The Joy of Nudity: Why the Karamajong people of Uganda love to walk ‘naked’

Karamajong tribe
Women from the Karamajong tribe

The Karamajong tribesmen are a group of agro-pastoralists (a group of people who combine farming with cattle rearing/herding) occupying North-east Uganda. Historians report that they migrated from Ethiopia to their present-day settlement in about the 1600 AD.

As a people, the Karamajong speak ‘Karamajong’ in their bid to communicate with each other. This language forms a part of the Nilo-Saharan African language group. Their social systems and organization have a well-rounded sex balance, and this we can tell from their marriage custom which requires the man to wrestle the woman he intends to serve as his bride.

Another peculiar trait which cannot go unnoticed amongst the Karamajong tribesmen is their desire to go about their daily duties near-naked, and completely naked on occasions irrespective of age, sex or social status.

This is a community of people who will most probably be referred to as ‘primitive’ in its derogatory parlance by the Victorian-Age socialized social critique, not taking the leisure to account for the social, cultural and environmental factors underlying the Karamojong’s ‘naked’ parole.

The human being (Homo sapiens) is the only known primate that has a nearly naked skin given the fact that all other known members of our extended animal relations have some generous amount of covering on their skin. The decline of the Ice-Age dating as far back as about 2.6 million years ago to about 11,700 years ago saw the gradual loss of hair on the skin of our Ice-Age human ancestors. In the cold, the thick hairs that covered their bodies served amongst other purposes as; insulation for the body against the cold and a formidable shield from ultra-violet Sun rays.

The decline of the ‘cold era’ however, significantly declined the hairs covering the bare skin of our prehistoric ancestors; a physical trait we the descendants of present generations now share. The cold-ridden climate of the Ice-Age was succeeded by a warmer climatic atmosphere especially in the tropically temperate regions of Africa were our ancient Afrikan ancestors found themselves in lesser need of bodily covering given the warmth of their environment. As hunters, farmers and pastoralists; subsistence activities that required by virtue of productivity intense manual labour, our ancient African ancestors found themselves in need of the freed joy nudity brought them because it afforded them the opportunity to passively cool off their bodies whiles going about their daily survival duties.

What was wrong therefore with a group of people who had opted from the standpoint of survival, personal comfort and social progress to walk the path of decreased materialism?

A walk down the banks of the River Nile in the quaint Egyptian village of Tell-el-Amarna located 200 miles south of Cairo found one Arab woman clay-tablet archives containing wisdom from the young Egyptian Pharaoh; Akhen-Aton (1385-1353 BC) in 1887. Translation of the messages contained in the clay tablets revealed Pharaoh Akhen-Aton’s close association with the ancient Egyptian Sun-god named ‘Ra’ and his open declaration for the practice of nudity as a way of attaining spiritual and physical advancement. Pharaoh Akhen-Aton and his beautiful bride; Queen Nefertiti are thus recorded to have graced their royal palaces with their own share of ‘nakedness’ as professed by the young King.

This is just one instance of many beautiful cultures the world over who bask in the grace of their nudities. Mention can also be made of the Yanomami Tribe of Brazil whose bodily ‘clothing’ consists of natural dyes made out of flowers, leaves and berries. The Tupari Tribe also follow suit in a way of life described by Aileen Goodson in her article; ‘Nudity in Ancient to Modern Cultures’ as ‘a life of unhurried simplicity’ and unhindered mobility one would say.

There is enough reason to suggest that the body-shaming, nudity-condemning fever surrounding original tribes like the Karamajong of Uganda emerged with the creation of Adam and Eve; first parents of the human race according to the Christian Bible whose writing dates as far back as 1200 BC. Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis illustrates how Adam and Eve disobeyed their creators by eating of the forbidden fruit; a singular act of defiance that made them aware of their ‘nakedness’ which hitherto they were unaware of. After their rebellion, the Bible reports that they covered themselves with fig leaves to cover their ‘shame’.

In a world of increasing materialism and for a modern culture characterized by a mindless scramble for material ‘wealth’ of which the average majority deems ideal, it is commonplace to confine the simplicity-minded Karamajong Tribe to the corner of shame, condemnation and supposed primitiveness. Religious views concerning the preservation of the body as a sacred temple for ‘God’ are used by the less informed to wage a ‘holy war’ against the likes of the Karamajong. But in the end, it will all go down the archives of history as a misguided battle of opinions.

For a group of people already detached from mainstream capitalism, living a secluded life of utmost simplicity as is the case of the Karamajong, it is up to them to define the boundaries of their cultural habits and those ideologies that will ensure their individualized survival, as well as the future survival of their sons and daughters.