Lori Benintendi
May 2004

The Sebei of Uganda


The Sebei of Uganda provide insight into a leaderless culture based on an oral tradition of customary law. Their lives are fairly simple and are centered around cattle-keeping, simple crop growing, and beer. In general, their simplistic modes of production have limited the need for sophisticated legal processes, and their paranoia and fear of sorcery have promoted an adherence to traditional customs.

This paper is a brief review of the extensive literature of the Sebei. Specific cases have been excluded. It starts with a review of the setting of Sebei life and some general assumptions about Sebei culture. The Sebei law of contracts and offense are then highlighted, with a final review of the role of sorcery.



The Sebei are a tribal people living on the northern and north-western slopes of Mount Elgon, and on the plains below, in eastern Uganda[1]. Uganda itself is landlocked and is slightly smaller than Oregon. [2] The Sebei are thought to have migrated to Mount Elgon from the east and north about 250 years ago and to have occupied the entire mountain until the late nineteenth century when the Bantu peoples pushed them into their present area.[3] Also, the formation of the Kenya-Uganda border curtailed their occupation of the eastern side of the mountain.[4]

Population statistics are a bit confusing. One source, from 1971 cites 35,000 Sebei[5], but another source in 1994 cites 120,000[6]. This latter number is quoted to be to 0.6% of the Uganda population, which corresponds to a 2003 population quote of 25,632,794[7]. Regardless, the Sebei are a small percentage of the Ugandan population.

The Sebei are classified as NiloHamitics[8] and speak a language of the Nandi cluster which is now generally called Kalenjin.[9] These classifications are useful if exploring other tribes to which the Sebei might be closely affiliated in culture.

The Sebei live in somewhat of a pie-slice shaped area encompassing both mountain heights and dry plains in the present Kapchorwa district.[10]

“Sebei territory is readily divided into three zones: (a) a highland area above the forest line, extending from about the 9,000-foot contour to as far up the summit as habitation is feasible; (b) the escarpment, on which most of the 35,000 Sebei dwell, which lies between the 5,000- and 7,000-foot contours; and (c) the strip of dry plains, lying at 4,000 feet above sea level.”[11]

Some Sebei communities are primarily pastoralists (cattle-keeping) and others are farmers (hoe-farming), depending on their location.[12] While these two economic pursuits have been shown to influence Sebei culture and attitudes, the details of these differences, as well as the cultural adaptation of the Sebei over the years, are not within the scope of this paper.[13] For example, the continuous physical proximity of farmers creates a need for regular nonviolent settlement of dispute resolution, and “the Sebei did develop a limited form of community law with the advent of settled agriculture.”[14] However, the distinction between pastoralists and framers is not so great as to warrant a detailed analysis for this paper. This situation seems to be no different than any culture that lives in disparate climates with corresponding economic opportunities and modes of production. [15]

Daily Life

The Sebei are polygnous with women marrying soon after initiation, in their mid-teens. Men traditionally married later, closer to their thirties. Each wife has her own house which includes her kitchen. She also has her own plot of land to cultivate and usually collaborates with her co-wives. The women do most of the cultivation, cooking, beer-making, house maintenance, and milking of cows. The men look after the cattle, sheep and goats, clear bush, and occasionally hunt game.[16] Livestock are kept in thorn kraals.[17] Scattered households form Sebei neighborhoods. [18]

Drinking beer made of maize, plantains, or honey is an important, daily, activity for the Sebei.[19] Long tubes with filters at the bottom are used to drink beer out of a large communal pot.[20] “As the thick beer is consumed, it is replenished by the addition of warm water.”[21] The Sebei accomplish their larger projects, such as cultivation and building, in work parties in exchange for beer.
“Daily life centers upon the production and consumption of beer, an activity only slightly less vital to the Sebei than the care of their fields and stock-- and a good deal more enjoyable than either.”[22]

When asked “What makes a man a good friend?”, 83% of the Sebei men and women responded “providing beer.” Other choices including being generous (3%), being polite (9%), being trustworthy (2%), and didn’t know (2%).[23] “Enjoying beer is the major social activity of the ordinary Sebei citizen, and older persons regularly and younger ones usually feel that a day without beer is a wasted one. Beer is undoubtedly also a major source of nourishment.”[24]

Although “none of the work is particularly onerous; certainly it is far less so for the men than for the women,”[25] cattle keeping is a hazardous activity.[26] There is the threat of predatory animals. More significantly, cattle is the primary measure of wealth for the Sebei and many surrounding tribes, and the easiest way to increase the size of a herd is to raid the neighboring tribe’s stock. Thus, Sebei men are on the constant defensive from raiders and are sometimes raiders themselves.[27]

Societally, the Sebei recognize agnatic kin units (clan or aret) and spatial units (tribe or pororyet) and age-sets (pinta).[28] The clan is a patrilineal descent group which is further divided into lineages, or korik (singular, kota). Clans are not named and are occasionally linked together in groups of two to four. [29] Each clan has ancestral spirits (oyik) who monitor the clan’s welfare and its members’ behavior. “These spirits can harm only members of their own clan, except that the spirits of the mother’s clan may also affect the welfare of a person.”[30]
There are about fifteen acephalous tribes, or pororyets. These tribes are not formally organized into a larger entity; however, they share a prophet and a ceremony called ntarastit.[31] A tribe is divided into smaller entities, called songmwek (singular, sangta), similar to a village.[32]

Both men and women belong to age-sets, and though it is a more formal relationship for men, the age-sets have evolved to have little to do with Sebei law.[33] The original purpose of the age-set is thought as defining the roles of the men according to age and abilities, forming functional units such as warriors and elders; however, the role of age-sets for the Sebei is limited to evoking “a measure of protocol in interpersonal relationships”[34] between coinitiates. An age-set is a named group that spans about twenty-years.[35]

The age-set is defined as those boys and girls who are initiated during a particular period of time. Both boys and girls are indoctrinated with Sebei values and initiated through circumcision. Although circumcision is a cultural tradition rather than a legal institution, it is only through initiation that a child becomes an adult in status. [36] Male circumcision is formally organized and conducted every two years (previously every five to seven years) [37] whereas the female circumcision is performed annually[38] and is scheduled more casually with the primary requirement of the enough maize to make sufficient beer for the occasion.[39]

Marriage rules prohibit marriage between a man and the daughters of an age-set mate[40] and marriage between clan members.[41] Marriage can be by capture, elopement, or prearrangement.[42] Brideprice is negotiated and paid and is discussed later as a Sebei contract. The Sebei consider physical beauty an important criterion for spouses.[43]

Polygyny has a primary economic advantage of ensuring a man an adequate labor pool. From this comes personal power and prestige. The major disadvantage is difficult relations among co-wives and their children, including jealousy and hatred. [44]

Interestingly, the Sebei, particularly the farmers, are a hostile, mistrusting, fearful people.[45] Furthermore, the Sebei are cautious and devious, believing every person, especially women, is capable of harmful sorcery. The pastoralists are more open with their anger[46] and are less suspicious than the farmers.

“Two illustrations may provide some sense of this aspect of Sebei character. The first comes from what I saw every afternoon as I sat, partially obscured, on a large rock that overlooked what took place on a small plateau below me. Scarcely a day passed that I did not see a Sebei man or woman hide behind a bush or tree to watch the activities of some other Sebei. And, sometimes, I saw still another Sebei watching the watcher. This was very Sebei, people furtive and alert, watching other people, and in turn being watched by still others. This watching was not casual: it was prompted by fear.

