Tuesday, October 23, 2012

NUER PEOPLE: ONE OF THE AFRICA`S MOST SKILLED FIGHTERS


 The Nuer  also known as the Nei Ti Naath, meaning "original people/human being," are a confederation of tribes located in South Sudan and western Ethiopia. Collectively, the Nuer form one of the largest ethnic groups in East Africa. They are a pastoral people who rely on cattle products for almost every aspect of their daily lives. The Nuer border such tribes as the Dinka, Anyuak, Shilluk and other minor tribes in both Ethiopia and Sudan.

                                        Nuer People
 Mythology and History
The Naath rose as a separate people (from the Dinka) in Bull area at the beginning of the 18th century under circumstances that continue to inform today their mutual prejudices and relations with the Jieng. 
The myth, which has several variants, runs that both Naath and Jieng were sons of the same man, who had promised that he would give the cow to Jieng and its young calf to Naath. Jieng because of his cunning and intelligence deceived their father and took the calf instead of the cow therefore provokingl Naath’s perpetual contempt and disregard for the Jieng up to today.

                                 SUDAN:Man & women of Nuer tribe,White Nile,print,1890

Archeologists indicate that the introduction of cattle in this area is related to the development of the distinct peoples the Nuer are descended from.  Oral traditions indicate that the Nuer have moved east of the Nile River only during the last 200 years.They began an especially active migration about the mid 1800s.  As they moved gradually east, they pushed the Anuak farther east into Ethiopia.  During this period many Dinka people were incorporated into the Nuer community.  Atuot and Nuer traditions indicate origins with the Dinka in what is now known as Western Nuerland.  These traditions say the separation of the three occurred due to a dispute over cattle ownership.
News Photo: man of the Nuer tribe wearing tribal jewellery…
circa 1950: A man of the Nuer tribe wearing tribal jewellery. Nuer people are mostly hunters and live along the White Nile in south Sudan. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

Demographic and Geographic Distribution
District Major Section Sub Sections Clans 
Bentiu  Bul Gok  
  Kuac  
 Jikany   
 Jagei   
 Leek   
 Dok The Naath who number approximately 2 million are to be found as a federation of sections and clans in western (Bentiu), central (Pangak and Akobo) and in eastern (Nasir) Upper Nile. With the river Nile as the principal geographic dividing line, nei ti Naath Ciang (homeland Nuer) and 'nei ti Naath Door' (wilderness Nuer) form the first level federal division of the 'rool Naath' (the Nuer land)

                                      Beautiful nuer tribe girl
Language
Thok Naath – Nuer language is spoken all over the rool Naath. Being Nilotic, thok Naath is very close to the Jieng and Chollo languages. In fact, the Chollo and Jieng may have the same word 'cen' or 'cingo' (hand) the Naath calls it 'tet'. On the other hand the Naath and Chollo agree on 'wic' (head) while the Jieng call it 'nhom' and so on. The closeness of the language lays credence to the theory that the Naath, Jieng and Chollo have a common origin in time and space.

                   Young Nuer boy

 Cattle are an important aspect in their way of life; virtually all matters involve cattle- conflicts are usually about cattle, and cattle are used to pay fines for offenses as well as bridewealth in marriages (Gatkuoth, 2010). Nuers even take the name of their favourite oxen or cows, and greet each other with their cattle names. Cattle also mean prestige and wealth. It also acts as a mediator to the divine, as we would see in the ceremonial rites of Nuer marriages. Cattle not only provide companionship, food and economic security, but also a cultural identity for the Nuer. As we shall see in this write-up, cattle also plays important role in rites in their marriages. Bridewealth is a significant feature in Nuers’ marriage practices. It is an exchange that brings a woman and her children into the descent of her husband. 

Marriage prohibitions and incest 

The Nuer has certain marriage prohibitions that revolve around the matters of kinship. A man and woman who stand on a relationship based on kin is hence forbidden to have sex or marry. If marriage takes place, it would be considered incest, or rual. Rual refers to both incest and misfortune brought about it, shaped by their religious beliefs. Syphilis or other diseases, drowning, or any form of violent deaths are seen as a consequence or retribution followed by incest. Some misfortunes could be avoided through cattle sacrifices.

Nuers have to follow the rule of exogamy: a man cannot marry a woman of the same clan and the same lineage. This means, a man and woman who are considered close cognate are also not allowed to marry. As long as a relationship cam be traced between a man and woman through either father or mother, up to six generations, marriage is not allowed to happen (Evans-Pritchard, 1951). Further, when a Dinka boy is adopted by a Nuer, he used be regarded as part of the clan, and normally would not be allowed to marry a girl in the clan he is adopted. A man may not also be allowed to take a woman that is kin to the wife, like her sister or any of those in her clan. Because a man and woman is only fully married when the woman has a child and comes to live with her husband’s people, this means that the relation is tied through the child. The sister is also considered to be the mother of the child. Besides that, a man may not marry to the daughter of his “age mate”, a member of his age set. This is because age-mates shed blood together during their initiation process and gives them a kind of kinship. The daughter one’s age-mate is also one’s daughter, and hence it would be considered incest.

