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Feb 9, 2007

About the Ik

Language and People

The people known as the Ik entered what is now Uganda from somewhere to the northeast, originating possibly in Ethiopia or even Egypt. The origin of their language, Icetot (lit., Ik-speak), which is a Kuliak language, is still debated by linguists. The original Kuliak-speaking people divided into at least three groups in their migrations south: the So (Tepeth), the Nyang'i (Niangea), and the Ik. The So and Nyang'i have assimilated with neighboring peoples, but Ik survive along with their language in the mountains, virtually alone.



In 1972, Colin Turnbull published The Mountain People, a shocking, quite negative perspective of the Ik people who have been in a struggle to survive for more than half a century. The Ik were once hunters and gatherers, moving freely throughout the fertile Kidepo Valley of northeast Uganda. But due to conflict with neigboring tribes they were relegated to work the soil and live on the escarpments and mountains bordering Kenya and Sudan. They are surrounded by Dodoth, Turkana, and Karamajong, which are cattle herding-and raiding-tribes that frequently torment the peaceful Ik people. The Ik have found themselves numerically and probably technologically inferior to their neighbors, and have now assimilated much of their neighbors' language and culture. The Kidepo Valley was turned into a national park during Milton Obote's first administration in the 1960s and the Ik were told not to 'poach' game, thereby exacerbating their struggle to survive.

Because of their remoteness, and their proximity to notoriously dangerous people, little concerted effort has been made to reach the Ik with the Gospel. And famine is common due to the frequent droughts in much of northeastern Uganda. The Ik may now think that their Creator God (Didigwari) has forgotten them, especially when the skies burn without rain. They are caught between the hammer of cattle raids and the anvil of drought.

Way of life

Today, approximately 10,000 Ik live together, spread out along the escarpment between Timu Forest in the south and Kidepo National Park in the north. The nearest town of any size is Kaabong, some 20 miles to the southwest. Many of them still inhabit walled villages such as Moruatap, perched on the rim of the escarpment overlooking the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Here they live in a traditional manner, practicing subsistence farming in tiny plots of maize, pumpkins, beans, sorghum, millet, watermelon, cowpeas, and tobacco, milling their grain on grindstones and gathering wood for the cooking fire in their circular thatched houses.


The Ik have expressed that their two most desperately felt needs are: 1) greater security against the raids, and 2) the need to increase agricultural productivity through learning more efficient farming techniques, obtaining better seed, and having access to reliable local water sources during times of drought. In the meantime, those who are unable to move down into the neighboring towns to find education and work opportunities will move about gaunt and hungry in their tattered clothes, praying for rain and a blessing from God.

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