In characterizing the Sebei of Sasur (a farming village), I remember a man's typical reaction to my question about whether people were ever so worried that they did not sleep well. He said this: "Who can sleep well? Who does not have worries? Who does not know that someone wants to kill them? No one! Not even a child!”[47]

Overt hostility is evident “in the constant gossip, criticism, and corrosive humor of both men and women” and abrasive, annoying, threats. However, open conflict is avoided, and indirect retaliation, especially witchcraft and arson, is favored.[48]

Apparently even romance is a victim of Sebei attitudes:

“Seduction was accomplished through trickery and, if necessary, by threat. A man did not ensnare his heart's delight through romantic niceties, nor by acts of derring-do, not even by his family's wealth or his own physical prowess. He did it by filching the beads she wore around her waist. Since a girl could not return home bereft of these beads without calling her chastity into doubt, she would stay with her boyfriend and try to recapture her beads. Yet, the man had an advantage for he would threaten to tell everyone the worst unless she submitted to his advances. Men said that they were proud of their ability to trick and coerce women in this way. Women recalled such experiences with anger, speaking of men as “dogs” who would stop at nothing where sex was concerned.” [49]

In general, the Sebei have “(1) fear of death, (2) diffuse anxiety, (3) fear of the malignant power of women, (4) profound jealousy and hostility, (5) desire for population increase, and (6) respect for seniority.”[50] The Sebei obsession with death is a fearful dread. They are not necessarily concerned with the means of dying, “it is death itself that terrifies them.” Furthermore, the Sebei are afraid of everything, even their friends and family. Fear and jealousy hinders them to be cooperative with each other. Jealousy is expressed in terms of stealing others’ possessions.[51] Sebei women are to be feared due to “their supernatural power as witches, and their secular power as shrews.” Women encourage this belief.[52]

“Sebei social relations are instrumental rather than sentimental.”[53] These attitudes are developed through the childrearing practices.[54] Sebei parents seem to exhibit “an endemic sense of detachment, of emotional disengagement.” [55] The lack of emotional ties is also evident in Sebei rituals in that they lack glorification of being Sebei or of the clan or any other social entity.

Respect for authority is a positive concept, as is desire for population increase. Younger brothers will not tell an older brother that he is wrong. Fathers and old men are accorded great respect because of their experience and advice. Any initiated man may chastise any uncircumcised child. The uninitiated believe that any adult whom they have angered can use magical means to make them cry at their circumcision. Interestingly, the desire in increasing the population is not just for more children as wealth, but to increase the Sebei population, perhaps in response to their “history of being outnumbered, and encroached upon, by their enemies.”[56]


The Sebei have no formal legal structure[57], no lawyers, and no real judges.[58] Although they have no special term for the law, customary law defines their contractual rights and obligations and sanctions for offenses, distinct from morality and etiquette.[59] Their customary law is unwritten yet has been documented through interviews and observations of day to day actions[60] by anthropologists over the course of some 30 years, particularly by Walter Goldschmidt. Some of the informants were alive before colonization and their recollections, and continued daily practices, comprise a rich understanding of Sebei law. This paper introduces an overview of aboriginal Sebei customary law which was their only law before the colonization of Uganda in 1894. Currently, some of the Sebei law practices are still recognized as part of Uganda’s dual legal system.[61] Several assumptions are pervasive in Sebei law: the importance of the clan membership; the property rights of individuals; the use of sorcery, the importance of cattle, and absence of authority.

Assumption: Importance of Clan Membership

The individual is not motivated by sentiment to support the clan, but by his desire to maintain his own security.[62]

“The prime motivation is toward maximization of the clan, which means it is desirable to have many sons and many cattle (which through bride-price ultimately translate into sons), for it is through the clan that an individual’s welfare is maximized.”[63]

The Sebei have a strong sense of agnatic identification[64] and “no individual can either join the clan of another or dissociate himself from his clan obligations.” The lineage relationships are more intense than the clan ties, but these obligations are complementary, not necessarily superior.[65] An example of property use as a clan member, is that although cattle are privately owned, the cattle owner has a “responsibility to use his cattle in support of his clan.”[66]

Clans play an important role for offenses that threaten physical safety. Most importantly, sorcery and witchcraft, although initiated by an individual against another individual, are acts between clans. A curse, oath, or other act of sorcery may affect any member of the intended victim’s clan, or because it is reflexive, against any of the initiator’s clansmen. Acts of potentially deadly violence are similarly clan affairs. “Each clansman is thus equally vulnerable in retaliation, and each is induced to seek revenge. The basic concept is that of clan weakening and the evening of the score, rather than punishment for a criminal act.”[67]

The consistent goal is maximizing clan strength by eliminating threats of both physical and supernatural retaliation. Thus, a murder within the clan may go unpunished so as to not further weaken the clan. For example, to eliminate the threat of retaliation by another clan against a recidivist thief, and thus against any clansman, the thief may be killed by his own clansmen. Although this sounds odd, the Sebei recognize that retaliation against a clansman that is not the thief would weaken the clan without removing the source of trouble, a scenario to be avoided.[68]

Assumption: Individual Property Rights

The Sebei man “has an inalienable and essentially unimpaired right to the humanized things he has created, or which have come to him in accordance with customary procedures of transfer”[69] of which domestic animals and cultivated land are the most important.[70] Among the Sebei, the private rights to property include not only the right to consume or to use, but also to sell, exchange, give away, or destroy.[71] The only two limitations to the individual’s rights are first, another person, e.g., a son or wife, may have a secondary right to livestock or land which is inalienable, and second, any clan interests must be maintained.[72]

Assumption: Use of Sorcery

Supernatural forces do not enforce punishments, it is the Sebei person who uses a supernatural force to seek retribution. “ ... there is no judgmental God – Man remains the actor, the initiator.”[73]

Distinctive features of Sebei sorcery are:

There are additional supernatural forces that affect the Sebei without any human intent such as the evil eye that appear to offer explanations to the Sebei but are not used as punishment or considered an offense.[78]

Assumption: Importance of Cattle

A Sebei man has independent control of his property and has a close psychological identification with this property, mainly his cattle[79] (other property having only secondary social value).[80] Significant Sebei social relationships are characterized in terms of cattle.[81] The relation between husband and wife, father and son, mother and son, brothers, and half brothers, “are all defined in terms of rights in cattle.” The individual’s responsibility to the clan is also expressed in terms of cattle, whether it be payment for retribution because of fellow clansman’s guilt or for a ceremony. [82]

Conversely, most pecuniary relationships, e.g., cattle sharing contracts, are expressed in social terms.[83] A contract “becomes a tie of kinship.” [84] These kindred ties define the obligations as if they were between family members.[85]

Assumption: Absence of Authority

The Sebei deny all authority roles. “No person in Sebeiland is empowered to command the action of another. No person is a chief. no person has the established right to render a judgment that is binding on a pair of disputants and will be enforced.”[86] However, customs such as local dispute councils and the prophet may be viewed as legal institutions.[87] Furthermore, in addition to the accepted codes of behavior, the Sebei recognize that there are circumstances, although not enforceable, when “a person really ought to do things his is not obligated to do.”[88]

Each social unit (clan, lineage, tribe, or village) hold informal hearings or councils, called kokwet in which the discussion is lead by the kirwokik or clan head.[89]

“The kirwokik were not empowered to render decisions and had no means of enforcing their opinions. Instead, they were individuals who had the capacity for articulating community sentiment and thus brining public pressure to bear upon disputants to accept a settlement of their affairs. It is most significant that they were individuals who emerged, that they were acclaimed for their manifest behavior rather than appointed to a position. Military leaders, incidentally, similar achieved their position from demonstration of their natural endowments, and were accepted rather than empowered.