Alternative Marriage Arrangements

One alternative marriage type is same-sex marriage. Women in Nuer culture can marry each other, with one being the ‘father’ of the children of the ‘wife’. The ‘father’ is referred to the ‘pater’. A third person, the ‘genitor’, is required to impregnate the wife. He could be a friend, neighbor or kinsman of the pater, and would help around in the home for tasks which are deemed unfit for women as well. For the marriage to become official, the 'pater' has to pay a bridewealth to the wife, as would happen if a man were to marry a woman. 

MOTHER'S LOVE, small Nuer ( tribe ) village in the Gambela region of West Ethiopia. Mother enjoys a good cup of fresh Ethiopian coffee.


Additionally, the pater would also receive bridewealth if any of her daughters were to marry. While this was not uncommon, the underlying motivation is still to carry on the family name. A woman who marries as a 'pater' is usually barren, and for this reason is regarded like a man. In addition, because a barren woman usually practices as a magician or diviner, she acquires more cattle and hence is rich and could have several wives (Evans-Pritchard, 1951). 

Another alternative marriage arrangement is ghost marriage. A woman would be chosen to marry a family member of the dead man, and the offspring of these two would be thought of as belonging to the deceased. This lies in the belief that a man who died without male heirs would leave behind an angry spirit to trouble the family. The woman marries to his name so that the children would carry his line. The deceased is the legal husband of the woman whose name is used in paying for bridewealth. The main idea here is the continuity of the lineage. 

Another type of union mentioned by Evans-Pritchard is levirate. For the Nuer, once married, the bond between them stays even after death. While polygyny is practiced in the Nuer society, a woman is expected to stay loyal to her husband, where relation with other man is seen as adultery. Hence if one’s husband died, the woman is not allowed to remarry because she is still the wife of her dead husband. Brother of the deceased would then step in as a substitute for the dead man. Because married women traditionally do not have significant wealth, this way she would be able to keep her wealth and power, though there is no living husband (O'Neil, 2009). She is seen as a widow who takes care of her husband’s wealth and children. 

The alternative marriage arrangements for the Nuers are shaped by the patrilineal nature of the society. Because men tend to have much more wealth than women, they have the means to have more wives and even pass down their wealth to future generation even he is not married when he is alive.


Dating and Mating

Sexual Behaviours 

Having a family is one of the ultimate goals for traditional Nuer youths. The idea of marriage has been ingrained even through childhood. Adults are open about sexual life with their children, and children familiarise themselves with marriage through role-playing of marriage ceremonies, conducting bridewealth negotiations and pretending having a conjugal life. Carrying out domestic work also helps to reinforce the idea of family and commitment. Boys are initiated around the age of 16, after which they would go to dances to woo girls. Girls in their 12 or 13 would begin to have relations with initiated boys. 

Dances serve as an important medium where couples meet and court after that. It allows youths from different clans and villages to meet each other. During the dances the men would charm the girls with their fine dancing and “display of spearmanship and duelling with the club”(Evans-Pritchard, 1951). 

                Young boy with Nuer tribal facial marks

Sexual activities among Nuer youths are shaped by cultural values. As such, even though they could have multiple partners in the course of their youth, the final goal of their sex life is ultimately marriage, for the chief ambition of a youth is to have a home of his own. Hence, a girl would tend not to have sex with a boy who do not have the intention to marry her. Although a Nuer youth usually has the freedom to choose his or her own mate, parents’ approval is still important, and this depends on whether the boy has sufficient cattle for bridewealth. 

Sexual Reproduction as Precursor to Marriage

As we can see, pre-marital sex makes up not only an important aspect in the life for the nuer, but also an important step to marriage. For the Nuer, sexual reproduction is indeed a precursor to marriage. The main feature to describe Nuer’s marriage is that the union between a man and a woman is only confirmed by the birth of the couple’s child. Only then their relationship would be legitimate, and the husband would be accepted by his wife’s kins as one of themselves. This is because it is then clear that he is the father of their daughter’s child and through that child there is a kinship between them (Evans-Pritchard,1951).

Sizes

                                       Nuer man
Marriage Procedures
Marriage for the Nuer is made up of payment of bridewealth and by the performance of certain ceremonial rites. These two aspects are necessary and indeed reinforce each other. The chief ceremonies in Nuer marriages include the betrothal (larcieng), the wedding(ngut) and the consummation (mut). In thsee procedures, we shall see the significant use of cattle in Nuer marriages. 

The negotiations of bridewealth, or cattle talk (riet ghok) starts when the boy comes to consult the girl’s and ask kins for approval. After several cattle discussions and the girl’s people are satisfied, they would tell the bridegroom that he can bring the ghok lipa, the cattle of betrothal, on a certain day. During the betrothal ceremony three to ten heads of cattle are transferred to the bride’s family. At this phase, marriage is provisionally agreed upon both families. The celebration would be usually be attended by neighbours. The dance in weddings attract crowds to come, although the union do not directly concern them. Families and kin of the bride and groom are more involved in prolonged discussions about bridewealth, sacrifices and other rites



The wedding ceremony (ngut) takes place some weeks later, during the windy season, and meanwhile there are further discussions about bridewealth not only in the home of her bride’s father but also in the home of her senior maternal uncle(father’s brother-in-law), who is also responsible for the negotiations. In the meantime, bridegroom and girl is considered man and wife, and he is respected as son-in-law. Occasionally visits the girl with his friends, but they are carefully observed by bride’s family. 

