Ngakarimojong is an Eastern Nilotic Ateker language spoken in a swath of East Africa that covers the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda, the Eastern Equatoria region of southeastern South Sudan and Turkana County in northwestern Kenya. Ngakarimojong speakers are, for the most part, pastoralists, and include such groups as the Jie, Dodoth, Napore, Matheniko, Pian and Bokora of Uganda, the Turkana of Kenya and the Toposa and Jiye of South Sudan. Ngakarimojong is a rich and highly complex language, which is evident even in the most basic of greetings.
Ejok-a?: Hello, how are you?
- Response: Ejok (nooi): I am (very) well
Ebalaai?: Any problems?
- Response: Emam: No problems
Ikoni ai?: What’s up? (informal, used only to address one’s peers)
- Response: Mam ngace: Nothing much
Toyakas daadang: Hello, everyone
- Response: Ejok: We are fine
Toyai papa/toto: Hello, father/mother (used when greeting a single elder)
Toyakas ata papa/ata toto: Hello, father/mothers (used when greeting a group of elders of one gender)
- Response: Ejok: We are fine.
Iyai-ya?: Are you here? (used by elders to acknowledge a younger person)
- Response: Ayei: I am here OR Ejok: I am fine
Ijoto-a? (plural form: Ijototo-a?): Have you woken up well? (morning greeting in the Ajie dialect)
- Response: Ejok. Ijoto yo dang-a?: I have woken up well. How about you?
Iriya iyong-a?: Are you staying well? (midday greeting)
- Response: Ariya. Iriya yo dang-a?: I am well. How about you?
Itabong-a?: How was your day? (evening greeting in the Ajie dialect)
- Response: Ejok. Itabong yo dang-a?: My day was fine. How about you? OR Mam ngace: No problems
Maata is a ritualized method of greeting common among elders, though it is also commonly used when greeting a person whom one has not seen for an extended period of time. Maata cannot be translated directly into English, though it has been variously explained to me as meaning, “I greet you” and “I give thanks.” The initiator of the greeting typically approaches another person and, grasping their hand, says, “Maata.” The person being greeted then repeats, “Maata,” before adding a noun that constitutes an important part of the culture and livelihood of the local people, setting in motion a call and response process that can last for several minutes and that typically ends with a chorus of Ejok! For instance:
2: Maata a ngaatuk (I greet you in the name of cattle)
1: Maata a ngiimwa (I greet you in the name of sorghum)
2: Maata a ngidwe (I greet you in the name of children)
1: Maata a akwap (I greet you in the name of the land)
2: Maata a ngamee (I greet you in the name of sheep)
1: Maata a ngakipi (I greet you in the name of water)
2: Maata a ngakile (I greet you in the name of milk)
1 and 2: Ejok nooi! (Very good!)