Support the Ik Cultural Agenda


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Policy Brief 2014 Support the IK cultural agenda! As the Ik community - one of the ethnic minority groups in Uganda - we face a number of challenges. Amongst these is the limited respect of our cultural rights, which may ultimately lead to our ‘cultural extinction’. This short document presents the main cultural hurdles which the Ik currently face and makes a number of urgent recommendations to Government, NGOs and other parties, to support our cultural rights and well-being. Culture and ethnic minorities in Uganda Uganda’s ethnic minority groups are often marginalised, although there have been some efforts by NGOs and government to promote their welfare and to recognise their social and economic rights. Many groups are still little known to the general public, and the little that is known is informed by stereotypes. Their cultural rights are especially at risk and require urgent attention. Ugandans belonging to these minorities, such as the Ik, have often resorted to using the languages of the dominant groups to ‘survive’. Identity is threatened, and they become powerless to influence issues affecting them. Without deliberate and comprehensive support, the cultures and traditions of ethnic minority groups such as the Ik are therefore at risk of disappearing. 1


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Policy Brief 2014 Who are the Ik? We are believed to have been the first people to occupy north Karamoja, in northeastern Uganda. We currently live along the border with Kenya in Kamion sub-county, Kaabong district, and to the south-east of Kidepo National Park. Moroto and, according to the 2002 population census, we number about 11,000 people. Our settlements are mainly located on the ridges of hills. This is a security measure against attacks from dominant neighbours, mostly the Dodoth in Uganda and the Turkana in Kenya, with whom we are nevertheless in constant contact. Our language – the Ik – is unique and most of our neighbours are unable to understand it. Our neighbours generally consider us as poor and humble, but sociable and hospitable. We are also sometimes seen as cowardly because we try to remain neutral in local inter-ethnic conflicts, and we are then accused of duplicity. Our ancestors depended on hunting and gathering, but we now also practice subsistence farming, growing cereals and some vegetables. We also harvest honey from the forest for domestic use and sale to neighbouring communities. Land is therefore a very important resource for our survival and cultural heritage. As we rely on the land, and especially on the Timu forest, we have developed a distinct culture of environmental conservation. Aspirations of the Ik community – our vision We, the Ik, wish to see our culture in continued existence and preserved for future generations, through our own efforts and those of other actors and communities. Our children and youth must therefore learn, know and appreciate our culture. We also wish to see respect and recognition of the Ik community by others, as a community with full rights and in equality with others. We want to see other communities, their local governments What are cultural rights? Cultural rights are the rights of an individual and community to enjoy and advance culture and science without undue interference. Cultural rights demand that people and communities have access to their culture, and to participate and express the culture of their choice in conditions of equality, human dignity and non-discrimination. These rights relate to language, cultural and artistic production, participation in cultural life, promotion and protection of cultural heritage, and intellectual property rights among others. Cultural rights are stated in (among others) the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Constitution of Uganda, the Equal Opportunities Act, and the Traditional and Cultural Leaders Act among others promote such rights. In practice however, cultural rights are rarely on the development agenda. Although the 1995 Constitution provides for people’s rights to practice their cultures, the implementation of the activities necessary to recognise, protect and promote the cultural rights and diversities of all the 56 Ugandan ethnic communities equally is rarely seen. 2


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Policy Brief 2014 and national governments, become knowledgeable about Ik culture, as is the case for other cultures in our country. Cultural issues affecting the Ik To see our cultural rights better respected, several issues must be addressed which, in order of priority, are: 1. Land – Access and Boundaries Following demarcation in colonial times, the Government gazetted large portions of Ik land for a game park (Kidepo) and a forest reserve (Timu). This included sites and resources that we attach cultural value to, including sacred places of worship, historical sites, sacred rivers and streams for ritual cleansing, sources of medicinal herbs and honey. This gazetting has restricted access and prevents us from expressing and fulfilling our spiritual and nutritional needs. In addition, grass burning by neighbouring hunting communities is destroying the forest cover at an alarming rate, leading to the extinction of some of our valued medicinal trees. Land boundaries, including the sub-county boundaries, are not clearly marked and therefore disregarded by neighbouring communities who have taken advantage of the Ik’s ignorance to extend their boundaries into areas that we have been occupying for long. So we now lack access to some important cultural ritual sites for rain making such as River Daman which is presently dominated by the Turkana of Kenya, and Morungole where settlement by non-Ik people has undermined our language and cultural traditions. 2. Education and Language There are currently only 5 primary schools and no secondary schools for the population of 11,000 Ik. Local languages have been introduced in lower primary schools but a minority language such as Ik is not in the national curriculum and is therefore not taught. This has affected the development of the Ik language and culture as the youth are taught other languages. Because of the small number of educated Ik, there are no trained and salaried teachers or instructors for the local language (except in community schools) and this threatens its continued use. Timu forest in Ik land 3