Nor is there any evidence that clan and kota (lineage) heads had any power over individual members; rather they were simply foci for action in matters requiring clan unity. Their position derived from their genealogical relation to the presumed founder, built upon considerations of relative age. They were expected to serve an organizing and leadership function, but they could not enforce compliance.”[90]

Even the two exceptions of men over women and initiates over noninitiates are diluted, rather than absolute authority. Women have their own power and rights and sons have their own rights.[91]

A prophet is the only overarching role in Sebei society. This man has supernatural abilities to foretell events, however, if the predictions are wrong, or undesirable, he is killed. His advice is sought and usually followed, but it is not commanded. The prophet does command when a Sebei-wide ceremony is to be performed. Although a prophet is very influential and provides wise leadership, “they are not men of authority.[92]


There are three primary contractual events for the Sebei: 1) marriage, 2) work parties, and 3) cattle and land leases and sales. The compensation used for these contracts were traditionally cattle and beer, although cash is now used as well.


Although a Sebei man may have as many wives as he wishes, most have only one, and very few have more than three.[93] Once married, a man builds a separate house for each wife. The wife has rights to a portion of land and livestock belonging to him and he has rights to her labor and food production. Both have rights to access each other for sexual relations. There are no obligations between co-wives or their children; there is a separate marriage contract for each wife.[94]

There are restrictions, in addition to those mentioned earlier (marriage within a clan and marriage to the daughter of an age-set mate), to whom a man can marry. In essence, these restrictions prohibit a man marrying into his matrimonial lineage or a current wife’s clan a second time.[95]

The marriage contract is between the bride’s father and either the groom or his father. A ritualized bargaining session called “breaking the sticks” is used to determine the payment amount (primarily livestock) for bride-price. Once this payment is made, the marriage is legally established.[96]

The “breaking the sticks” starts with the bride’s family making a demand by placing tally sticks on the ground. The groom’s family (the groom is usually absent), push back the sticks with a response, and so it goes until an agreement is reached. The negotiations are in a specific order: first the number of cattle, then the goats and sheep, then money, and lastly personal goods, including beer.[97] Interestingly, the distribution of the bride-price among the bride’s family is customarily established. The bride’s father receives all animals except one bull, one goat, ten percent of the money, some hens go to the bride’s maternal uncle, and one goat goes to the bride’s mother. The first daughter’s bride-price allocation goes to her mother’s oldest brother, and each younger brother receives his payment as subsequent daughters marry. The animals acquired can be used to pay the bride-price of the bride’s brothers. Sons can legally demand their father to provide cattle and other assets to pay his first bride-price.[98] During the 1960’s, Goldschmidt estimated that the average value of bride-price to be about $200.[99]

Bride-price is a widespread practice, especially in patrilineal societies. The groom is paying for the woman’s labor and reproductive capacity. [100] “In Uganda, the Sebei pay more for young widows than for old widows, stating explicitly that an older widow has fewer reproductive years left.”[101] If a wife dies giving birth to her first child, either the bride-price is returned to the husband or another woman is given to him. However, the wife’s father does keep a cow and a sheep as a form of consolation and to satisfy oyik (the spirits of the dead).[102]

Bride-price payments allow for a redistribution of wealth among the Sebei, essentially switching investments between wives and cattle, and building and depleting herds accordingly. The relative scarcity of marriageable women or cattle is included in Sebei negotiations, evoking “a tacit law of supply and demand.”[103]

The bride-price negotiation session establishes social obligations and sentiment between the two families in addition to addressing the economic considerations. “They expect mutual entertainment; one consideration in the acceptance of a suitor is whether he will be willing and able to provide beer.” The bride’s parents, not the groom’s, may also assert some previous harm done by the groom’s family and demand compensation. [104]

The marriage contract is binding when the couple “exchange bracelets” after having lived together for awhile. During the time between the bride-price negotiation session and the “exchange of bracelets” ceremony, either party can withdraw from the marriage agreement for an appropriate cause. These causes include discovery of improper kinship or unresolved harms or quarrels between the couples’ clans. [105]

If a couple separates after the “exchange of bracelets” ceremony, they are regarded as divorced. A man may divorce his wife for laziness, repeated adultery, refusal to have intercourse, refusal to cook, engaging in witchcraft against him, abusing or cursing him because he is annoyed, using a weapon against him, being a murderer or thief, “if her vagina is black,” having “children three times and each time she kills them,” if she is unable to have intercourse, or is from an inappropriate clan.[106] A wife’s father must agree if she seeks a divorce.[107] A woman may divorce her husband if he “mistreats her by beating her too much when she has done nothing wrong,” does not provide enough land, is impotent, sterile, or refuses to have intercourse with her (sexual neglect), practices sodomy with her, is insane, or “curses her or spreads evil rumors about her.”[108] “It is only upon the repetition of complaints that a divorce is seen as the appropriate solution.”[109] In the event of divorce, the children live with the father although the mother retains her rights in her children, and her obligations.[110]

When a man dies, and his widow is old, she goes to live with her grown sons. If she is still of childbearing age, she is inherited by one of her husband’s brothers according to the following order. Although she technically has no voice in the decision, she may be able to successfully assert her preference through persuasion and reason.[111]
1. next younger full brother
2. next older full brother
3. older full brothers in reverse order of their seniority
4. younger (adult) full brothers in order of seniority
5. half brothers
6. kota brothers
7. clan brothers

A funeral kokwet is held a few days after a man dies. All family members are present as well as people from the deceased’s village and others who wish to pay their respects to the dead man or to raise a claim against his estate.[112] Because a man’s oldest son becomes the family’s figure of respect, he inherits his fathers spear, shield, and stool as symbols of rank. Personal possessions are “anointed ritually with beer and sheep fat to free them of the father’s spirit.”[113] Per the previous discussion of cattle and land allocations to wives and their sons, cattle and land are actually allocated to sons during a father’s lifetime.

Work Parties

If a Sebei woman needs assistance to prepare her fields, or a man needs to build a house, she or he schedules a moyket, or work party. “The essence of the arrangement is an afternoon's beer drink in exchange for a morning's work.” Although this contractual agreement is not legally enforceable, any breach is met with recriminations and social pressure. Furthermore, “nor is the fact that pay is in beer something to be taken lightly.”[114]

The beer preparation takes several days. There are no invitations or discussion of the moyket, those wishing to participate know when to show up, understand their “explicit obligations to perform a clearly defined task for which he gets a more or less specific quantum of beer. ... it is a carefully planned quid pro quo of work for satisfaction.” [115] There is plenty of gossip about the quality or quantity of beer provided. And no participant can afford to meet his/her obligation knowing that he/she will be planning a future moyket and will be treated likewise.[116]

If a person needs the service of a work party but cannot provide beer, he promises to provide beer and a slaughtered sheep or goat for the workers in the future. This is called kwoloyit. A middleman of sorts is engaged to arrange for the workers and to oversee the later performance of the contract by the employer.[117] “The contractual work arrangement may be seen as an institutional mode of circumventing the need for communal activity, and it fits the individuated basis of Sebei life.”[118]

As evident throughout this discussion, women participate in moykets as well as men, and the fruit of her labor, beer, is hers. Furthermore, she has the rights to sell the food (presumably surplus) she cultivates and to sell beer she makes.[119]

Cattle and Land Leases and Sales

“Contracts are important in Sebei society, and have been so from time immemorial. They play an important role in the economy of both cattle-keeping and farming, and a good deal of litigation results from breaches in contractual arrangements.”[120]

There is extensive freedom of contract for property transaction, although a wife or son may have an allocated secondary right.[121] General practices of Sebei contracts include[122]:

Contract performance is not normally a matter of litigation, especially given the open-ended time allowance. Performance is not an issue for the clan or the tribe, but for the individuals.