The final cattle talk happens during the ngut. The wedding also consists of calling of the ghosts of ancestors, the wedding dance and sacrifice of the cattle. There would be chantings to invoke the ghosts of ancestors to look upon the cattle of the bridewealth. This is to make the ghosts witnesses of the union. In the evening or the following morning, a wedding ox provided by the bride’s father is sacrificed and distributed. This sacrifice is important to ward off evil and contamination, according to Nuer’s religious beliefs. 

The consummation (mut) concludes the marriage. Before the couple is allowed to consummate, half of the bridewealth have to be transferred.This ceremony makes the couple husband and wife. After which, the husband can claim compensation if adultery happens, while the bride is prevented form going to evening dances. Important rites in this ceremony include the sacrifice of an ox, lustration and shaving of the bride’s head. Because the union is seen complete only after the birth of the first child, the wife would only be brought to her husband’s home after that, where she would be accepted as kin. Again this feature is important in Nuer marriage because infertility could cause the marriage to be dissolved and so the wife is pressured to have a child within one to two years (Moore,1998). The payment of bridewealth is to be completed before the woman moves into her husband's clan.

Bridewealth makes up an important aspect in Nuer marriages. Bridewealth serves several functions. It is basically an exchange whereby the girl is transferred to the male’s lineage and her family receives the cattle. It also means that children born out of that union belongs to the husband’s descent. In addition, bridewealth is a way to develop relationship between two families. It is different from dowry such that bridewealth is not given for the bride alone but also distributed among her kins (Goody, 1973). Because marriage is a long process for the Nuer, bridewealth payments can be seen as a way to develop social relations among people with no kinship ties(i.e. between families of the bride and bridegroom). Each payment gives stability to the union and security to both parties.

Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs

The Nuer (Naath) people are an extremely religious people whose beliefs can be summarized by the word Kuoth (God).  “Kuoth (God) is an all-encompassing God associated with the sky, but is always present in all things, living and dead, and is also associated with many spirits; and the spirit form of Nuer tradition.” In the Nuer culture, Kuoth (God) “supplies explanation for phenomena which cannot be explained in everyday life.” Because of the fact that it is accepted without question, the Nuer have difficulty of explaining Kuoth (God) because of “its abstract nature and the fact that it’s used to generalize the spirits of who possesses people.” Kuoth (God) is always given the role of creator, and is said to be the origin of the ancestors.
The Nuer people, however, were traditionally sophisticated enough to adhere to the concepts of “aliveness” which include the notion of a soul or spirits residing in the object. They treat the objects they consider animate as if these things had a life, feeling, and a will of their own, but “did not make a distinction between the body of an object and soul that could enter or leave it.” The reverence that Nuer people in Sudan grant to deceased relatives is based on believing that in dying, they have become powerful spiritual being or “even admittedly less frequently to have attained the status of gods.” This is usually based on the belief that ancestors are active members of society, and still interested in the affairs of their living relatives. 
                              Nuer people 1956
The cult of ancestors is certainly common although not universal and has been particularly well documented in many African societies. In general, “ancestors are believed to wield a greater authority, having special powers to influence the course of events or to control the well-being of their living relatives.” They are often considered as the “intermediaries between the supreme God, the people and they can communicate with the living through dreams and by possession.” The attitude toward them is one of mixed tear and reverence and If neglect, the ancestors in heaven may cause diseases, drought, famine and misfortunes. Instantly in the Nuer societies, “propitiation, supplication, prayer and sacrifice” are the various ways in which the living can communicate with their ancestors. Ancestors worship is a strong indication of the value placed on the household, and of the strong ties that exist between the past and the present. “The beliefs and practices connected with the cult help to integrate the family to sanction the traditional political structure, and encourage respects for the living elders.” The Naath prophets arose and left their mark on the Naath nation. Ngundeng, who rose in Lou, remains the most revered. Younger and less important prophets have arose with the last one who left an impact being wud Nyang (1991-1993).

South sudanese Nuer Cultural Dance at Minnesota State University ...

www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCnKoFjUVJ8



Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft
Naath arts, music and literature like in most unwritten culture are orally transmitted over generations in songs, stories and folktales. The Naath are rich is songs, and folktales. Naath articles of arts and music include 'thom' and 'bul', which are similar to those of other Nilotics. Their articles for self-defence include different types of ket (stick) mut (spear). A man carries goh or gok (charcoal and tobacco bags) and a 'thiop kom'.
                                               Nuer woman carrying a pot 
The different Naath sections have evolved their different dances: 'buul' performed during the early afternoon especially for marriages; dom-piny (a hole in the ground covered with a skin) is performed during the night where wut and nyal court themselves. Of the most important handcraft the Naath have developed is the dieny (basket for carrying everything including children when on a long journey).

Naath cultural initiatives that have now become Sudanese national cultural heritage is the Mound of Ngundeng at wic Deang in Lou.

Political Organisation and Structure
The Naath political organisation and structure could be categorised as a confederation of independent and autonomous sections and clans. According to Säfholm, “the organising principle within the Nuer political structure, which gives it conceptual consistency and a certain measure of actual cohesion… is in the status of the diel. Its unity is expressed in the idiom of lineage and clan affiliation. Thus dominant clans have the greater political importance.”

