibly disarming them of the weapons they claim weretheir only protection against rival groups, their wayof life has been drastically altered.
    Shunned by the restof the country as ‘primative’ and ‘hostile’, and confined to the barrenbacklands, the Karamojong’s struggle for survival has recently encountered anew adversary: the region they inhabit is undergoing cataclysmic changes.Persistent droughts are destroying crops, causing severe food shortages andcausing outbreaks of disease in the cattle so essential to the Karamoja way oflife.
    In 2010 I visited theKaramojong; my journey took me through a landscape that is wilting and dyingaround the very communities struggling to survive there. And yet, as theseportraits show, survival and resilience are central to the Karamoja way oflife; it is as evident in their colourful dress and headwear as it is in theirproud stances, defiant of the unyielding environment they inhabit.
    These portraits illustratethe pride and resilience of the Karamojong- butthey also allude to the challenges imposed by their environment and anuncertain future.
    Visually, the storyof the Karomojong is unique and striking; however their plight as amarginalised community, facing the profound effects of climatic change andmilitary intervention, are undoubtedly universal.