“Sebei law is weak in techniques for forcing performance under contract, while redress and punishment for fraudulent action are entirely wanting. The primary court for action in modern Sebei is the funeral hearing, where under the sanction of bereavement and before a community of elders, the parties to a contract can reassert their demands and express their grievances. It is my observation that this is a forceful sanction (though one that can be long delayed) for performance under contract. It applies both to matters involving land and those involving cattle.”[123]

Reputational concerns are the primary means of enforcing contracts. Contract performance is ensured by the mutual interdependence of the parties and the operation of common market.[124] “It must be remembered that normally a Sebei of substance will want continuing contractual arrangements with many of his fellowmen over the years, and like any modern businessman, will behave in such a way as to preserve his credit rating.”[125]

Cattle contracts are the most developed aspect of Sebei law.[126] Generally, a man allocates his cattle to his wives for their sons, but keeps back some for himself (tokapsoy). [127] A man’s herd is not all kept in one kraal; nor do all of the animals in kraal, and therefore herd, belong outright to one man. There are three categories of livestock: 1) the cattle he owns, including tokapsoy and those allocated to his wives; 2) cattle belonging to another man under a namanyantet contract which is an exchange arrangement; and 3) those that are essentially boarded or loaned to a hired herdsman.[128]

The standard contract for property is the namanya exchange.
“1. a man who wants to slaughter a bullock asks another for it, offering in exchange a heifer (a young cow), which is to be born from one of his cows
2. the person who furnishes the bullock takes the heifer, keeps it until she has produced a heifer,
3. when that heifer is ready to bear young, returns the original animal to its owner
In short, a man pays a future cow for a present bullock.”[129]

Of course there is no time requirement for fulfillment of the agreement. Therefore breaches can be concealed as delays which makes enforcement difficult.[130] On the other hand, delays can easily be tolerated because there is a basis for calculating interest in the natural increase in livestock over time.[131]

A quasi-kin relationship is established and the men become tilyet (plural, tilyonutek) to one another, which is loosely “kin of the cow.” “They are expected to be hospitable with respect to beer or food; and they are strictly forbidden to sleep with one another's wives.”[132] Often these social obligations also make it difficult for tilyet to bring action in the event of a dispute.[133]

Sebei cattle owners may have many namanya exchanges in effect and there are no limitations as to who can enter the contract. The agreement is usually for a specific bullock. If it is allocated to a wife, she must agree to the namanya contract.[134]

Co-ownership of a single animal is another contractual arrangement, called sankanet. Two or more persons purchase or acquire the animal and share in its progeny, in turn.[135]

A contract with a hired herdsman is called kamanakan. A cattle owner usually hires a herdsman to spread his herd or because he does not have adequate pasture. The hired herdsman is responsible for the animals’ welfare in return for the use of their milk.[136] Also, the owner has a moral obligation to reward the herdsman with an animal or more if the owner’s herd prospered under his care. However, this is a moral obligation of the owner, not a legal right for the herdsman. The herdsman is to treat the animal as he would his own, including making namanya contracts if the owner consents.[137]

“As farming supplants cattle-keeping, however, and land fills up, the need to delineate ownership (both physically on the ground and legally as a set of rights) develops, and the provision for transfers of such rights become requisite.”[138]

The Sebei analogized the cattle contracts to land contracts, although land does not enjoy the same degree of social and ceremonial importance. Only men own land and allocate it to their wives and her sons, including keeping back some for himself if he wishes. Allocation of land to a wife for her sons to inherit is a recognized obligation.[139]

Early acquisition of land was done in one of three ways: 1) use force to push out the current residents; 2) adoption of man into a pororyet (tribe), and 3) negotiation with the current landowner, of which there are three methods. The adoption process seems to require a sponsor and often involves a marriage of either a daughter into or out of the tribe.[140] The tribe formally accepts the adopted man and “there was the custom of slaughtering an animal and giving a feast to establish membership in one’s adopted homeland.”[141]

Acquiring land through negotiation with the landowner could be accomplished by borrowing the land, making a namanya-like exchange, or an outright purchase. If land is borrowed, it is a favor given by a friend and nothing is paid. In the namanya-like exchange, examples of the consideration given in exchange for the land is proper maintenance of the land or beer and food during a moyet on the land.[142]

Sebei use both futures and option contracts as well. An example of a futures contract is an old Sebei custom to purchase crops growing in the field.[143] An example of an options contract is “an old practice in marriage arrangements; a man might want to marry a young girl after she matured and would make a payment “to hold her down.”[144]


There are essentially two levels of punishable offense in Sebei society. The most serious are murder and fatal physical injuries, either by physical force or sorcery, which are adjudicated between clans. The second are property delicts which are between individuals, however, the community (tribe) plays an advisory role. The ntarastit is the one exception to the advisory role. A brief review of slander and sexual offenses concludes this discussion of Sebei offenses.

The primary sanctions for offenses are vengeance, both physical and supernatural, compensation, and property destruction under ntasrast authority.

Murder and Serious Physical Injury

Violent crimes resulting in death are addressed essentially by clan law.[145] A murder or mortal wounding invokes retaliation by the victim’s clan against the clan of the murderer. Assault and battery is considered inconsequential unless there is a threat of escalation into murder.[146]

The Sebei define murder as causing death by either sorcery or violence and:

“1. it is a purposeful, intentional act, and not an accident;
2. it is not adequately motivated by prior actions of the murdered man or his clan;
3. the decedent belongs to a clan other than that of the person doing the killing; and
4. the decedent is a Sebei rather than a member of an enemy tribe.”[147]

It appears that the killing of a member of an ally tribe is considered murder.[148] Also considered murder is a death caused by injury due to assault, no matter how much earlier (“a debt never rots”).[149]

Insanity, drunkenness, or minority status are not mitigating circumstances for applying the sanctions to the murderer.[150] Two men acting together are both held as murderers and the compensation and vengeance will be shared by their clans.[151]

The Sebei believe that “no man would ever hide the fact that he had killed a person.” [152]

“In Sebei legal theory a murderer cannot hide the act, for all persons who have killed a human being, whether friend or foe, whether in revenge or in cold blood, must undergo an appropriate cleansing ceremony. The disease from killing without taking the proper medicines causes a man to itch all over until he scratches himself to death.” [153]

In the event of a murder, the murderer’s clan will respond in an effort to limit the resulting feud.

“There are the following procedures with respect to a redress of wrongs in the case of murder:
(1) The clansmen of the injured party may take immediate revenge, which should be done in hot blood.
(2) The clansmen of the murderer may seek to pay compensation for the killing.
(3) The clansmen of the murderer may themselves kill the murderer in order to avoid further penalty.
(4) The pororyet (tribe) may take action to punish the clan of the murderer.
(5) In the absence of the first three of these (and presumably irrespective of the fourth), the clansmen of the murdered man may seek any opportunity to avenge the death by killing individuals or taking cattle.
(6) Finally, if none of the above succeed, the family of the murdered man may make a ceremonial curse against the clansmen of the murderer, which continues until it is removed.”[154]

It is revenge that obviously escalates murder into clan law. The victim’s clan does not necessarily seek revenge, either by physical force or sorcery,[155] on the murderer himself, therefore the murderer’s clansmen are at risk.

