The Sebei are a Southern Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting eastern Uganda. They speak Kupsabiny, a Nilotic language. The Sapiny occupy three districts, namely Bukwo, Kween and Kapchorwa. The Sebei people lead fairly simple lives. The main structures of their lives are centered around cattle keeping, growing crops, and making beer. Common jobs held by the Sebei include cattle keepers and crop farmers. The jobs depend on where you live. Because of their fairly laid back culture, the need for major social structure is limited. There are not many criminal offenses that one could do. In Sebei culture, there are two levels of criminal offense. The highest level is for murder and physical assault, the lower level is for property or major civil disputes between people or groups of people. The sabiny/ sebei people are found at the beautiful slopes of mountain Elgon. They speak the Nilotic language called Kupsabiny of the Nandi cluster now known as the Kalenjin in Kenya. They can be traced in the towns of kapchorwa, Bukwa and Kween.
Who are the Sebei People in Uganda? The Sebei or Sabiny (Sapiny) are people of Kalenjin stock living on the Uganda side of Mt Elgon. They are estimated to number 230000 and speak a Kalenjin dialect known as Kubsapiny. The Sabiny, like the rest of the Kalenjin, circumcise teenage boys and girls as a rite of passage.
About three-quarters of the population lives on the escarpment, an area that was originally characterized by thick forests, fast flowing rivers, including the well-known Sipi River with its three falls.
Much of the land has now been cleared for agricultural production, resulting in a change in rainfall pattern and warmer temperatures than was previously the case.
The change in temperatures has also resulted in increased incidences of malaria cases.
The Sebei are by tradition pastoralists, keeping cattle, goats and sheep but this occupation has today been seriously circumscribed because there is not much land on which to keep large stocks of animals.
Other problems that have hindered livestock rearing are constant cattle raids by neighbouring tribes to the northeast, particularly the Karamojong and the Pokot.
Much of the agricultural activities are carried out on the escarpment where the soils are quite fertile. The major food crops grown here include maize, potatoes, beans and plantains.
Arabica coffee is the main cash crop.
The plains are traditionally cattle grazing areas. They also border Karamoja districts and the district of Amudat where the Pokot are found.
The chaotic political atmosphere that Uganda experienced in the 70s and 80s led to the proliferation of guns in Uganda, which fell into the hands of wrong elements including cattle rustlers.
The balance of power that had previously prevailed was tipped in favour of the raiders, resulting in the dislocation of many Sebei from their homes and loss of cattle. The current Uganda government is committed to disarming the rustlers and restoring peace in the area.
During the British colonial rule, Sebei was administered as a county in Bugisu district. This changed on the eve of independence of Uganda in 1961 when Sebei district with its offices in Kapchorwa was inaugurated.
In 1980, the government of Uganda decided to do away with tribal names of its administrative units.
Sebei district became Kapchorwa district. Thus, the district and its headquarters became one. Kapchorwa district has now been divided into three districts: Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo.
The Sabiny are part of a larger ethnic group that numbers almost 4 million known as the Kalenjin, a term that means ‘I tell you’. That term groups together the Kipsigis, Nandi, Marakwet, Tuken, Pokot and Saboat. The Sabiny together with a number of smaller tribes found on the eastern slopes of Mt Elgon constitute the Saboat, people who use a common greeting ‘supai.’
The Saboat include the Bok, Kony (who gave Mt Elgon its name), the Sebei and Bongom. The term Saboat is credited to two prominent politicians of the 1960s, Daniel Moss of Kenya and Yovan Chemonges of Uganda.
Like the rest of the Kalenjin, the Sebei practice male and female circumcision as a rite of passage. Circumcision has recently been banned in Uganda.
It should be noted that the Sebei of Sudan (if they do exist) have nothing to do with the Sebei of Uganda who now occupy three districts-Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwa.
The Sebei live primarily on the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda. They number about 300,000 people and occupy an area of 1,730.9 square km in the districts of Bukwo, Kapchorwa and Kween. Their territory borders the Republic of Kenya which is a home to more than six million Kalenjin, a large ethnic group to which the Sebei belong. The Sebei, now known mainly as Sapiny, speak Kupsabiny, a Kalenjin language spoken by other smaller groups of Kalenjin stock around Mount Elgon. The Sebei and Kenyan smaller groups (Book, Kony, Mosoop, Someek, Bongomek) inhabiting the hills of Mount Elgon collectively are referred to as the ‘Sabaots.
The majority of the Sebei people live in the country of Uganda. The percent of the Ugandan population that is Sebei is only 0.6%; meaning that there are about 300,000 Sebei in Uganda
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