Think of West Nile and you think of that region with beautiful landscapes, the dazzling West of River Nile, the green rocky hills and valleys, the iconic late Iddi Amin Dada, and the eye-catching Kabalega National Park. Think again and you will come across the beautiful tribes of West Nile – the Lugbara, Alur, Lendu, Madi, Kakwa, Nubian and the Kebu people who are actually barely heard of.
I have always travelled to West Nile but earlier last year I went into the heart of Kebu people, into villages and centres of Zombo district. I went to see the green rocky hills and valleys, River Nyagak, lost myself in Virgin villages, did some bird watching and learnt more about West Nile. But none of these experiences came close to my interaction with the Kebu People.
I have visited most of the districts in the West Nile hopping from one place to the other, meeting with the local people and learning my heart out. But my experience with the Kebu in Zombo district is extraordinary. Almost all of the local people invited me into their homes as we made some small conversations. My interaction with some of the Kebu people in and around Zombo made a difference to the several trips I’ve had to West Nile.
Listening to their history, origin, and their way of life stories, I was not just moved but inspired and learnt. Yes, I met a group of people that most you have barely heard of!
Kebu – the minority group of people in Uganda.
Kebu tribe is one of the minority tribes recognized by the National Constitution of Uganda. Despite the fact that the Kebu are few, some of them still identify themselves as Alur and Lugbara. The small population of the Kebu about 300,000 people in Uganda will leave you questioning and wondering but their history, culture, and economic stories are even more inspiring and interesting.
The Kebu, also called Ke’bu, Okebu, or Ndu, are a tribe in North-western Uganda, west of River Nile (West Nile), on Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Kebu belong to the Nilotic ethnic group. The Kebu originated from the Middle East, travelled through Ethiopia, South Sudan during the 13th century and currently settled in Uganda, Sudan and Congo. The Kebu who migrated to Uganda permanently settled in the West Nile region specifically in Zombo district. However, some are now scattered in other parts of West Nile.
During the migration, there were three brothers: Kebu, Aliga, and Zamba. When the migrants reached South Sudan, Aliga and Zamba settled in South Sudan while Kebu continued south to Northern Uganda where he founded the Kebu tribe that extended to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It’s said that upon arriving in Uganda, Kebu first settled in Metu (in present-day Moyo district) from where he continued to Umba Medigo (in present-day Yumbe district). In Umba Medigo, he was joined by Madi people. From Umba Medigo he moved and settled at the foot of Mountain Wati (in present-day Arua district) from where different groups from his group moved to DR Congo while others spread out in West Nile in Uganda where they became early inhabitants of West Nile; before the arrival of the Alurs in 1480 AD. Those that settled in West Nile became the Ugandan Kebu.
The Kebu belong to Kebu region under Ke’bu Rigangi Institution led by a Thebizi (leader). The current Thebizi is Thebizi Ephraim Waringu Kebbi.
Today majority of the Kebu is concentrated in Zombo district, West Niles’ food basket.
Walking around villages in Zombo, I learnt a bit about Kebu food and economic activities as well.
Economically, the Kebu are both agricultural and ironsmiths. During my interactions with the local people “Kebu”, I found out that the Kebu farm millet, sorghum, cassava, maize, bananas, beans, and other vegetables, and also do ironworks. With the fertile soils in Zombo district, the other districts of West Nile vow to it as their food basket.
The staple food for the Kebu tribe is Millet and Cassava. The Kebu speak Kebutu language. Millet in Kebutu is called “Kehu”, and Cassava is called “Ongura”. They make bread from either millet or cassava flour. This bread is eaten with “Kutu” (beans). Having tasted this meal, I must say it is delicious and one of a kind in a unique way.
Furthermore, the Kebu are known as the guardians and custodians of West Nile’s Ironsmithing Industry. “Historically, we were the Ironsmiths in West Nile and our ironworking skills made us superior at the art compared to our neighbouring tribes,” a woman community elder proudly told me. She went ahead and told me that a lot of historical Ironworks in West Nile are linked to them the Kebu. Striving to maintain their status as the Ironsmiths in West Nile, the Kebu today still practice their ironworks through making weeding hoes, slashers and knives for sale in West Nile markets.
The Kebu, together with the Alur and Lendu, are the guardians and custodians of Nyagak Power Dam, the main source of hydro-electricity in West Nile. Nyagak Power Dam produces 3.5MW of electricity which is generated from River Nyagak. The dam is located in Zombo district (Kebu/Lendu/Alur region) in one of Zombo’s green rocky hills and valleys.
The Kebu, together with the Alur and Lendu, are the guardians and custodians of Ngbungbu Falls on River Ora in Ugudu Village, Atyak Sub County, Zombo District.
Just like any other tribe in Uganda, the Kebu have several traditional dances among which Kazakaza dance and Agwara dance. Agwara is a social gathering dance that the Lugbara and Kebu have in common.
“The dance got its name from the agwaras, the local trumpets. The men play these horns as the women dance.” Caroline Ocanda a Kube woman that is empowering women and girls under the Kube Women Development initiative in Zombo district explained to me.
During the agwara dance members of the community are called to come together and participate.
The Kebu traditionally wore animal skins and leaves but currently wear Kitengi as their traditional/cultural wear.
Lastly, the Kebu are friendly humans and are believed to be the early inhabitants of the West Nile region.
Would you love to visit West Nile and the Kebu people in particular? Share with us what you have liked most about the Kebu tribe in the comments section below.
Namaganda Lyndah- Writer/Author at Ada Uganda