“It need not be the murderer who is slain in revenge; indeed, when there is a clear difference in status, a person equivalent to the murdered man is sought. ... There may be a long period during which a feud exists, but eventually the feud is expected to result in a compensatory killing. ... We cannot know exactly how long a time elapsed, but presumably at least half a dozen years and probably much longer.”[156]

When revenge results in a killing of the murderer’s clansman, the avenger shouts from a high place, “The killing is finished.” This initiates a peace settlement between the feuding clans. A ceremony follows in which a bullock provided by the initial murderer’s clan is killed and eaten by both clans and, “the femur is stripped of meat, and the bone is thrown against a stone until it is broken, or it is braced against a tree and struck with a stick until it breaks. Also, the tail and ears of a dog are cut, and a bowstring is severed.”[157]

Instead of revenge, a victim’s clan may accept compensation in the form of cattle for the murder.[158] The clan of the murderer is motivated to avoid revenge and initiates the negotiations for compensation by sending a go-between to the victim’s clan. “Because he is at risk of being killed while approaching the victim’s clan, the chosen go-between is related to both clans through marriage into the clan of the victim.”[159]

A failure to settle a dispute puts each clansman of the murderer at risk of being killed, so each clansman contributes cattle to the settlement.[160] It is not known how the victim’s clan decides to distribute the compensation.[161] The amount paid varies a “good deal” in different cases. [162] Several factors were considered when determining the amount of compensation to be paid[163]:

1. sex of the victim
2. age and likelihood of more children
3. previous faults of the victim’s clan
4. status of the economy

Likewise, several factors are considered in determining how much each clan member contributes:[164]

1. relative wealth and social standing
2. closeness of relation to the perpetrator
3. preexisting obligations
4. performance on prior demands
5. personality of the individual

Killing a woman does not seem to be a very serious matter.[165] Her natal clan, not her husband, receives compensation that is less than for a man and determined by her reproductive potential.[166] Similarly, if a woman is the murderer, vengeance or compensation is to be paid by her natal clan and the vengeance is taken on a person of equal stature of the victim, not of the murdering woman. Her husband also has justification to divorce her.[167] Abortion is not murder.[168]

Compensation for a woman victim is less than for a man.
“There are three different compensations made when a woman is killed: (1) when a woman has just married and not yet produced children, ten cows and one sheep are paid because of her possibility for bearing many children; (2) if a woman is of middle age and has some children but is still able to produce more, payment of eight cows and one sheep would be expected; (3) if she is an old woman, five cows and one sheep would be paid.”[169]

Furthermore, because of the risk of physical or supernatural revenge, the clan may chose to punish, even kill, a murderer, or other serious troublemaker.[170] “We cannot lose two men from the clan. The deceased was a bad man and deserved to be killed.” [171]

Compensation is complete with a ceremonial payment of an additional sheep. If this ceremonial payment is not made, relatives of the victim can take cows from the murderer’s clan. Additionally, the victim’s clan “must offer a ram to be killed and the meat is shared between the two clans.” The two clans then can then “sit around the same beer pot, for the matter is forgotten.”[172] [173]

Unless there is a threat of escalation into murder, injuries from fights or aggression are not serious offenses. Minor injury (no blood or bones broken) caused by another person (using sticks or fists) is a non-legal issue, and vengeance against the assailant’s clansmen is inappropriate. However, if weapons were used, or if major injuries were inflicted, and there is fear that the victim will die, the Sebei try to abort any clan feuding if the victim does die with a “prepayment” of a goat as an acknowledgement of liability.

There are Sebei homicides that are not murder. “In such instances neither vengeance nor compensation is proper, but a ceremonial payment may be demanded and a cleansing ceremony held. These are either justified killings (called kachiker meaning “having been repaid”)[174] or essentially non-legal issues. Examples of these are:

If the murder victim was determined to have misbehaved, a ceremonial payment is made and “the matter is just forgotten.” [181]
“Both accidental homicide and justifiable killing require the ceremonial payment (chiker) of a cow, bull, and sheep. The payment is not viewed as compensation or restitution, but as a ceremonial cleansing. ...The acceptance of such payment is tantamount to acceptance by the clan of the nature of the death and would prevent it from taking either direct or magical revenge; hence, it is an important element in legal procedure. A man may kill a person of another tribe with impunity, though it was felt that to do so when the person was on a friendly visit would be an improper act and one that might, of course, escalate into a large and dangerous conflict.”[182]

Because the clan is the legal entity responsible for suffering vengeance or paying compensation, in the case intra-clan killing, such as between family members, it is logical to not impose the sanctions upon itself.[183] There may be a different outcome if the killing is between different lineages within the clan.[184]


Unless a theft threatens to escalate into a feud, property delicts are normally private matters between individuals [185] and punishment is against the individual, not the clan.[186] The community (village or tribe) commonly advises the parties through a kokowet, or community meeting. However, property delicts may also result in sorcery.[187]

Sebei recognize several forms of theft:[188]
1. taking of something by stealth, usually food, personal goods, sheep or goats (but not cattle)
2. taking by force, and may be applied to cattle-raiding internal to the Sebei community
3. raiding of enemy kraals

Within a clan, forced taking of land or encroachment are frequent property delicts. [189] Intraclan matters are essentially family matters and are decided at a local kokwet or even more informally at a beer-drink.[190] A kokwet can be “family council, a clan council, or a village council; it is used when an issue is brought for discussion and determination before a group of men around a beer pot.”[191] These local meetings determine only what is the correct ownership right and restitution; they do not mete out any punishment.[192]

A victim of theft initiates a kokwet to hear the matter. He will ask the kirwokik (singular kirwokintet) of different villages to meet at a certain time. Although there is a recognized meeting place in each tribe and village, the kokowet can be held in any suitable place. Although not forced to attend, all interested men are expected to attend, and risk being despised if they fail to do so. Uncircumcised boys, as part of their training, may attend though they may not be heard. Women may attend any kokwet and are also not heard unless it is a matter involving women.[193]

The men of each village sit together, the kirwokintet of that village in front of them. There should be several kirwokik present, but there is no one who presides over the group.[194] A kirwokintet holds a position of respect, not authority.

“No explicit requirement other than personal ability was mentioned (to be a kirwokintet). Wealth may lend weight to a man's words, but does not in itself make him kirwokintet. The Sebei say: “One does not buy a councilorship with a cow; one buys it with the ear.” One becomes kirwokintet by listening to the wisdom of one's elders. A man might be poor and have but one wife and be a kirwokintet, though a bachelor would not become one. There is no inheritance of the position, but there is a tendency toward continuity from father to son. The kirwokik are not members of a single age-set as they are among some of the culturally related tribes; any person of middle years may become a kirwokintet, and he remains such until death.

A person becomes known as a kirwokintet informally; there are no fixed numbers of persons so recognized, and they have neither special powers nor special insignia of office. They are merely elders who have, through their public performance, shown themselves to be particularly astute and perceptive, to have rendered judgments or made pleas meeting with general approval. .... But we must not take the word "appointed" too literally; there is nobody who has the power to appoint, and what is meant is that the kirwokik will be recognized as such by the people. ...nevertheless there is no doubt that certain men had a Sebei-wide reputation as important kirwokik and were often called upon to serve whenever a difficult dispute arose.”[195]

On a broader scale, the one exception to the lack of authority for the Sebei is the ntarastit which is, “in effect, an invocation of supernatural authority for the maintenance of peace in the community.”[196] It is used for interclan conflict[197] and is never applied to intraclan matters.[198]

The prophet Matui is credited with developing ntarastit, an innovative law enforcement ritual.[199] (He at least reinstituted it[200]). It is believed that this is a relatively recent custom although it began before European arrival.[201] “The last ntarastit was probably held shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century, before the Baganda conquest of the area.”[202]

The purpose of this ceremony is to enable a village to “clean house” of any delict. It is only after the ntarastit, the village, through kokwet, can actually enforce the law.[203] The community usually has only powers of persuasion.