 Nuer village There is no cooperation or teamwork between villages in cultivating the land. Consequently, each village remains self-sufficient and isolated from other Nuer villages.


The political life of a village and the organisation of the cattle camps are in the hands of the 'gaat tuot' – elders of the dominant clan. A rul could become a 'tutni' if he wielded prowess through influence and speech or wealth. Nevertheless, tutni belonging to the dominant clan wields more influence in the political system. The Naath clans have no hereditary leadership; a senior lineage does not rank higher than others; there is no father of the clan; and there is no council of elders. However, the leadership of a localised lineages such as cieng, is hereditary.

Indeed personal qualities including lineage, age, seniority in family, large number of wives and children, marriage alliances, wealth in cattle, prowess as a warrior in youth, skill in debate and some ritual powers combine to produce a social personality who is regarded as 'kuar' or 'tut wec' (leader) of the village or camp.

Other Naath political offices include: war general or expert - 'gwan muot'; the custodian of the land – 'kuar muon'. In fact, the importance of kuar muon is demonstrated in his authority over cases of murder, incest, and other important disputes. An elaborate system of administrative elected chiefs: head chiefs, court presidents, and sub-chiefs have evolved in Nuer land since 1932.

 
 Nuer Woman - Sudan - 1930 - Hugo Adolf Bernatzik,This White photographer exploited peoples culture and took this photo.

Neighbours and Foreign Relations and Co-operation
With strong and powerful neighbours the Naath can maintain peace and harmony with their neighbours. The Naath have cordial relations with the Tet (Chollo) from whom they have intermarried with. Naath cherish independence and freedom including freedom to invade others and take over their property, which makes for uneasy and sometimes violent relations with Dinka and Anyuak. They abhor anything that insults their sense of homeland for instance at their initial contacts with the Arabs and Turks, the Naath took offence of Muslim prayers in their land.

Latest Development in rool Naath
Modernity, monetary economy, war, discovery of oil have had profound impact on the Naath traditional ways. Increased violence has resulted in massive displacements and movements of people that out of necessity have resulted in some positive change in attitudes and perceptions.

                            Nuer woman

Diaspora
There is a large Naath Diaspora in North America and Australia. Like the seasonal labour migration to northern Sudan, this could be temporary because most of the Naath in the Diaspora are still intimately attached to their home and are likely to return now that peace is back in South Sudan.

The Nuer - PREVIEW - YouTube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0VBnrIkAtA



From 
The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People 
E. E. Evans Pritchard

A PEOPLE whose material culture is as simple as that of the Nuer are highly dependent on their environment. They are pre-eminently pastoral, though they grow more millet and maize than is commonly supposed. Some tribes cultivate more and some less, according to conditions of soil and surface water and their wealth in cattle, but all alike regard horticulture as toil forced on them by poverty of stock, for at heart they are herds-men, and the only labour in which they delight is care of cattle. They not only depend on cattle for many of life’s necessities but they have the herdsman’s outlook on the world. Cattle are their dearest possession and they gladly risk their lives to defend their herds or to pillage those of their neighbours.

 Most of their social activities concern cattle and cherchez la vache is the best advice that can be given to those who desire to understand Nuer behaviour.and their desire to acquire them. They have profound contempt for peoples with few or no cattle, like the Anuak, while their wars against Dinka tribes have been directed to seizure of cattle and control of pastures. Each Nuer tribe and tribal section has its own pastures and water-supplies, and political fission is closely related to distribution of these natural resources, ownership of which is generally expressed in terms of clans and lineages. Disputes between tribal sections are very often about cattle, and cattle are the compensation for loss of life and limb that is so frequently their outcome. Leopard-skin chiefs and prophets are arbiters in questions in which cattle are the issue, or ritual agents in situations demanding sacrifice of ox or ram. Another ritual specialist is the wut ghok, the Man of the Cattle. Likewise, in speaking of age-sets and age-grades we find ourselves describing the relations of men to their cattle, for the change from boyhood to manhood is most clearly marked by a corresponding change in those relations at initiation.
Small local groups pasture their cattle in common and jointly defend their homes and herds. Their solidarity is most evident in the dry season when they live in a circle of windscreens around a common kraal, but it can also be seen in their wet season isolation. A single family or household cannot protect and herd their cattle alone and the cohesion of territorial groups must be considered in the light of this fact.

The network of kinship ties which links members of local communities is brought about by the operation of exogamous rules, often stated in terms of cattle. The union of marriage is brought about by payment of cattle and every phase of the ritual is marked by their transference or slaughter. The legal status of the partners and of their children is defined by cattle-rights and obligations.


Cattle are owned by families. While the head of the household is alive he has full rights of disposal over the herd, though his wives have rights of use in the cows and his sons own some of the oxen. As each son, in order of seniority, reaches the age of marriage he marries with cows from the herd. The next son will have to wait till the herd has reached its earlier strength before he can marry in his turn. When the head of the household dies the herd still remains the centre of family life and Nuer strongly deprecate breaking it up, at any rate till all the sons have married, for it is a common herd in which all have equal rights. When the sons are married they and their wives and children generally live in adjacent homesteads. In the early part of the dry season one sees a joint family of this kind living in a circle of windscreens around a common kraal, and in the big camps formed later in the year one finds them occupying a distinct section in the lines of windscreens. The bond of cattle between brothers is continued long after each has a home and children of his own, for when a daughter of any one of them is married the others receive a large portion of her bride-wealth. Her grandparents, maternal uncles, paternal and maternal aunts, and even more distant relatives, also receive a portion. Kinship is customarily defined by reference to these payments, being most clearly pointed at marriage, when movements of cattle from kraal to kraal are equivalent to lines on a genealogical chart. It is also emphasized by division of sacrificial meat among agnatic and cognatic relatives.

