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When the Karimojong exhumed a pen to go to school

Karimojong elders perform rituals to exhume the pen in Lemusui village in Nakapiripirit district recently. Photo by Daudi Nana.

NAKAPIRIPIRIT-The third academic term is about to end, unlike many pupils, who have been comfortable in their classrooms, with availability of teachers, scholastic materials, children in Lemusui village, Katabok parish in Morita sub-county in Nakapiripirit district did not get this.

Most children did not go to school, instead Karimojong male children who live pastoral life went through the bushes to train how to hunt and raid animals while the females were trained how to undertake Female Genital Mutilation and become adults, a common tradition here.

John Loyel, an ethnic Jie elder, says the Karimojong in this sub-county have been cursed because they buried a pen an*-d a book in protest against the British colonial rule. Loyel said in the 1930s, elders in Jie County buried a pen to symbolise their disdain for education and modernity.

“The pen had been used by colonial officers to take our local sons to fight for the British army in the Second World War, so we rejected everything related to the British including Education that is why we buried the pen and the book, schools were seen as agents for this alien life so no Karimojong child went to school,” Loyel said.

The climax of the Karimojong resistance to colonial education is well documented in the famous burial of a pen in the 1930s, following a successful campaign against foreign education and faith by the elders.
He said even when some of the elders were arrested and detained by the British colonial masters; the pen and book remained underground.

“And this explains why we don’t encourage our children to go to school, it explains why the illiteracy levels are so high in Morita sub-county and Kadam hills where children don’t want to go to school because the burying of a pen left a permanent curse on us,” Loyel said.

A karimojong elder Loyel performs rituals to exhume a pen for the Karimojong to go to school. Photo by Daudi Nana.

My Yahaya Ariokot, the Nakapiripirit District Education officer, said local folklore had it that children who went to school were dying because of the curse of the pen and that they made appeals for its exhumation.
“Most children in this remote area don’t go to school even when traditions are changing across Karamoja, we tried and failed and I believe the decision to exhume the pen will now change attitude and help people enroll children in schools,” Ariokot said.

Every year, in the Nakapirpirit district council and Jie elders from Morita and Kadam hills due to worrying levels of illiteracy have taken a decision to have public exhumation of the pen in Lemusiu village to enable child go to school.
Although it is difficult to know exactly where the pen was buried, Jie elders perform rituals to exhume the pen to enable people change their attitude towards education and have their children enrolled in school.

A bull is slaughtered, pens are secured and planted in the dung before an elder Mr Loyel sprinkles blood, honey and milk on them while speaking some words in Ngikarimojong that meant,

“Education is good, it brings peace, we ask you to forgive us, our ancestors forgive us, set us to the right path not to the path of death” before meat was roasted and shared,”

Nakapiripirit district chairperson John Nangiro says most of these children who leave the kraal and their homes to go to school end up dropping out, before reaching Primary Seven

“And it is only a small percentage gets formal secondary education,” Nangiro said.

Monica Abura, 15, is one of girls who have stayed on at Lemusui Primary School to class P4.

“This is where the school stops, we have no other school even when I know education is the way to a good job but my parents have been thinking that if you take a child to school she will become a prostitute, she will die and will be a curse to the community because of the pen,” said Abura

The executive director Reproductive Educative and Community Health [REACH] an NGO that is fighting FGM in the area Ms Beatrice Chelangat said the target of the function is to enable Karimajong accept education in order for them to drop FGM that puts the dignity of girl child in jeopardy.

“We have realized that education is the best way to fight FGM and FGM has been so high here due to illiteracy and this function now opens the gates for them to go to school and the fight against FGM will be a success,” said Ms Chelangat.

A number of aid agencies have come to Karamoja like save the children whose sole I am is to help the sub-region get back to Education but this is having low progress.

Under the Karamoja Primary Education Programme, Irish Aid supported the construction and rehabilitation of 21 Primary Schools throughout the region with €12.7 million in funding.

The programme, aims at increasing access and retention of pupils in primary schools, through infrastructure improvement of three schools in each of the seven districts, benefitting a total of 17,000 pupils in Karamoja.

Mr Loyel, a Jie elder tests cow dung during the ritual to officially exhume the pen reportedly buried in the 1930s in protest against education. Photo by Daudi Nana.

The programme, which ran from 2013 to 2016, is being implemented with partners Deloitte-Uganda, Proplan Partners and Turner & Townsend and a report by Irish indicates that 21 beneficiary schools have a total enrolment of 17,008 pupils out of which 8,945 (53.7%) are boys and 8,066 (46.3%) are girls.

Most agencies have shown the commitment to continue to working with the leaders and people of Karamoja in their efforts to develop their region but this is yet to bear results.

A paper entitled Factors Affecting Primary School Enrollment and Retention of Pupils in Karamoja district by ministry of Education dated May 2014 says primary-school attendance is still woefully low across Karamoja – 30 percent in Moroto and Kotido, and 40 percent in Nakapiripirit against 83 percent nationwide.

“Those who do go to school tend to start late and leave early and only two percent of children in Kotido district, make it to secondary school, compared with a national average of 21 percent. Girls stay at the Manyatta learning to keep homes and boys learn to raid cattle,” reads the paper in part.

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