Saturday, May 23, 2009

Karamojong Place-Names (Part 1)

Most of us in the West—at least in my experience as an American—know relatively little about the meanings of the names of places where we live. For example, I know that the name of my home state, Alabama, is also the name of a Native American people group, but I have no idea what Alabama means (and it certainly meant something at some point in history). For the most part, we are too far removed from the times, events, people, animals, etc. that originally gave rise to the many toponyms (place-names) that dot our landscapes. This is probably true for many people groups around the world because meanings get sedimented and buried as time passes. In Kaabong District, where we live, however, most place names have readily accessible originary meanings; i.e. with a little linguistic sleuthing, one can gather what events, creatures, or characteristics provoked the early Karamojong cattle-herders to give the names that they did. Even though the meanings themselves are quite vivid, I could not claim that the residents of Kaabong District think of those meanings every time they say a place name, any more than we Americans envision William Penn and his beloved forest whenever we say ‘Pennsylvania’. These vivid meanings are still there for those who seek them, but over time the name itself becomes a substitute for its former meaning in our minds.


Karamojong place names have special morphologies that mean ‘place of’ or ‘home of’. The prefixes lo- and na- attach to masculine and feminine nouns, respectively, and signify ‘direction to’ or ‘location at’. The preposition ka means ‘and, with, of, home of, etc.’ and also prefixes to nouns to denote places (yes, that’s why every place around here is ka-ka-ka!). Because the landscape here is marked by so many rocky outcroppings, mountains, and massive boulders, the root moru- ‘rock/mountain’ is also a common component of place-names. So we hear place-names like:


Lowakuj          Nacakunet       Kapedo           Morungole

Lowala            Naita               Kamion           Moruatap

Loyoro            Narengepak     Kakamar          Morukori


Most places that have names in Kaabong District seem to have been named after events, geological features, activities or states, or people, animals, and plants. For example, Nacakunet is the name of a mountain and surrounding villages which were so named after a woman jumped off the mountain to kill herself. The name comes from the word acakun which has to do with throwing or jumping down. Lowakuj is another mountain-village complex named thus because of a natural rock wall that rings the top of the mountain. The name stems from Karamojong ewait Akuj ‘God has fenced’. Morukori (moru ‘rock/mountain’ + ekori ‘girrafe’) is named ‘the mountain spotted like a giraffe’ because of the several different kinds of stones that litter its slopes. Kidepo National Park (from akidep ‘to pick up’) got its title from those who used to roam the banks of Kidepo River picking up the palm nuts that had fallen to the ground. Timu is a forested area where the Ik live (and where we hope to live soon!) that supposedly got its reputation for being a luscious forest where people would come and lose themselves in green, misted daydreams; akitimur is a Karamojong word for ‘relaxing, resting’. Kaabong, the administrative center and largest town of Kaabong District is so called because it used to be ka Abong, ‘the home of (a man) Abong’, where weary travelers would stop for a rest. Lomusian, where we live now, was known for being the place of many ngimusia, an indigenous thorn-tree species. A plentitude of fireflies apparently gave Kamion (another Ik village complex) its name, as the Karamojong word for those insects is ngamion.


Stay tuned for Part 2: Ik Place-Names!



The Reeds said...

We really enjoyed that!! Great job Terrill- we're so proud of you guys and praying for you. I asked a dozen people about the name of Kaabong and never got an answer. Fascinating!!

NotintheWild said...

Now you are going to be living in a place where you will get lost in daydreams . . ?
This discourse is very subtle and revealing at the same time. Now that you asked the Ik, they will have to think about their place names again (as I have now thought of Pennsylvania). There are some special exceptions to the rule in the West . . . such as the town of Hot Coffee . . .