Nuer village, Anuak villages are thinly populated.


The importance of cattle in Nuer life and thought is further exemplified in personal names. Men are frequently addressed by names that refer to the form and colour of their favourite oxen, and women take names from oxen and from the cows they milk. Even small boys call one another by ox-names when playing together in the pastures, a child usually taking his name from the bull-calf of the cow he and his mother milk. Often a man receives an ox-name or cow-name at birth. Sometimes the name of a man which is handed down to posterity is his ox-name and not his birth-name. Hence a Nuer genealogy may sound like an inventory of a kraal. The linguistic identification of a man with his favourite ox cannot fail to affect his attitude to the beast, and to Europeans the custom is the most striking evidence of the pastoral mentality of the Nuer.

Since cattle are a Nuer’s most cherished possession, being an essential food-supply and the most important social asset, it is easy to understand why they play a foremost part in ritual. A man establishes contact with the ghosts and spirits through his cattle. If one is able to obtain the history of each cow in a kraal, one obtains at the same time not only an account of all the kinship links and affinities of the owners but also of all their mystical connections. Cows are dedicated to the spirits of the lineages of the owner and of his wife and to any personal spirit that has at some time possessed either of them. Other beasts are dedicated to ghosts of the dead. By rubbing ashes along the back of a cow or ox one may get into touch with the spirit or ghost associated with it and ask it for assistance. Another way of communicating with the dead and with spirits is by sacrifice, and no Nuer ceremony is complete without the sacrifice of a ram, he-goat, or ox.

Cattle belonging to the Nuer tribe are shrouded in smoke to keep away insects in South Sudan in this photo from June 2009. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

We have seen in a brief survey of some Nuer institutions and customs that most of their social behaviour directly concerns their cattle. A fuller study of their culture would show everywhere the same dominant interest in cattle, e.g. in their folklore. They are always talking about their beasts. I used some-times to despair that I never discussed anything with the young men but live stock and girls, and even the subject of girls led inevitably to that of cattle. Start on whatever subject I would, and approach it from whatever angle, we would soon be speaking of cows and oxen, heifers and steers, rams and sheep, he-goats and she-goats, calves and lambs and kids. I have already indicated that this obsession—for such it seems to an outsider— is due not only to the great economic value of cattle but also to the fact that they are links in numerous social relationships. Nuer tend to define all social processes and relationships in terms of cattle. Their social idiom is a bovine idiom.

Consequently he who lives among Nuer and wishes to understand their social life must first master a vocabulary referring to cattle and to the life of the herds. Such complicated discussions as those which take place in negotiations of marriage, in ritual situations, and in legal disputes can. only be followed when one understands the difficult cattle-terminology of colours, ages, sexes, and so forth.

A Sudanese woman from the Nuer tribe is pictured while performing a traditional victory dance in support of the referendum on southern independence during a rally organised by the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in Juba.

Important though horticultural and piscatorial pursuits are in Nuer economy, pastoral pursuits take precedence because cattle not only have nutritive utility but have a general social value in other respects. I have mentioned a few situations in which this value is manifested, but have not recorded every role of cattle in Nuer culture, for they are significant in many social processes, including some I have mentioned, which lie outside the limited scope of this book. It seemed necessary to give an introductory sketch on these lines in order that the reader might understand that Nuer devotion to the herdsman’s art is inspired by a range of interests far wider than simple need for food, and why cattle are a dominant value in their lives. We shall ask later how this value is related to environmental conditions and how far the two, taken together, help us to explain Some characteristics of Nuer political structure.

Bul Nueri - YouTube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPwnbZfhpeY

II
Before the present century Nuer were far richer in cattle than they are now and it is probable that they cultivated less millet. Their stock has been impaired by repeated outbreaks of rinder-pest, which still decimate the herds. It was probably more destructive in the past than now, though the attacks I witnessed were severe; but in the past the warlike Nuer could always restore their losses by raiding Dinka. All Nuer agree that in the last generation their herds were more considerable and that the payments of bride-wealth and blood-wealth were forty, and sometimes fifty to sixty, head of cattle, whereas to-day the kinsmen of a bride do not expect to receive more than twenty to thirty. At the present time I would say, on a general impression, that the Nuer are far richer in stock than the Shilluk, but not so prosperous as the more favoured of the Dinka tribes.

               Nuer Tribe warrioe
It was difficult to make a census of cattle, even in a small area, and Nuer would certainly have regarded such an attempt with repugnance. On the few estimates made I would reckon an average of ten head of cattle and five goats and sheep to the byre. A byre of the ordinary size cannot hold more than a dozen or so adult kine. As there are some eight persons to a byre the cattle probably do not greatly exceed the human population. Cows predominate and probably compose about two-thirds of the herds. Many plates in this book show the appearance of Nuer cattle. Nuer say that a very large hump shows Beir origin and that very long horns are evidence of Dinka stock.

