Department or Program



This thesis investigates the politics of representation, the construction of identity and the marketing of ethnicity for the Sebei people in the Mt. Elgon Region of Eastern Uganda. Specifically, how have perceptions of a “traditional” tribal past changed for the Sebei in our contemporary world? Why are tourists, aid workers, religious leaders and many Sebei so concerned with preserving cultural tribal heritage? I begin by discussing the scholarly discourse constructing “tribalism” and explain how the Sebei “tribe” becomes a “Tribe™” through “tribal trademarking,” developing my concept to describe a complex process of identity construction and commoditization within a “modernizing” African society. Drawing on my ethnographic work from two visits to Kapchorwa and the surrounding Bukwo, Kween and Sipi Districts in October-December 2012, and May 2013, I proceed to examine a local pursuit to build a regional Sebei “Cultural Center.” This case frames my analysis of shared ethnic and cultural heritage as consumable product marketed to tourists and international aid organizations. My thesis questions the notion that ethnic commodification is necessarily debasing and that tourism is inherently destructive. I argue that the Sebei carry great agency within the process of “tribal trademarking,” motivated to market their own “peoplehood” as an ethnic brand. This work challenges historical anthropological literature based on evolutionist study of the Sebei, engaging in representation from a contemporary, relativist perspective.

Level of Access

Restricted: Campus/Bates Community Only Access

First Advisor

Danforth, Loring

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2014

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file


Available to Bates community via local IP address or Bates login.