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Policy Brief 2014 At public and official events, speeches and other information are in Nga’karimojong or other languages. There is little regard for our language and its use, placing it at further risk. Interacting with the neighbouring tribes has also led to the loss of cultural values and language: we now for instance sing the bull songs in Nga’karimojong, rather than sing in our mother tongue. With less informal education than before, there is also a widening gap between the young and old - the youth do not find the time to sit with the elders to share issues of cultural importance and to learn what can be done to promote and preserve our culture. Most Ik youth today perceive their culture, including forms of expression such as dress, dance and eating habits, as backward, with no value and burdensome. This lack of selfconfidence and respect has undermined the practice of some aspects of our culture and its perpetuation by the youth. 3. Political Representation At district and national political levels, the Ik community, which is a minority in the Karamoja region, is barely represented. This makes it difficult to contribute to the formulation and implementation of polices that affect the governance of our community. It also weakens our capacity to advocate for our cultural rights, despite supportive laws, including the Uganda Constitution. At other local government levels, we also have limited influence because we are not sufficiently represented. For instance, the sub-county chief, NAADS coordinator and Community Development Officer, among others, are not Ik. 4. Attitudes and Perceptions Partly because of this limited representation, the Ik have been marginalised: even when we manage to present our concerns, these are 4


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Policy Brief 2014 not acted upon. There is a general negative attitude towards us and most district leaders (originating from the neighbouring communities) do not give our problems priority. We are also branded derogative names such as ‘Teuso’ – meaning ‘poor people with no cows’. This contributes to low self-esteem. With our small population and negative attitudes, we are made to feel inferior to our more numerous neighbours, who undermine and underrate our culture, as when we are mocked for using calabashes as part of our dowry instead of cows. 5. Insecurity Over the past years, insecurity has been prevalent in Ik land. In the early 1990s, we used to reside in areas such as Lomil, Pire, Naputiro and the far east of Timu but, because of this insecurity, we have now been displaced. Displacement has undermined our culture and social life. Our traditional security mechanisms have disappeared, and intermarriage and assimilation with tribes that do not know and appreciate our culture has followed. It is now more difficult to practice some of our cultural rites, to visit cultural sites, and to promote our traditional dance, etc. Current initiatives to support the Ik cultural agenda After a long period of struggle, the Ik are finally in the last decade seeing some positive developments in their area. We especially recognise the following achievements to protect and promote our culture: ⇒ Community action: an ‘Ik day’ has become an annual event, during which the community feels recognised and showcases its culture to local authorities and neighbouring communities. The annual feast (Itowees) to mark the passage from one year to the next, is usually celebrated in February. Shrines are well preserved at every old homestead and new ones are developed in every new home by an elder. A new shrine was recently started at a developing cultural heritage centre near Kamion The Ik House of Memory under construction in Kamion 5


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Policy Brief 2014 sub-county headquarters. Timu forest is fairly well protected, despite the damage caused by encroachers from neighbouring communities. ⇒ Government support: in July 2010, we were granted our own sub-county, Kamion, which has contributed to a better recognition of our cultural identity ⇒ NGO support: Since 2008, the Summer Institute of Languages (SIL) has sent personnel to study and develop the Ik language and grammar, representing our hope to see our language written. The project is 75% completed. In 2013, the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) embarked on a programme to promote the cultural rights of the Ik community which included support to the establishment of a cultural heritage centre. Currently, the work on the local structure for the “Ik House of Memory” (a community museum) is on-going and it will soon be furnished with local artefacts. ⇒ UNESCO support: In 2011, the community carried out an initial consultation on their intangible cultural heritage for consideration under the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. In 2013, UNESCO awarded the Government a grant for inventorying the Intangible Cultural Heritage in four Uganda communities, including the Ik – a project that will run to February 2015. Key messages and recommendations In spite of these initiatives, urgent interventions are needed to protect our culture. These interventions are the responsibility of the Ik community, as well as of other agents (local and national governments, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forestry Authority, NGOs and religious institutions). 1. We commit to: ⇒ Take all possible action to ensure awareness of the importance of cultural identity and recognition; and understanding that as a community, we have the right to culture and to its expression. ⇒ Promote formal and informal education and, since language is a major requirement for cultural preservation and protection, to ensure that the youth learn how to read and write in Ik. IADI staff collecting information for this policy brief ⇒ Promote the respect of cultural values and morals among the youth – including respect for our elders, and discourage values and practices that are against the social norms of the community e.g. early marriages, witchcraft and immorality. 6