Some tribes are richer in cattle than others. Lou country is considered especially suitable for raising stock and is renowned for its large herds. The Eastern Jikany were once very rich in cattle, but their herds are still recovering from losses in epidemics that forced the people to cultivate more extensively. Cattle are everywhere evenly distributed. Hardly any one is entirely without them, and no one is very rich. Although cattle are a form of wealth that can be accumulated, a man never possesses many more beasts than his byre will hold, because as soon as his herd is large enough he, or one of his family, marries. The herd is thereby reduced to two or three beasts and the next few years are spent in repairing its losses. Every household goes through these alternating periods of poverty and comparative wealth. Marriages and epidemics prevent accumulation of cattle and no disparity in wealth offends the democratic sentiment of the people.

Malakal, Sudan: A Sudanese woman with ethnic Nuer tribal scarification stands outside her grass hut. The Nuer receive facial markings during initiation into adulthood

When we come to examine the Nuer political system we shall keep in mind that till recent years they have probably been more exclusively pastoral, and more nomadic, than present time, and that the dwindling of their herds may explain their persistent aggressiveness. (http://faculty.dwc.edu/wellman/cattle.htm)
  

The Nuer Marks/scarifications and what they represent
 By: Anthony George Akumbek 


The Nuer are a pastoral tribe in the area covering the greater Upper Nile. They live along the Nile and its tributaries in the dry season and during the rainy season, they move away from the river banks to avoid the floods of the Nile. The Nuer tribe is rich of cultural ethics and norms that guide their behaviors. Naath remove the 4 incisors and 4 lower canines as a sign of maturity for 'dholni' (children) of both sexes. 
The Nuer receive facial markings (called gaar) as part of their initiation into adulthood. However, initiation into 'wut' (adulthood) which is usually cutting 5 to 6 parallel lines across the forehead is undertaken among dhol (boys) of the same age, which like in other Nilotic groups form them into a 'ric' (age set). 

 passage to manhood is literally incised on Majiek Gai Chan's face. Because Sudan's civil wars have claimed so many men, scarification is now performed on boys in the Nuer tribe as young as 12, instead of the traditional 15 to 18. 

 They used to make scars across their main foreheads. The marks are of six lines. I discussed the matter of the scars of the forehead with one of the Nuer intellectuals, Ustaz Paul Chuol Puoch who narrated that, the scar marks are made in the forehead of the man to make him be known to the people that he is a Nuer by tribe. He says that these marks represent some informal constitutional articles. "They are in form of law, plus traditional rules and customs as well as law of kinship," he explained. He said the following article interprets the meaning of the scar-marks. "The first mark denotes that you should not bother yourself with the small children. You must know that you have reached the age of manhood. The second scar mark signifies that you must not be afraid of anybody. You must know that you are an adolescent and not dependent on your parents.

   Sudanese SPLA soldier from Nuer tribe with his ethnic tribal marks/scarification.


 The third scar mark advocates that you should not steal or make any mistakes, that means you must avoid scandalous things. You must participate in the defense of the public and you must handle the family or deal well with the household. The fourth scar mark advocates that you should not just eat in any place and you must be an honorable young man. The fifth scar mark signifies that you should not be greedy or gluttonous or covetous The last and sixth scar mark advocates that you should not make or commit adultery with the wife of another man or with girls who are related to you especially the ones that have some blood relations. It is incest taboo and causes death or disgrace to the defaulters. All these laws are introduced to the boys who have received their head scar marks after the initiation. After they are initiated, the old man comes up to address them. 

               Nuer man with tribal initiation marks

Before the boys receive the scar marks, some oxen or bulls are slaughtered for sacrifice to God. During the slaughter of the oxen, an old man and another elderly man make a very big ceremony as wedding praying to God that nothing should happen to the boys who are going to receive the marks. In fact many prayers are conducted because sometimes death may occur during the marking event. Sometimes the markings can cause much bleeding leading to the death of the boy being initiated. If it happens to one boy suddenly there is no charge, no condemnation. It is just like an operation in the hospital, somebody who does the operation is regarded a doctor who is making an operation on the patient. If a patient happens to die, the doctor is not charged to pay compensation because he was trying to save the patient's life. The man who marks is well trained about this experience. If anything occurs, nobody can charge him to pay compensation. But it is very rare to happen. It is put into Nuer law and blessed. The people pray much to God. They believe that the Almighty God gives them these marks