“The ritual brings any delict into the jurisdiction of the pororyet (tribe), which can then punish the responsible party. The punishment takes the form of destruction of his property – killing of his livestock, slashing his plantains, destroying his crops, seizing his stored grain, and even burning down his house.”[204]

The prophet initiates the ceremony, which is a public oath, which is then performed sequentially by each tribe, starting in the east. The prophet initiates the ceremony when he decides that the people have become fairly lawless in their behavior, thus it was not performed at regular time intervals.[205] It seems to have been performed every three to five years.[206]

It is significant that the ability to punish wrongdoers has a supernatural basis and that the sanction is done by oath.[207] The ritual involves all initiated men standing naked at an altar of ceremonial branches and reciting an oath swearing an allegiance to the “law” on the pain of supernatural death (either outright or as a curse against the clan). During the ritual, “They thrust their spears at the altar in unison each time as they name a different kind of offense.”[208]

After the ritual, and before punishment is meted out, there is an informal hearing to decide the proper punishment. From then on, the Sebei men embark on retaliation/punishment that “appears to have been more a wild mob scene.” It is possible that the punished will resist the destruction and the enforcement can turn violent.[209]

“Ntarastit punishment is meted out both for murder and for theft. The punishment is the same except that retaliation against a murder involves the destruction of property of the whole clan – or significantly that segment that resides in the pororyet – while in cases of theft the action is directed only at the household of the thief.”[210]

When it comes to enforcing laws, the Sebei are in a double bind – on one hand, they recognize no authority and if the village, alone, were to try to impose an authority “there will be war,”[211] and on the other, increasing lawlessness has its own disadvantages. The ntarastit addresses this conflict by allowing a periodic authority and reaffirmation to address the delicts in the village, and thus promoting village peace. It is said that “amity among all Sebei developed under the influence of the prophet Matui.”[212]

“The ntarastit, then, creates a kind of loose citizenship. This citizenship has two levels of applicability. It is quite explicitly pororyet-oriented, which is to say it reinforces the very social unity that is the military protective unit: it holds together the very people who have to stay together for protection against the constant marauding of neighbors. Secondarily, by coordination of the several pororyet ceremonies under the guidance of a single prophet, it also reinforces a sense of commonality and harmony among the Sebei as a whole.”[213]

Sexual Offenses

Incest is a matter of morality rather than law. It is fairly broadly defined to include, beyond the closer relations, paternal cousins and several adulterous relationships such as “the wife of one's neighbor; with the daughter of any member of one's age-set; with any other member of the clan of one's wife or any member of the clan of one's mother; or with the wives of one's brothers.” Both parties carry the burden of guilt, although the burden is heavier for the man. The informal sanctions include ridicule (“These can, of course, become severe sanctions, and such a person may find it uncomfortable to enjoy beer in the community.”) and difficulty in marrying. If a man rudely responds to the ridicule, he is beaten on the head.[214]

Incest with a sister-in-law can be construed as wishing her husband (the man’s brother) or her sister (the man’s wife) to die because the sister-in-law would be inherited by the man. Thus the man is suspected of engaging in sorcery which invokes clan involvement. In one case, the man paid a sheep and beer to his parents-in-law. [215]

“One of the strongest tabus of Sebeiland is against intercourse with the daughter of a member of one's age-set. The man would be beaten by his age-set mates' wives and might be cursed so that he cannot have children. He must brew beer and slaughter a cow for his age-set, presumably as a ceremonial release.”[216]

Otherwise, extramarital intercourse is not considered an offense.[217] Rape is an offense although it is considered impossible for a single man to rape a woman. Also, it is an offense to have intercourse when a woman is asleep, or to engage in sodomy, or for a man to rape an uncircumcised girl.[218] “But only when the actions threaten seriously to disrupt the community, as in the case of habitual behavior, does the community feel compelled to act.”[219]


“The Sebei are much given to bickering; they have a rich repertoire of curses of a purely verbal kind, and they are gossips. Like physical assaults, however, verbal encounters do not enter into the realm of legal action until they threaten to arouse conflicts that might lead to murder or witchcraft.”[220]

Remember that the Sebei are a hostile people. Slander is usually not a matter for legal action, although because “verbal offenses themselves border on witchcraft in Sebei eyes,” there is constant concern that they may escalate to more serious crimes. In particular, a slander involving accusation of witchcraft, in at least one case, made murder justifiable.”[221]


The Sebei use sorcery both as a weapon to cause unjustified harm, to determine guilt, and as a sanction and retaliation for both physical and supernatural harm.[222] They recognize the existence of supernatural forces that work upon man, by man, that are “neither automatic retribution of the wrongdoer nor postmortem rewards and punishments.”[223] Only highlights of Sebei sorcery are presented here. Furthermore, Goldschmidt notes, “it was exceedingly difficult to obtain data on witchcraft practices, either past or current, and I offer these data with the recognition that they are far from perfect.”[224]

An interesting feature of Sebei sorcery is its reflexive action back to the bewitcher and/or his or her clan.[225] Sebei sorcery has several other distinctive features:[226]

Sorcery to Cause Unjustified Harm

It is a legal delict, to use sorcery make a victim ill or die, and sorcery is used to identify the bewitcher. The victim or his friends ask a diviner to determine the cause of illness or death, and if he suggests witchcraft, additional diviners will be asked to confirm the diagnosis. The diviner identifies the bewitcher and the sick man’s relatives “catch that man and punish him by bringing bowstrings and tying one finger or thumb and sticking thorns of the tunkururwet or chuynet trees into the finger or arm and break the thorns off, and tell him that he is known as the one who did the magic and that he must undo the magic of the sick man.”[227]

There seems to be three roles in the execution of witchcraft: (1) the man who wishes to use sorcery against another; (2) the bewitcher who sells his services or knowledge; (3) the person who collects the necessary materials, e.g., hair, fingernail clippings, or other body parts, and natural effluvia. One or more persons can fulfill all three roles. Although it is not illegal to be in possession of the witchcraft medicine and materials (and it is often hard to prove the purpose of those materials), legal liability may only extend if the collector knows of the victim. The other two roles are always held legally responsible.[228]

A countermagic against sorcery causes the bewitcher to do something he would not ordinarily do such as “push him out of a tree or into the path of a snake or lion, or it can induce him to have intercourse with his own sister, or, as in one case recorded, bewitch his own relative.”[229]

Sorcery to Determine Guilt

Legal oaths and curses are used to confirm guilt and/or assert innocence. Sebei oaths and curses “do not work unless the person is in fact guilty of the suspected act.” Nevertheless, they are terrifying, because the oath or curse can bring harm to the initiator through its reflexive feature after it has completed its retaliatory purpose or if the accused suspect is in fact innocent.[230]

An oath is thought as invoking the spirits to punish the forswearer if he is lying.[231] An oath is powerful as it “calls forth forces of retribution, but these forces will turn upon the person giving false testimony or making false accusations.”[232]

One method for assessing guilt in cases of suspected witchcraft is the ordeal. Only the Kapchay clan knows of how to make and administer the medicine:[233]
1. The ordeal takes place in an open area in the western part of Sebei territory, where the Kapchay clan is located.
2. The accused and a representative of the accusing (witchcraft victim’s) clan drink a concoction made of crushed seeds while sitting in the hot sun.
3. After the medicine has taken effect, “become like a drunkard”, the accused is asked simple questions, such as “How many fingers am I holding up?” or “What am I holding in my hand?”
4. If he cannot answer these correctly, the medicine has “caught” him and he is guilty. “The clansmen of the victim may then club him to death on the spot with impunity.”

