The Ik Tribe

The ik tribe

The Ik tribe sometimes called Tueso; is an indigenous community residing in Karamoja region, northeast of Uganda are part of the Cultural Safaris to Kidepo National Park. In the local language, “Ik” loosely translates to ahead of migration or the first to migrate here. The Ik tribe migrated from Ethiopia, first settled in Kenya and later migrated to the Karamoja region. True to the meaning of their name, they were the first settlers in Karamoja region possibly running away from their warrior neighbors. In comparison to the other communities, the Toposa, Turkana and Jie of the semi arid East African region, the Ik community did not have a lot of wealth so to speak. They kept a few heads of cattle, goats, sheep and chicken but possessed special skills at hunting wild game, gathering edible fruits, flowers, leaves, tubers and cultivated land to grow some food crops in the Karamoja plains.

The neighboring communities to the Ik tribe outnumbered them in population and unfortunately were traditional warriors that took pride in raiding the weak communities. Karamojong warriors who believed their god Akuj gave them birthright of all cattle anywhere including cattle for the Ik outmuscled them and confiscated their cattle. The Ik community abandoned livestock keeping, concentrated at hunting game, growing food crops, tending to traditional apiary and gathering edible items from the Karamoja plains. The 1960s wildlife protection and conservation movements rubbed salt in the Ik community wounds as their ancestral land converted into a game reserve. The Ik tribe vacated their lands, were not compensated and they agonizingly shifted to unknown world high into the Mount Morungole ranges.

A traveler on tour of Uganda who visits the Ik community gets a new exciting image about safari to Uganda. The Ik tribe inhabits the Morungole mountain ranges that rise to 2,750m from the Karamoja plains. The montane vegetation cover in the highlands with cool breeze due to high elevation is largely different from grassland and woodlands in the valley with the burning heat. The travelers get magnificent views of the rift and the lands besides encountering unique wildlife species. The most exciting of them all is interaction and sharing the life experiences with the Ik people.

The Ik communities gather in villages, odok of friendly households, asak set in the relatively flat valleys of the Morungole mountain ranges. The entire village, odok is fenced against foreign intruders and wild animals. Individual households, asak have a large yard that may include a food granary, rack for household utensils, kraal for goats and sheep and pit latrine. The Ik are traditional polygamists and marry as many wives as they are able to pay dowry. The Ik community measure dowry in number of goats, sheep, chicken, beehives and monetary cash. To the rest of the world these are so cheap items to talk of, but to the Ik they are very hard to get. The Ik husband’s erect an asak for each wife and husbands make rotational visits in the same odok.

Child bearing is sign of blessings to humankind and to the Ik tribe raising children is a social responsibility. The parents share the asak with infants up to a certain age, 4 years on average and then the grandparents pick them up. The grandparents are a living information data bank from which children acquire basic life survival skills. At an average age of 13 years, the grand children leave their grandparents asak. Boys of the same age group erect their own asak and live as a gang, while girls are “mature” and ready for marriage.

The traditional Ik culture embraces wife inheritance after losing a partner or divorce. Sex promiscuity is highly punishable, incest is a taboo and adultery is punishable by death. Because youths have their own asak, it is possible to get partners and date in secrecy.

From time immemorial, the Ik have been an aggrieved community largely because of their small population. Currently, there are 10,000-15,000 less educated, less skilled, not traveled, and not exposed Ik individuals in the whole planet largely in Morungole mountain ranges. Currently, there is relative calm and Karamojong warrior raids are history to the Ik community. The Ugandan government is sensitizing them about health, hygiene, education, farming, security, housing and other fields. The civil society is empowering them through skilling and income generating projects.

Being in the neighborhood with Kidepo valley national park has raised the awareness of the Ik tribe to international world. The travelers on safari into Uganda who visit the Ik get a true image of the Africa in its original sense.