Gender and Pastoralism in Karamoja, Uganda: “The Live in A manyatta/ Ere”


The Karamojong people live in the North-Eastern part of Uganda. Karamoja covers 27,596.5km2 which is 11.4% of the total land area of Uganda. Pastoralism, agro-pastoralism, and subsistence arable farming are the main economic activities. The community is well known for its strong ties with cattle and because of frequent droughts they regularly move with their herds from place to place in search of pasture and water.

 A manyatta is a Kiswahili word that means a homestead, and also known as “Ere” in Ngakarimojong language of Uganda. It encompasses an extended family of members that includes, daughters, sons, Fathers, Mothers, Children, Grandparents, and in-laws staying together and working together as a family under the management of one senior elder. The numbers vary from 80 to 120 people living in a Ere. Ateker cultural Center Karamoja in Moroto, Uganda is established as a local indigenous cultural organization. With aim of promoting the original heritage of Ateker pastoralist groups in Africa. It creates awareness on promoting the sharing the celebration of pastoralist values and cultures across borders in Eastern and horn of Africa.

Living in a polygamous family – A Karamjong polygamous story! A man in a typical Karamojong family marries many women as much as possible depending on his capacity in terms of land and livestock to protect and care for all the women. The last woman of the husband always is assumed to be the last wife of the family. She has to prepare a special dinner for her husband in order to maintain her status, She has to work hard so that her husband will not be snatched by another woman. Most Karamojong traditional men live a polygamous life from two to over ten women. The higher Numbers of wives a man had indicated a man’s (Ekile) status of wealth and the fewer showed his poverty line. The man is still tasked traditionally to marry all his women by paying dowry and also maintain all of them. In the case, the man fails other men are ready and are entitled to marry them off together with their children and that marks the end between him and his children.

The biological father has no right to traditionally and ceremoniously interfere in any of their lives ever. This is one of the reasons cattle raids were conducted and chronic in Karamoja Uganda in East Africa. It was a source of prestige, Wealth, and social dimensions of the family head.

The gender roles in a Manyatta/ Ere – Ere have multiple gender roles that build up a pastoralist community. The roles range from reproductive to productive for both living organisms in Ere, that is animals and Human beings. The boys “Ngikarachuna” are deliberately supposed to take care of livestock in rangelands and cattle camps by ensuring protection from wild beasts, thieves, grazing, livestock health management, watering, and reporting to the men the new animals in. The adult men (Parents) role should allocate potions of land to women and support in cultivation and use of oxen during farming and advise boys on livestock management during grazing times, type of grass, fodder trees, and quality of water for animals and humans. The elderly men (Ngikasukow) give advice to men on how to care for women and the general family. The elders also allocate land to each family, boundary demarcation, and authority overuse of communal lands, when to move and when to return back. The women (elderly-Ngakimak), support in thatching of houses in the manyatta, the hat design, and the traditional ceremony planning before a couple enters into the new hat.

The Youth Girls (Ngapesur) in a manyatta (Ere), the girls are to assist mothers in most of the household work on fetching water, firewood collection, preparing food, collecting wild fruits and vegetables with mothers together. They also support women during cultivation by weeding and harvesting. During the harvest season in Karamoja, it’s a responsibility for girls to take care of flowering crops (sorghum and Maize) gardens from birds and Monkeys. It is the most rewarding activity of all as a girl child. “I ate fresh sorghum, maize, and other fruits. During this event, I saw all kinds of birds as I played hide and seek with them in the gardens. Even sung and created songs for birds! It’s here that I learned a love relationship with nature” Said Longole Hanna 2019.

Type of foods – Karamojong in a manyatta (Ere) prepared a number of foods stuffs; each Household in A manyatta contributed and prepared food for a traditional ceremony like celebrating good harvest and initiation of young men to another stage of manhood. The foods include Emuna, Engodish, Blood, Meat, Akwiring (fried meat), Ngikaawo (Boiled Maize and Sorghum seeds), and Milk and eaten by different age groups in a manyatta.

It is worth needed to protect the Karamoja pastoralists community as it is one of the last surviving Agro pastoralists groups of Uganda. Karamoja lives largely in undisturbed ecosystems away from pollution and degradation hence harnessing the rich cultural heritage for economic benefits to the country Uganda in tourism, livestock and cultural values should be the first government interest in supporting pastoralism in Uganda at large.

The photo credit to Longole Hanna and Loupa Pius.


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