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Policy Brief 2014 ⇒ Strengthen and promote cultural practices that are under threat, such as tasapet and ipeyees (initiation ceremonies for older people and youth respectively), inunumes and irorikes (pre-harvest ceremonies), buk’ (marriage rites), knowledge of the universe (iteles fetiy), etc. All Ik should cooperate to support the establishment of the House of Memory /community museum and the voluntary collection of artefacts, including traditional medicine; as well as in other forms of documenting culture, especially cultural elements under threat, including language. 2. We demand that the relevant local government authorities: ⇒ Clearlydefinethesub-countyboundaries to avoid land wrangles and interference by neighbouring communities. ⇒ Consider the Ik as a group with its own identity; act on our concerns and respect our cultural values and rights, freedom of expression (including the use of Ik at official events), in equality with all other communities. ⇒ Ensure Ik representation in governance at district and other local levels, by providing opportunities to hear the voices of the Ik and employing educated Ik in the sub-county, such as sub-county chief and technical personnel. ⇒ Support our demand that the Ik language be included in the thematic curriculum in lower primary education; and support the development of Ik culture through the district budget. 3. We demand that the National Government: ⇒ Provide security to the entire Ik community so that freedom of movement and association is guaranteed. ⇒ Implement the National Culture Policy and promote cultural heritage at the national level in all its diversity, so that Ik culture is also recognised. ⇒ Invite and facilitate Ik participation in national cultural fora, provide them with access to timely information, and publicise Ik culture across the nation. 4. We ask the Uganda Wildlife Authority to: ⇒ Allow the Ik community to benefit from Kidepo National Park by formalising access to livelihood and cultural resources within the areas al ong its boundaries. ⇒ Ensure that the 20% revenue sharing scheme is equitably administered and that finance reaches the relevant subcounties. ⇒ Build the local community’s knowledge on the importance of the preservation of the eco-system and of medicinal plants; ⇒ Help the community to establish rest camps in areas of cultural and touristic interest (such as on Mt. Morungole and along the escarpment) and to develop hospitality skills for guide duties to cultural sites. ⇒ Assist in making access roads along the escarpment for the ease of tourism movement to Ik heritage sites of interest. 5. We ask the National Forest Authority to: ⇒ Allow the continuation of cultural and agricultural activities within the forest, as the community has always done. 7


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Policy Brief 2014 ⇒ Deploy local personnel to protect Timu forest from encroachers who farm in the interior and destroy the large trees; and from charcoal burners, including security personnel and police. ⇒ Provide seeds or seedlings to regenerate bio-diversity and medicinal plants in the forest. 6. We ask non-governmental organisations to: ⇒ Support community empowerment and informal education on the importance of culture and its ability to teach the youth positive cultural values and morals, so that they become responsible community members in the future. ⇒ Contribute to the development of the Ik community cultural sites and heritage centre. ⇒ Help publicise Ik culture in other parts of the country and elsewhere, for recognition. ⇒ Produce development literature, posters, pamphlets and audio-visual materials in Ik to promote our language. 7. We ask religious institutions to: ⇒ Seek common ground and understanding between modernisation in terms of religion and culture and to support the community to reconcile these important aspects of their identity. ⇒ Preach to other communities the importance of cultural diversity and the need to respect people of other cultures, including minority groups. ⇒ Help preach the gospel in the Ik language, by employing local personnel for such task. About the authors of this policy brief With a growing threat to Ik culture, some members of the Ik community have come together to promote and protect its interests. The Ik Agenda Development Initiative (IADI) is a registered CBO established in 2012 to stand for, develop and promote issues that need to be shared and communicated to external communities or bodies (local & national government, governmental, international and non-governmental organisations). IADI is managed by cultural activists and students of higher institutions of learning of Ik origin and is representative of the Ik communities in all parishes of Timu, Kamion, Lokwakaramoe and Usake. Contact:; tel. +25682 911102; +256755911102 This publication has been produced with the support of CCFU as part of its initiative to support the cultural rights of ethnic minorities in Uganda. The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda Off Bativa Road, Makerere, P.O. Box 25517, Kampala Tel +256 312294675 Email:



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