UNDERSTANDING THE SEBEI CULTURE

The most spread notion of the Sebei people who occupy and live in Kapchorwa, Uganda is FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). This is not the only story from Kapchorwa, there are other untold stories. To understand the people of Kapchorwa, you need to know the origin, the organization; social, economic and political.

The origin;

Sebei also known as the Sabiny are part of the Kalenjin people, who migrated from Mount Ararat in Turkey. They moved and first settled in Egypt. Moses of the Bible is said to be one of the great descendants of the Kalenjin, his name is recorded in their oral history as “Moss”. The Kalenjin were Pharaoh’s personal guard and worked in the palace. Some later gave in to the nomadic nature of their ancestors and moved down to Ethiopia . Although some decided to settle there, a big number continued moving to Khartoum, Sudan.

In Sudan, only nine tribes decided to continue southwards to northern Uganda and into the rift valley in Kenya. Seven tribes moved to Uganda and two into present day Kenya. Among the seven was included; Turgen, Marakwet, Kipsigis, Sabats, Nandi, Pokwet and Sabiny. Though most of these continued to move to different parts of Uganda, most settled in the Kapchorwa region of Eastern Uganda – on the escarpment of the Eastern Rift Valley, Bugiri, Tororo and others continued to Congo and Tanzania.

Spirituality:

It is said there are only three large societies that are still said and believed to prophesy in this world, the Jews, the Russians and the Kalenjin. One Kalenjin prophecy said; a boy will be born, he will be a cattle keeper, uncircumcised and he will rule this country Uganda.

Economic organization;

The Kalenjin are pastoralists. Cattle keeping is their main economic activity although many are longer nomads. Besides cattle keeping, the Kalenjin are farmers  although because of economic concerns they are now majorly focus on perennial crops like coffee among others.

They used to raid cattle from the neighboring villages. It is said and known that the Kalenjin are the only tribe in Uganda that can raid the Karamojong. To put it in perspective, if the Karamojong raid 50 cows of the Kalenjin, the retaliation bring back 500 cows and other possessions. The going theory is because the Kalenjin are able to mobilize all their fellow tribes to make larger raiding posses.

Socially;

They lived in caves and small huts and live close to each other in groups of 5 huts in a locality – something of an evolutionary instinct

They circumcised their people, male and female. You were only considered an adult after circumcision, otherwise all uncircumcised people irrespective of age and structure were considered young and immature.

In the current age, the circumcision of women/ female is lessening though it is a must for all Kalenjin boys to be circumcised as a right of passage otherwise you won’t marry, conduct any business or share opinions in the elders’ meetings and take part in such meetings. You also cannot be buried unless you are circumcised.

Kalenjin men wore beads to meetings and on important occasions as part of their attire, though the women could wear beads only and only when they were getting married customarily.

The Kalenjin are very friendly people and well known for their hospitality to this day and age.

Political;

They have no kingdoms, rather they have chiefdoms. The chief is the most prestigious person in the chiefdom, he owns a lot and chairs most community meetings.

Chief titles weren’t hereditary, the chief is chosen based on his great wealth in earthly possessions, age, wisdom and counsel,

They had a chiefdom army with local weaponry of spears, shield, arrows and bows. They are not used anymore and are just kept in the Sebei cultural center for historical purposes.

The boys were supposed to either rear cattle or join the army for security reason. All chiefdoms had boys in charge of security and cattle and the woman in charge of farming and home economics and management.

This a koikoiUg story from Eastern Uganda, Kapchorwa from the people.

About the Author

Relentless, persistent, resilient and full of joie de vivre Joel Jemba‘s demeanor does not betray his Land Survey degree. Joel is a digital enthusiast, blogger, photographer and a lover of food. He loves to travel is always up for an expedition at a moments notice. He is passionate about Uganda and her story and has been a part of #KoiKoiUg since its inception.