Nuer boy with scarification


Nuer woman with her tribal scarification

The Nuer of the Southern Sudan1
E. E. Evans-Pritchard
In the anthropological literature the Nuer of the Sudan are a classic case of a pastoral society of a segmentary tribal type. Evans-Pritchard relates the social organization of the Nuer to their cattle based, nomadic life style in a semi-arid environment. This ecological context encourages a political arrangement among the Nuer based on balanced opposition between lineage and tribal segments, an arrangement called
segmentary opposition. In the absence of a centralized political leadership, group conflict (feuds and war) are frequent, but not chaotic. The lineage and tribal structure of the society defines possible opponents and allies, and the institution of the leopard-skin chief provides for mediation to avoid violence.   
Distribution

woman and her child in Ngarwa nuer


To discover the principles of the anarchic state of the Nuer we must first review briefly the ecology of the people: their means of livelihood, their distribution, and the relation of these to their surroundings. The Nuer practise cattle-husbandry and agriculture. They also fish, hunt, and collect wild fruits and roots. But, unlike the other sources of their food supply, cattle have more than nutritive interest, being indeed of greater value in their eyes than anything else. So, although they have a mixed economy, Nuer are predominantly pastoral in sentiment.
Nuerland is more suited for stock-breeding than for agriculture: it is flat, clayey, savannah country, parched and bare during the drought and flooded and covered with high grasses during the rains. Heavy rain falls and the rivers overflow their banks from June to December. There is little rain and the rivers are low from December to June. The year thus comprises two seasons of about equal duration. This seasonal dichotomy, combined with pastoral interests, profoundly affects political relations.
During the rains Nuer live in villages perched on the backs of knolls and ridges or dotted over stretches of slightly elevated ground, and engage in the cultivation of millet and maize. The country which intervenes between village and village, being more or less flooded for six months, is then unsuitable for habitation, agriculture, or grazing. Anything from five to twenty miles may separate neighbouring villages, while greater distances may divide sections of a tribe and tribe from tribe.
At the end of the rains, the people burn the grasses to provide new pasture and leave their villages to reside in small camps. When the  drought becomes severe,  the inmates of these ntermediate camps concentrate on permanent water supplies. Although these moves are made primarily for the sake of the cattle, they also enable the Nuer to fish, which is generally impossible from village sites, and, to a lesser degree, to hunt and collect wild fruits and roots. When the rains set in again, they return to their villages, where the cattle have protection and the higher ground permits agriculture.
The distribution of the Nuer is determined by the physical conditions and mode of life we have outlined. During the rains, villages are separated, though by no means isolated, from their neighbours by flooded stretches of grassland, and local communities are therefore very distinct units. During the drought, people of different villages of the same district eventually concentrate on permanent water-supplies and share common camps. On the other hand, some families of a village may go to one camp and some to another, though the majority form a local community throughout the year. Nuer seldom have a surplus of food and at the beginning of the rains. it is often insufficient for their needs. Indeed, it may be said that they are generally on the verge of want and that every few years they face more or less severe famine. In these conditions, it is understandable that there is much sharing of food in the same village, especially among members of adjacent homesteads and hamlets. Though at any time some members may have more cattle and grain than others, and these are their private possessions, people eat in one another’s homesteads at feasts and at daily meals,
and food is in other ways shared, to such an extent that one may speak of a common stock. Food is most abundant from the end of September to the middle of December in a normal year, and it is during these months that most ceremonies, dances, etc., take place.
The Nuer have a very simple technology. Their country lacks iron and stone and the number and variety of trees are small, and they are generally unsuited for constructive purposes other than building. This paucity of raw materials, together with a meagre food supply, contracts social ties, drawing the people of village or camp closer, in a moral sense, for they are in consequence highly interdependent and their pastoral, hunting, fishing, and, to a lesser degree, their agricultural activities are of necessity joint undertakings. This is especially evident in the dry season, when the cattle of many families are tethered in a common kraal and driven as a single herd to the grazing grounds. Thus, while in a narrow sense the economic unit is the household, the larger local communities are, directly or indirectly, cooperative groups combining to maintain existence, and corporations owning natural resources and sharing in their exploitation. In the smaller local groups the co-operative functions are more direct and evident than in the larger ones, but the collective function of obtaining for themselves the necessities of life from the same resources is in some degree common to all local communities from the household to the tribe.
These local communities are the monogamous family attached to a single hut, the household occupying a single homestead, the hamlet, the village, the camp, the district, tribal sections of varying size, the tribe, the people, and the international community the limits of which are a Nuer’s social horizon. We regard the family, the household, and the hamlet as domestic, rather than political, groups.
The distribution of these local communities is very largely determined by physical conditions, especially by the presence of ground which remains above flood-level in the rains, and of permanent water which survives the drought. In any village, the size of population and the arrangement of homesteads is determined by the nature of the site. When perched on an isolated knoll, homesteads are crowded together; when strung out along a ridge, they are more widely separated; and when spread over a broad stretch of higher ground, several hundred yards may intervene between one hamlet and the next. In any large village, the homesteads are grouped in clusters, or hamlets, the inmates of which are generally close kinsmen and their spouses. It is not possible to give more than a rough indication of the size of a village population, but it may be said
to vary from 50 to several hundred souls.... The total Nuer population is round about 300,000. I do not know the total square mileage of the country, but to the east of the Nile, where there are, on a rough estimate, some 180,000 Nuer, they are said to occupy 26,000 square miles, with the low density of about seven to the square mile. The density is probably no higher to the west of the Nile. Nowhere is there a high degree of local concentration....
Tribal System
What is a Nuer tribe? The most obvious characteristic is its territorial unity and exclusiveness, and this was even more marked before European conquest than to-day. The population of a tribe varies from a few hundreds among some small tribes to the west of the Nile – if these are rightly regarded as tribes, for very little research was conducted in that area – to many thousands. Most tribes have a population of over 5,000 and the largest number between 30,000 and 45,000 souls. Each tribe is economically self-sufficient, having its own pastures, water-supplies, and fishing reservations, which its members alone have the right to exploit. It has a name which is the symbol of its distinction. The tribesmen have a sense of patriotism: they are proud to be members of their tribe and they consider it superior to other tribes. Each tribe has within it a dominant clan which furnishes a kinship framework on which the political aggregate is built up. Each also regulates
independently its age-set organization.

