Many times when visitors go for a tour in the Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda, they get excited when they see stools made by the Karimojong. The majority of them yearn to own a piece.
After admiring it, a visitor quickly sits on it to find whether it fits. Of course, it fits; they, therefore, start negotiating for the price without knowing its use apart from seating.
The casual buyer usually will not easily believe that it is a versatile cultural stool because it is merely wooden. But to the Karimojong, who holds a strong cultural attachment, the item is a valued identity for the tribe.
In an interaction with some elders in the region, they said the stool has six major purposes in the Karimojong and the Turkana Culture of Kenya, one of the strongest of which is its role during war when shooting at a target.
Mr. Mathew Lopus Nyanga, an elder, explains that the warrior takes cover with the wooden handguard of the gun (near the bayonet) resting on top of the stool so that while shooting, the gun will not shake, enabling a bullet to go straight to the target.
He added that after raiding cattle during such battles, one animal will be killed, and its fats are removed and used for smearing the stools to thank the gods. They only smear the stools that were used during that particular event. The smearing is done by only a respected elder, and a small piece of skin will be tied to the lower part of the stool to show that it performed good work.
The second use of this stool, according to Mark Lokol, another elder, is that it serves as a pillow in case a warrior or elder needs to have a rest after walking for a long distance or sleeping at night. They believe that this stool will not cause pain from the neck to veins because it will keep them straight as God created them, unlike modern pillows.
He said the third use of this stool is as a chair because, according to the Karimojong culture, everyone should have their stool so that in case of a meeting, you don’t waste time waiting for chairs for people to sit before the meeting starts.
The fourth use of that stool is for performing rituals in case there is a wrong disease that attacks the area. The elders tell their problems to that stool to solve it, and many of them believe that the problem stops.
“This stool has different sizes. Some are as big as a regular chair, while others are made small, but most people in the region are interested in the small ones because they are light,” Mr. Lokol said.
Timothy Tebanyang told this publication that these stools have no restrictions; everybody starting with 10-year-old boys can own one if he can manage to make his.
However, he said young people are not allowed to sit on the stool of elderly people. Likewise, the elderly cannot sit on the stools of boys.
“If a young person wants to sit on the stool of elders, they must ask permission from that elder so that he can spit saliva on it. If not, they will suffer back pain until they die,” he said.
Samson Kelai, an elder of Kambisi in Moroto Municipality, said if any person who is not regarded as an elder sits on any stool belonging to an elder without permission, they will suffer pain until death. He says but such a person can be treated if he pleads for mercy and pays a big bull to the elder.
Joseph Lomokol, an elder and a resident of Irriiri sub-county in Napak district, said in the early 1970s, these stools were not supposed to be sold because they served a big role in Karimojong culture.
Unfortunately, according to the elder, they are now being sold due to the current poverty situation.