British. b. 12 Mar. 1927, Edinburgh. 1955 Postgraduate course in Tropical Ecology, East African Agriculture and Forestry Research Organisation(EAAFRO), Mugaga, Kenya.
John Wilson joined the Uganda Agricultural Department in 1949 and was posted to Karamoja. He soon developed a keen interest in Karamojong culture, learning the language, finding fossils around Mt Moroto and Napakk and investigating plants and their traditional uses. In 1954 the Agriculture Productivity Committee commissioned a vegetation survey of the whole country in its Five year Plan. With his special knowledge of NE Uganda he was sent on an ecology course with Colin Trapnell (q.v.) at Mugaga in 1955 and took the opportunity of furthering his studies in archaeology at the Coryndon Museum. He then worked with Ian Langdale-Brown (1.v.) on the vegetation survey, taking responsibility for the whole of Karamoja, the extensive results published in the early 1960s.
He worked with the Agricultural Department after independence until 1968 and then continued in a private capacity to study Karamojong culture in more depth, collecting artefacts and tracing the roots of their language and traditions into prehistory, in recognition of which he was appointed to the country’s Ancient Movement Commission. He collected over 2000 plant numbers from Uganda and adjacent parts of Kenya and Sudan between 1954 and 1972. He also developed a garden and sought out ornamental wild plants, including the aloe and stapeliad named after him.
In the late 1970s his life was endangered by Amin’s regime and he had to flee to Scotland. He returned to Kenya in 1990 and started his “Treasures of Africa Museum” just outside Kitale to display his Karamojong artefacts, made a new garden and continued with his studies into the mother tongue of early peoples and the use of medicinal plants.
Wilson, John G. “Preliminary Observations on the Oropom Peoples of Karamoja.” Uganda Journal 34 (1970): 125-145.
Wilson, John G. “The Addition of Talc and Asbestos to Pot Clay by Past and Present Inhabitants of Karamoja District in Uganda and Adjoining Districts of Kenya.” Man 8 (1973): 300-2.
Wilson, John G. “Resettlement in Karamoja.” In Crisis in Uganda: The Breakdown of Health Services, edited by C. P. Dodge and P. D. Weibe, 163-70. New York: Pergamon Press, 1985.