The Beauty of Karimojong and Turkana Women Relies on Necklaces

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A Turkana woman covering her Jerrycan with skin in Lokiriama in Turkana last week (photo by Jonathan Opolot)
A photo of a Turkana woman adorned with beads around her neck as a sign of beauty (Photo by Steven Ariong)
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As women in other parts of the country wear head scarves, earrings, and various hair decorations, Karimojong women express their beauty through necklaces, bracelets, and bangles.

These bracelets and necklaces are crafted from beads of different colors, including gold, diamond, silver, copper, among others.

When visitors tour the Karamoja region, they often become excited at the sight of decorated beads, bangles, necklaces, and waist belts adorned with beads. They rush to buy these items without understanding their intrinsic value, as observed by the locals.



After purchasing them, visitors, unaware of the beads’ intrinsic value, hurriedly wear them. However, women in Karamoja don’t wear these beads for amusement, as each bead and bangle carries a specific interpretation when seen on any woman.

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This practice also applies to Turkana women who share the same traditional norms as the Karimojong community.

Ms. Betty Angolere, a mother of seven and aged 54, residing in Kambisi village in Nadunget Sub County, Moroto district, told the Daily Monitor that some of the beads worn by Karamoja women have different interpretations.

She noted that some bangles and necklaces signify a woman married with 200 heads of cattle, while others indicate a widow, an engaged woman, or a divorced woman. Ms. Angolere added that certain beads represent a woman married to a wealthy man, signifying prestige.



“We don’t wear these beads casually; there is a purpose. Although some women buy them after admiring the pieces,” she said.

Grace Nakut, another older woman, recalled that during the 70s, girls aged 10 to 15 were not allowed to wear these items as they were considered too young. However, nowadays, every woman wears them.

“A woman without a bangle, necklaces, or earrings can’t associate with those wearing such accessories,” she remarked.

Magdalena Moru expressed concern that the respect for wearing beads and necklaces is diminishing, especially among the current generation of girls who do not take long before dating for marriage. She explained that many girls now wear beads without understanding the traditions, mixing them without knowing the significance of each type.

“Even those still in school wear a mix of bead colors, including those representing a woman yet to be married off,” she added.

Veronica Natyang predicts that within the next 10 years, Karamoja will lose 90% of the respect for its tradition. Harsh conditions, including hunger, have forced people to sell items attached to the tradition.

“We used not to sell some of the things representing Karimojong tradition, but now everything is being sold, and people are buying them without knowing the meaning of the items they buy,” she said.

Mr. Joseph Loputhnyang, an elder from Napak district, highlighted that stools, which were not sold before, are now being sold as people seek survival.

“One day, while traveling by Gateway Bus to Kampala, I noticed a young woman wearing a copper bangle and beads, which a woman who lost her husband is supposed to wear. I kept quiet because I didn’t want to ask, considering we were traveling, but it’s wrong and shameful,” he said.





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