Okebu people


Okebu / Kebu / Ndu

The Okebu primarily inhabit northwestern Uganda, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and southern Sudan.

The Kebu people are globally 656,000 in 2 countries.

  • The Kebu of Uganda are numbering 428,000
  • The Kebu of D.R. Congo are 228.000

They speak a Nilo-Saharan language. Their primary language is Ndo.

The primary religion practiced by the Kebu is ethnoreligion.

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.

Okebu people

The Okebu people are among the seven (7) ethnic groups that are settling in the West Nile and they thrive amidst the Alur, Lugbara and the Lendu. The Okebu are noted to have also migrated from Sudan and are known to have been the second to move south crossing the Nile following the Lendu people and then they were also followed by the Madi people.

The Okebu people settle and cultívate on both Uganda and D.R. Congo sides in the and between Kano and Logiri. The quarter of the Okebu population lives in Uganda. The Alur cali these people the Okebu however, the Lugbara call them Ndo. The language of the Okebu is very different from that of Lugbara though the group tends to be groped along with the Lugbara among the Madi-Moro group.



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.


Economy and Culture

Economically, the Kebu are both agricultural and ironsmiths. 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 Kebu traditionally wore animal skins and leaves but currently wear Kitengi as their traditional/cultural wear.


Iron work

The Okebu have got a legend that justifies their monopoly of Iron work. They assert that initially, the Okebu, the Lendu and the Alur had this common skill but the other two lost theirs at a beer party. The story shows that when the three groups were undertaking their Iron Smelting as usual and within the middle there, the Okebu hesitated to join taking beer before finishing off their work. While the other groups were taking beer, the furnace caught fire and their skin bellows were destroyed as they were away taking beer. The Okebu survived this because they had remained at their furnace.

The Okebu were re-known Iron smelters and doubled the capacity of others including the Lugbara and even Europeans. But with the coming colonialism local production was totally discouraged. In Congo, the Okebu continued to practice their Iron smelting until it was completely outlawed in 150 by the colonial government of Belgium. Small Iron works among the Okebu still exist in the area between Godi and Arua where they manufacture slashers, small weeding hoes and knives which are then sold in the local markets.