Get to know the Keliko people

The Keliko Tribe

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Demography and Geography

The Keliko belong to the central Sudanic Moru-Madi group. They inhabit the south- western strip of Yei River County. They number a few thousands and their main settlements are Wudabi, Iwotoka, Morobo and Bazia on the main Yei – Morobo road which runs parallel to the Sudan- Democratice Republic of Congo border.


Environment, Economy and Natural Resources

The Keliko country lies on the Nile – Congo watershed. It consists of low lying hills with deep valleys and drained by perennial streams of which, Yei River is the most dominant. The climate is tropical with high rainfall spanning 8 to 10 months a year. The Keliko are agrarian but also keep goats, sheep and fowl. They cultivate food crops: maize, sorghum, cassava, simsim, beans, sugar cane and sweet potatoes; and cash crops: tobacco, coffee and tea. The area has huge potential in minerals, particularly gold and other precious metals panned in the river beds.


Mythology and History

Although not linked to any particular great leader, tradition has it that the Keliko broke off from the Madi-Lugbwara as the group was being dispersed by the Azande armies of Gbudwe and settled in the area sometimes in the 18th century.



The Keliko speak a language very close to the Moru, the Madi, etc.


Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions

The highest social organisation among the Keliko is the clan who claim a common ancestry and agnatic lineage. The clan elders exercise influence over political and social affairs and they had powers to curse and punish any recalcitrance on the part of the member of the clan. Important social events among the Keliko include:


Initiation into Adulthood

Like the Lugbwara, on reaching puberty, both girls and boys undergo two important rituals which include face-tattooing and the extraction of teeth from the lower jaw. These serve as a way of decoration as well as initiation into adulthood.



Keliko marriages were arranged between parents even when the children were of a tender age. Other forms including courtship followed by engagement are also practiced. The boy’s father would transfer bride-wealth to the girl’s home and thereafter, the couple was customarily named. Divorce is rare among the Keliko except in case of sterility.


Birth and Naming

The cutting of the umbilical cord is undertaken in a ritual in which the attending midwife is required to cut the cord in 4 strokes for a boy and 3 for a girl. The mother would stay in confinement for 3 or 4 days depending on the sex of the child and was required to abstain from eating certain foods. She could only receive a few visitors because some might have evil intentions and might do harm to the health of the child. The ritual of confinement was followed by the festivities that end with the naming of the child. The child’s name portrays some memorable experiences of either of the parents or relative.


Death and Burial

The chief’s burial differs considerably from that of ordinary men. In any case, death is announced with a certain sound of the drum. The burial usually took place in the middle of the night and the body would be placed in the grave with the head pointed northwards towards Mt. Lira from where the Keliko and their kins are believed to have originated. A bark-doth tree (lam) would be planted on the grave. Food and drink are served as part of the mourning together with dance and singing.


Socio-Political Organisation, Traditional Authority

The Keliko have no defined political system. The most important figure in society is the chief who sometimes exercises both political, judicial and rainmaking powers in addition to being the custodian of the clan’s property. When the chief does not possess rain-making powers another individual is entrusted with the powers of rainmaking. Succession of a chief is a peaceful affair. The date of the succession was a very honourable occasion punctuated with a lot of beer and food and it was attended by all the notables of the clan.


Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs: The Keliko believe in the existence of a supreme being – God, but also entertain the concept of spirits particularly, that some people transform into other animals on death. They practice magic and other rituals.


Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft: The Keliko culture is expressed and transmitted orally in music, songs, dance, poetry, folklore and body tattoos reflecting social practices and beliefs. Being an agrarian community, the Keliko culture and arts express their extensive agricultural practices and hunting. The weave and make different types of baskets, pots and wooden furniture.


Neighbours and Foreign Relations: The Keliko neighbour the Lugbwara, Kakwa, Keliko and the Pöjulu.


Latest Developments: The long running war affected the Keliko and has caused their massive displacement into northern Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


Diaspora: The displaced Keliko joined their kins Lugbwara in Uganda and Congo


Further Reading

Butt Audrey, ‘The Nilotes of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and Uganda.’ In Daryll Forde (ed.) East and Central Africa, part 4 of Ethnographic survey of Africa, London, Oxford University Press, 1952


Richard Nzita & Mbaga-Niwampa (ed.) ‘Peoples and Cultures of Uganda.’ Foundation Publishers, Kampala, 1998


Collins, Robert, O., ‘Land beyond the Rivers: Southern Sudan, 1898 – 1918.’ New Haven Yale University Press, 1971.

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