Wars and Alliances

Warfare at the time of Dyson-Hudson’s fieldwork in the 1950s was an exclusively intertribal affair, consisting mostly of cattle raids against other tribal groups or the killing of “foreigners” found on Karimojong land. There were hardly any armed conflicts between Karimojong groups themselves, as stealing livestock or fighting with spears was banned between the Karimojong (Dyson-Hudson 1966: 229f.). Intratribal disputes were either settled by collective punishment pronounced by elders and enforced by the younger age set, or by a duel with sticks, clubs and knives. This ban on intratribal raiding among the Karimojong had fallen away by the end of the 20th century, when its former sections -Matheniko, Pian and Bokora - became independent tribes. A ban on the use of guns in conflicts is now only observed within these new tribal units (Gray 2000: 408).

Non-Karimojong were categorized into three sets: “half-brothers”, “foreigners” and the “government” (Dyson-Hudson 1966: 228). The Nyakwae living to the Northwest of the Karimojong territory and the Dodoth in the north were considered “half-brothers”, and similar restrictions on warfare and raiding as among the Karimojong applied to them. The Jie in the north, the Turkana to the East, the Pokot to the South-East and the Teso in the West and Southwest were considered “foreigners” or “enemies”. Cattle of enemies could be raided at will, and the killing of foreigners, regardless of age and gender, was considered an honourable act. The successful killer gave himself an “enemy name” and scarified his shoulders as a symbol of his performance as a warrior (ibid.: 231).

Forms of collective violence were and are manifold. They range from the killing of single herders found with their herds within Karimojong territory, to small- or large-scale raids, to full military campaigns, in which several hundred or even thousands of men participate. In times of heightened insecurity, as many as 10,000 men from various sections could gather together in the dry season with an equal number of cattle, in order to defend themselves against neighbouring tribes or launch massive raids. During these times, warriors are under strict communal disciplinein the camp and led by charismatic military-religious leaders (Dyson-Hudson 1966: 252f., Knighton 2006: 277ff., 2010: 124f.).

The most important defensive unit among the Karimojong are the neighbourhoods and sub-sections, who gathered together to repel intruders. Large offensive raids against other tribes were usually coordinated on the level of sections, and some sections were allied with others for offensive or defensive purposes. In the dry season, members from different sections gathered in camp clusters for defensive purposes, and might defend their territory even against other Karimojong, although only with sticks (Dyson-Hudson 1966: 249-254). Karimojong sections were thus at one time all allied with each other, and aggregated to perform the generation set succession ritual, or defend their common territory. By the 1990s, however, these alliances were partially broken apart and the Matheniko section often waged war against the Pian or Bokora sections (Gray et al. 2003: 6). Thus, war between sections of a tribe is usually followed by a split and the formation of new tribes.

Conflicts between pastoralists are sometimes explained with environmental scarcities. In periods of drought, the utilization of valuable resources like riverbeds in the borderlands between tribes is said to be hotly contested. These conflicts would often lead to war in the form of cattle raids, in order to restock herds after environmentally induced losses (Gray 2000: 404). Other researchers (Eaton 2008, Butier/Gates 2012) have questioned this explanation by pointing to the fact that tribes often cooperate and refrain from raiding during droughts. Raiding fluctuates seasonally, reaching its peak during the rainy season, when fear of raiding often compels groups to move away from tribal boundaries (Eaton 2008: 100). To the Karimojong, raids seem inevitable, as explained to Dyson-Hudson in 1957:

Everyone wants to find a wife, friends, happiness; to become a man of importance and influence. Without cattle he cannot achieve any of these things. So each person thinks to himself, “Where shall I find cattle?” (And the answer is) “From foreigners”. So he resolves to go to an enemy country, and kill for cattle. He may be killed in the attempt. Or he may succeed, but arouse enmity between the Karimojong and other peoples.

(Dyson-Hudson 1966: 103)

Detailed description of war tactics for the Karimojong are rare. They are better documented for the Jie and the Pokot. Jie warriors were traditionally armed with two throwing spears and a heavy rectangular shield. They used to go to combat arranged by age sets, the senior age set in the centre, the others forming the wings. The warriors would then advance in columns “like the fingers of a hand”, each finger consisting of one age set under a leader. Tactics were mostly geared towards raiding, the

The Karimojong in Uganda (1898-2010) 187 older age sets rounding up the cattle, the younger age sets then driving them off, while the older age sets covered their retreat (Lamphear 1976: 207ff.). The Pokot encircled the enemy and its livestock in a pincer movement. The junior age sets formed the wings, while the elder age sets and the leaders remained in the centre and advanced frontally. Warriors with guns positioned themselves on both sides behind the leader to cover the rear (Cisternino 1979: 133). The Karimojong warriors were similarly arranged by age sets, but there seems to have been no special place or duties for the various sets (Lamphear 1976: 247).1

All groups also engaged in smaller raids; whose purpose was to “bloody the spear”. Such smaller raids were conducted by small groups of younger men in order to raid cattle for marriage, to hunt for large game or to prove their ability to kill (Cisternino 1979: 133). Nowadays, raiding is often organized on an ad hoc basis by individual young men, no longer based on community consensus and no longer preceded by rituals (Niamir-Fuller 1999: 161). In addition, the existence of livestock traders with close connections to cattle thieves means that raiding has become much more commercialized, as cattle are quickly converted into cash. This in turn has weakened community control over thieves, as it becomes impossible to find out who is involved in such raids (Eaton 2010).

There is scant data regarding war-related mortality. A study by Gray et al. (2003) collected data on 2,235 individuals by interviewing over 300 Karimojong women and established the cause of deaths for the years between 1940 and 1999. According to these data, an average of 28% of adult male deaths and 3% of adult female deaths were caused by violence during these six decades, and while it remains unclear how many of these deaths were due to raiding or other forms of interpersonal violence, the examples given in the text all refer to deaths from raiding. There is a clear trend of increasing violence. In the 1950s, the adult male mortality from violence stood at 22%, by the 1970s it had increased to 35%, remaining on that level ever since. In the age group of 30-35-year olds, the violence related mortality was as high as 50% (Gray et al. 2003: 7ff., 15).

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