Cast & Crew
Eleanore Claff Treutle
Dr. William B. Treutle
T. F. Woods
An offscreen narrator explains that in 1951, in Tacoma, Washington, after his physician informs him that he has only six months to live, dentist William B. Treutle disposes of his worldly possessions and decides to fulfill a boyhood dream of visiting Africa. In the Congo, he meets Eleanore Cliff of Los Angeles, and within twenty-one days they are married and set off on a seventeen-thousand-mile honeymoon trip. They are able to gain access to Karamoja, a remote area of Northern Uganda, where natives, descendents of the Hammites, live as their ancestors did in the Iron Age. Using a 16mm Bolex camera, Treutle films aspects of the tribe's daily lives, including their practice of cutting intricate designs into their arms. In another ritual, the two lower front teeth are removed, without the use of any kind of anesthetic, in order to implant metal lip plugs, two to three inches long. Using a primitive bellows, the Karamojans create spears and axes. They have no picks or shovels and dig with sticks for precious water and bathe daily using sand as soap. Roots are used as toothbrushes and dentist Treutle finds the people to be cavity-free. While the women are clothed below the waist, the men are completely naked. The Karamojans do not hunt and subsist mostly on oxen blood mixed with goat's milk. Utilizing crude tools, they make wooden bowls, walking sticks and stools, which are also used as headrests for sleeping. Clay, from the Ethiopian border one hundred and fifty miles distant, is used to make elaborate, cloche-style head-dresses, which indicate age and tribal ranking. The women of the tribe store grain and grind millet to a flour which, when mixed with water, ferments into a beer. However, excessive beer drinking is not permitted. The tribe appears to suffer none of the common diseases of civilization, although they frequently fall victim to blindness caused by flies. In preparation for marriage, a young woman is exchanged for livestock and receives a new skirt made from goat skin. Her father uses primitive instruments to tattoo her and Treutle records the Karamojans' great tolerance of pain. On her wedding day, which coincides with an annual ceremony to honor the great god Baal, the bride anoints herself with rancid butter and dons a double neck band. As part of the ceremony, she and the groom walk around the perimeter of the village three times, then head for the Thanksgiving festival, which includes dancing, games, wrestling and mock warfare. As a sacrifice to the god, the tribe slaughters an ox, which is regarded as an animal god. They then eat its raw flesh, drink its blood, bury the reproductive glands and rub the entrails over their bodies. Grateful for having had the opportunity to film much unique footage, the Treutles' visit comes to an end, but they hope to return.
An acknowledgment at film's beginning states: "Grateful appreciation is hereby acknowledged to René Bere Esq., Provincial Commissioner, Northern Province, Uganda, for his permission to enter the closed territory of Karamoja, without which the filming of this documentary would have been impossible." The film's offscreen narration gives background to the story of the Treutles, but they do not actually appear in the film.
A June 28, 1954 article in Hollywood Citizen-News reported that when William and Eleanore Treutle returned to the United States, he submitted to a rigid insurance company examination and was approved for a large policy. The Treutles settled in Sebastopol in Northern California, where William resumed his career as a dentist.
Karamoja! was purchased by Kroger Babb, "America's Fearless Showman," for his Hallmark distribution company. It was then blown up to 35mm and marketed as the top half of an exploitation double-feature, with advertisements reading "Found..the World's Lost Tribe" and "They Live on Blood and Beer." The other film on the program was Half-way to Hell (formerly Blood Brothers) about the rise of Nazism and Communism.
The Daily Variety review noted that the film contained "scenes to make the squeamish squirm," while the Hollywood Reporter critic stated that "the film is disgusting and nauseating" and that the customs shown "might be justified in the records of an anthropologist, but they have no place in the theatre."