Keliko or Kaliko is an ethnic group from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Most members of this ethnic group are Christians. They speak the Keliko language, which is a Nilo-Saharan language. The population of this group likely exceeds 10,000.
The Keliko people are found in Lujule west and Wudabi payam in Morobo County, and in Wotogo and Lasu payam in Yei County of South Sudan. Some are also in the DRC and Uganda.
The Wycliffe Bible Translators, in the Fall of 2018, gave to the Keliko People a translation of the New Testament in their own language. There were 1000 translated New Testaments distributed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Keliko neighbour the Lugbwara, Kakwa, Keliko and the Pöjulu.
The long running war affected the Keliko and has caused their massive displacement into northern Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The displaced Keliko joined their kins Lugbwara in Uganda and Congo