If he is not affected, then he is innocent and free of punishment.[234] He is also free of further punishment if he survives after being beaten and thought to be dead.[235] If a suspect of witchcraft escapes the ordeal many times, and the victim’s relatives are not convinced, they may invoke the countermagic discussed above to punish him. “Thus the ultimate sanction against magic is magic itself.”[236] It is not known what happens if the accusing clanmember is “caught” by the medicine.[237]

Sorcery as Retaliation

If a legal matter cannot be resolved through compensation or physical retaliation, the Sebei use sorcery as the final resort for the imposition of sanctions and retribution, even for failure to perform on contract.[238] However, using sorcery in retaliation is dangerous because if not used appropriately, the forces may turn upon the initiator. Also, the effect of the sorcery must be stopped once it has achieved its purpose or the forces “ultimately have reflexive action against the person perpetrating it.”[239]

“The bewitchment that was done is called sekutet; the removal of this curse is called pitet, and the compensation is called kwayet. If a person does sekutet, it will harm the people of the group against which it is done, but when they all die out, then it will come back on the group that does the bewitching. Therefore it is important to make the pitet ceremony before all persons of the cursed group die out. [Case 84] It should be noted that the informant was a very old man (second Maina age-set); as the murder had been committed before the clan was driven out of the area, well before the advent of the first European, the resolution of this conflict was delayed about fifty years. Although the incidence of the use of these forms of sorcery and curse does not appear to be very high, the sociological force and the psychological threat seem ... to be of first-order importance.”[240]

Because murder is a clan issue, sorcerous retaliation operates against the murderer’s clan. However, once the accused clan admits responsibility and requests release from the sorcery, or if the sorcery has achieved its purpose, unless removed, the sorcery will harm the clan of the sorcerer.[241]

There is one exception to the reflexive feature of Sebei sorcery. Kankanet is a form of retaliatory sorcery known only to two clans[242] which works only upon those who are guilty. Because of its power and exclusiveness, kankanet practitioners enjoy a special status.[243]

Lesser Witchcraft

Several lesser forms of witchcraft are used by the Sebei. Two examples are the sorcery that will make the initiate cry or bleed excessively during circumcision, and sorcery used by women against men. At the time of their own initiation, all Sebei learn how to make initiates cry or bleed.[244] Women learn their secrets at that time also. The sorcery of women against men makes the man subject to the woman’s will. “The chief purpose of such magic is either to prevent subsequent marriages or to keep a husband from loving his other wives.”[245] A man may divorce his wife for this kind of magic.[246] Women can also use witchcraft against others such as to cause another woman to be barren.[247]


Sebei law has developed to meet the needs of a preindustrial society:
“In those groups where family-based production is central, where few external sources of labor power are used (or none at all), there are egalitarian forms of social organization and no basis for strong legal authority. There is little in the way of differential resource access to protect or regulate. As such, legal affairs are in the hands of elders’ councils, where the disputing process gains authority from the consensus of a broad body.”[248]

It is a customary law based on Sebei traditions:
“Obedience to custom was generally spontaneous since it was thought that one was obliged to live as one’s ancestors had; the fear of supernatural powers and of group opinion were most often sufficient to assure a respect for the traditional ways of life.”[249]

And finally, Goldschmidt effectively summarizes the reality of Sebei law:
“The absence of authoritative roles does not mean the absence of compliance. Pressures of the marketplace, pressure of an informal kind, social pressures, and the recognition of mutual obligation – not to mention the pressures of potential sorcery – all serve to make persons willing to do what they do not want to do. Leadership exists, and leaders can and do galvanize community or clan sentiment so as to gain compliance to an imposed program of action. But the action is never enforced by a neutral, superior third party to a dispute; it is not coerced.” [250]



1. David. M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating (New York: Basic Books, 1994)

2. Florence Butegwa, “Challenges of Promoting Legal Literacy Among Women in Uganda”, Legal Literacy, A Tool for Women’s Empowerment, edited by Margaret Schuler and Sakuntala Kadirgamar-Rajasingham (UNIFEM 1992)

3. René David., John E.C. Brierley, Major Legal Systems in the World Today, An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law, (The Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Co, 1978)

4. Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971)

5. Robert B. Edgerton, “10 Traditional Beliefs and Practices--Are Some Better Than Others?,” Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, eds. Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, 1st ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000)

6. Walter Goldschmidt, Culture and Behavior of the Sebei, (Berkeley, CAUniversity of California Press, 1976)

7. Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967)

8. Walter Goldschmidt, The Sebei, A Sudy in Adaptation, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1986)

9. Walter Goldschmidt, “12 Nonverbal Communication and Culture,” Nonverbal Communication Where Nature Meets Culture, eds. Ullica Segerstrîle and Peter Molnár (Book by Peter Molnár, Ullica Segerstrîle; Lawrence Erlbaum) (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997)

10. Alexandre M. Maryanski, “5 The Social and Biological Foundations of Human Communication,” Human by Nature: Between Biology and the Social Sciences (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997)

11. Katherine S. Newman, Law and Economic Organization, A Comparative Study of Preindustrial Societies, (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

12. Paul Spencer, The Pastoral Continuum: The Marginalization of Tradition in East Africa (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998)


1. Bert N. Adams and Edward Mburugu, “Kikuyu Bridewealth and Polygyny Today,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25.2 (1994)

2. Robert B. Edgerton, “10 Traditional Beliefs and Practices--Are Some Better Than Others?,” Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, eds. Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, 1st ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000)


1. CIA, The World Factbook website, Uganda, December 18, 2003.

2. Government of Uganda website, The History of Uganda, April 18, 2004

3. my Uganda website, Highland Nilotics.

[1] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 7.
[2] CIA, The World Factbook website, Uganda, December 18, 2003.
[3] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 86.
[4] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 7.
[5] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 86.
[6] Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 14th Edition, 2004 SIL International.
[7] CIA, The World Factbook website, Uganda, December 18, 2003.
[8] Government of Uganda website, The History of Uganda,, April 18, 2004.
[9] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 7.
[10] my Uganda website, Highland Nilotics.
[11] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law ,(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 9.
[12] Id. 7.
“The legal institutions of the Sebei ... are fundamentally attuned to the social demands of a cattle-keeping economy. But the Sebei had acquired, in the century or so prior to European contact, an increasing dependence on hoe-farming, and particularly the intensive use of land associated with the cultivation of plantains.” (Id. 245.)
[13] Id. 4.
[14] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples ,(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 19.
[15] Katherine S. Newman, Law and Economic Organization, A Comparative Study of Preindustrial Societies, (Cambridge University Press, 1983), 4.
[16] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 10
[17] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 86.
[18] Id. 86.
[19] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 10 -11.
[20] my Uganda website, Highland Nilotics.
[21] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 212.
[22] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples ,(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 86.
[23] Id. 141.
[24] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 212.
[25] Id. 51.
[26] Walter Goldschmidt, The Sebei, A Sudy in Adaptation, (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1986), p. 2.
[27] Id. 15 - 16
[28] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 11 - 12.
[29] Id. 11.
[30] Id. 233.
[31] Id. 11.
[32] Id. 11.
[33] Id.. 8.
[34] Id. 12.
[35] Id. 11-12.
[36] Id. 8.
[37] Id. 11-12.
[38] Id. 12.
[39] my Uganda website, Highland Nilotics.
[40] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 8.
[41] Id. 11.
[42] Id. 42.
[43] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples ,(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971) 126.
[44] Bert N. Adams and Edward Mburugu, “Kikuyu Bridewealth and Polygyny Today,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 25.2 (1994), 15 Apr. 2004.
[45] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 106 - 107.
[46] Id. 106.
[47] Id. 106.
[48] Id. 105.
[49] Id. 105.
[50] Id. 119.
[51] Id. 119.
[52] Id. 120.
[53] Walter Goldschmidt, “12 Nonverbal Communication and Culture,” Nonverbal Communication Where Nature Meets Culture, eds. Ullica Segerstrîle and Peter Molnár (Book by Peter Molnár, Ullica Segerstrîle; Lawrence Erlbaum) (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997), 236 - 237.
[54] Alexandre M. Maryanski, “5 The Social and Biological Foundations of Human Communication,” Human by Nature: Between Biology and the Social Sciences ,(Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997), 191.
[55] Walter Goldschmidt, “12 Nonverbal Communication and Culture,” Nonverbal Communication Where Nature Meets Culture, eds. Ullica Segerstrîle and Peter Molnár (Book by Peter Molnár, Ullica Segerstrîle; Lawrence Erlbaum) (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997), 236 - 237.
[56] Robert B. Edgerton, The Individual in Cultural Adaptation: A Study of Four East African Peoples ,(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971), 121.
[57] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 225.
[58] Id. 5.
[59] Id. 2.
[60] Id. 225.
[61] A dual legal system now operates in Uganda. Parliamentary laws and customary laws are recognized in civil matters. “Customary law is subject to the limit “that it must not be repugnant to natural justice and morality” as is interpreted by the judge. Although, statutory law takes precedence over contradictory customary law, matters are complicated because law enforcement officers and the other legal authorities are steeped in custom and will favor the customary law over the statute.”
Florence Butegwa, “Challenges of Promoting Legal Literacy Among Women in Uganda”, Legal Literacy, A Tool for Women’s Empowerment, edited by Margaret Schuler and Sakuntala Kadirgamar-Rajasingham (UNIFEM 1992), 142 - 143.
[62] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 233
[63] Id. 243 - 244.
[64] Id. 232.
[65] Id. 232.
[66] Id. 235.
[67] Id. 233.
[68] Id. 233 - 234.
[69] Id. 236.
[70] Id. 234.
[71] Id. 235.
[72] Id. 233 - 234.
[73] Id. 232.
[74] Id. 231.
[75] Id. 243.
[76] Id. 230.
[77] Id. 231.
[78] Id. 231 - 232.
[79] Id. 238 - 239.
[80] Id. 236 - 237.
[81] Id. 238.
[82] Id. 240 - 241.
[83] Id. 236 - 237.
[84] Id. 241.
[85] Id. 241.
[86] Id. 241.
[87] Id. 4.
[88] Id. 6.
[89] Id. 13.
[90] Id. 242.
[91] Id. 242 -243.
[92] Id. 241 -242.
[93] Id. 41.
[94] Id. 40- 41.
[95] Id. 41 - 42.
[96] Id. 42.
[97] Id. 44.
[98] Id. 45.
[99], 15 Apr. 2004.
[100] Id.
[101] David. M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating, (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 185.
[102] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 95.
[103] Paul Spencer, The Pastoral Continuum: The Marginalization of Tradition in East Africa, (Oxford: Oxford University, 1998), 12.
[104]Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 46 - 47.
[105] Id. 48.
[106] Id. 54 - 56.
[107] Id. 48 - 50.
[108] Id. 56 - 57.
[109] Id. 57.
[110] Id. 59.
[111] Id. 69 - 70.
[112] Id. 62.
[113] Id. 74.
[114] Id. 211 - 212.
[115] Id. 211 - 212.
[116] Id. 213.
[117] Id. 213.
[118] Id. 253.
[119] Id. 236.
[120] Id. 187.
[121] Id. 236.
[122] Id. 188 - 189.
[123] Id. 220.
[124] Id. 221.
[125] Id. 203.
[126] Id. 6.
[127] Id. 51.
[128] Id. 189.
[129] Id. 192.
[130] Id. 199.
[131] Id. 231.
[132] Id. 193.
[133] Id. 199.
[134] Id. 193.
[135] Id. 207.
[136] Id. 207.
[137] Id. 208.
[138] Id. 248.
[139] Id. 249.
[140] Id. 214 - 215.
[141] Id. 251.
[142] Id. 215.
[143] Id. 217.
[144] Id. 252.
[145] Id. 4.
[146] Id. 130.
[147] Id. 88.
[148] Id. 91.
[149] Id. 88.
[150] Id. 88.
[151] Id. 95.
[152] Id. 97.
[153] Id. 97.
[154] Id. 98.
[155] Id. 84.
[156] Id. 99.
[157] Id. 100.
[158] Id. 84.
[159] Id. 100 - 101.
[160] Id. 84.
[161] Id. 106.
[162] Id. 103.
[163] Id. 102.
[164] Id. 106.
[165] Id. 93.
[166] Id .93.
[167] Id. 93.
[168] Id. 95.
[169] Id. 102 - 103.
[170] Id. 93.
[171] Id. 91.
[172] Id. 104.
[173] Id. 129 - 131.
[174] Id. 89.
[175] Id. 91.
[176] Id. 92.
[177] Id. 90.
[178] Id. 96.
[179] Id. 97.
[180] Id. 90.
[181] Id. 89.
[182] Id. 90.
[183] Id. 90.
[184] Id. 93.
[185] Id. 235 - 236.
[186] Id. 162.
[187] Id. 162.
[188] Id. 162 - 263.
[189] Id. 169.
[190] Id. 168.
[191] Id. 163
[192] Id. 170.
[193] Id. 164.
[194] Id. 164.
[195] Id. 167.
[196] Id. 257.
[197] Robert B. Edgerton, “10 Traditional Beliefs and Practices--Are Some Better Than Others?,” Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, eds. Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, 1st ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 136.
[198] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 170.
[199] Robert B. Edgerton, “10 Traditional Beliefs and Practices--Are Some Better Than Others?,” Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, eds. Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, 1st ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 136.
[200] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 258.
[201] Id. 85.
[202] Id. 85.
[203] Id. 106.
[204] Id. 257.
[205] Id. 256.
[206] Id. 85.
[207] Id. 87.
[208] Id. 85 - 86.
[209] Id. 257 - 258.
[210] Id. 258.
[211] Id. 256.
[212] Id. 259.
[213] Id. 259.
[214] Id. 134.
[215] Id. 134.
[216] Id. 134.
[217] Id..135.
[218] Id..136.
[219] Id..138.
[220] Id. 131.
[221] Id. 132.
[222] Id. 82.
[223] Id. 230
[224] Id. 113.
[225] Id. 230.
[226] Id. 84.
[227] Id. 117.
[228] Id. 116.
[229] Id. 114.
[230] Id. 115.
[231] Id. 115.
[232] Id. 230.
[233] Id. 119.
[234] Id. 118.
[235] Id. 119.
[236] Id. 119.
[237] Id. 116.
[238] Id. 229.
[239] Id. 230.
[240] Id. 111.
[241] Id. 109.
[242] Id. 114.
[243] Id. 231.
[244] Id. 119.
[245] Id. 114.
[246] Id. 121.
[247] Id. 121.
[248] Katherine S. Newman, Law and Economic Organization, A Comparative Study of Preindustrial Societies, (Cambridge University Press, 1983), 160.
[249] René David., John E.C. Brierley, Major Legal Systems in the World Today, An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law, (The Free Press, Macmillan Publishing Co, 1978), 505.
[250] Walter Goldschmidt, Sebei Law, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1967), 243.