                                            Nuer woman

None of the above-mentioned attributes clearly make a formal distinction between a tribe and its divisions. The simplest definition states that a tribe is the largest community which considers that disputes between its members should be settled by arbitration and that it ought to combine against other communities of the same kind and against foreigners. In these two respects there is no larger political group than the tribe and all smaller political groups are sections of it. Within a tribe there is law: there is machinery for settling disputes and a moral obligation to conclude them sooner or later. If a man kills a fellow tribesman, it is possible to prevent, or curtail, a feud by payment of cattle. Between tribe and tribe there is no means of bringing together the parties to a dispute and compensation is neither offered nor demanded. Thus, if a man of one tribe kills a man of another tribe, retribution can only take the form of intertribal warfare. It must not
be supposed that feuds within a tribe are easy to conclude. There is considerable control over retaliation within a village, but the larger the  local community the more difficult settlement becomes. When two large divisions of a tribe are concerned in a feud, the chances of immediate arbitration and settlement are remote. The force of law varies with the distance in tribal structure that separates the persons concerned. Nevertheless, so long as a sense of community endures and the legal norm is formally acknowledged within a tribe, whatever may be the inconsistencies and contradictions that appear in the actual relations between tribesmen, they still consider themselves to be a united group. Then either the contradiction of feuds is felt and they are settled, the unity of the tribe being maintained thereby, or they remain so long unsettled that people give up all hope and intention of ever concluding them and finally cease to feel that they ought to be concluded, so that the tribe tends to split and two new tribes come into being.
Besides being the largest group in which legal obligation is acknowledged, a tribe is also the largest group which habitually combines for offence and defence. The younger men of the tribe went, till recently, on joint raiding expeditions against the [neighboring] Dinka and waged war against other Nuer tribes. Raids on the Dinka were very frequent; war between tribes less so. In theory, if two sections of different tribes were engaged in hostilities, each could rely on the support of the other sections of the same tribe, but in practice they did not always join in. Contiguous tribes sometimes combined against foreigners, especially against the Dinka, though there was no moral obligation to do so, the alliance was of short duration, and the allies conducted their operations independently, even when in collaboration.

A Sudanese boy from the Nuer tribe performs a traditional victory dance in support of the referendum on southern independence during a rally organised by the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in Juba.
REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
A Sudanese boy from the Nuer tribe performs a traditional victory dance in support of the referendum on southern independence during a rally organised by the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in Juba.


A tribe is divided into territorial segments which regard themselves as separate communities. We refer to the divisions of a tribe as primary, secondary, and tertiary tribal sections. Primary sections are segments of a tribe, secondary sections are segments of a primary section, and tertiary, sections are segments of a secondary section. A tertiary section is divided into villages and villages into domestic groups [Figure 1]. A member of Z tertiary division of tribe B sees himself as a member of Z2 community in relation to Z1, but he regards himself as a member of Y2 and not of Z2 in relation to Y1. Likewise, he regards himself as a member of Y, and not of Y2, in relation to X. He regards himself as a member of tribe B, and not of its primary section Y, in relation to tribe A. 



Thus, on a structural plane, there is always contradiction in the definition of a political group, for a man is a member of it in virtue of his non-membership of other groups of the same type which he stands outside of, and he is likewise not a member of the same community in virtue of his membership of a segment of it which stands in opposition to its other segments. Hence a man counts as a member of a political group in one situation and not as a member of it in a different situation, e.g. he is a member of a tribe in relation to other tribes and he is not a member of it in so far as his segment of the tribe is opposed to other segments. 

               Nuer Chief -1850-Ethiopian African in battle Poster

In studying the Nuer political constitution, it is therefore essential that we view it together with those of their enemies as a single political system, for the outstanding structural characteristic of Nuer political groups is their relativity. A tribal segment is a political group in relation to other segments of the same kind, and they jointly form a tribe only in relation to other Nuer tribes and to adjacent foreign tribes which form part of their political system, and without these relations very little meaning can be attached
to the concepts of ‘tribe’ and ‘tribal segment’. That the distinction and individuality of a political group is in relation to groups of the same kind is a generalization that embraces all Nuer local communities, from the largest to the smallest.


Two laughingNuer women outside the entrance to a rectilinear thatched hut, one carrying a basket on her head, the other wearing a skirt, indicating that she is a married woman. A very similar building can be seen in the background of a portrait of a Dok youth, probably taken at Adok in 1936,photographed by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard


The relation between tribes and between segments of a tribe which gives them political unity and distinction is one of opposition. Between tribes, or federations of tribes, and foreign peoples this opposition is expressed, on the Nuer side at any rate, by contempt and persistent raiding, often carried out in a reckless and brutal manner. Between Nuer tribes, opposition is expressed by actual warfare or by acceptance that a dispute cannot, and ought not, to be settled in any other way. In intertribal warfare, however, women and children are neither speared nor enslaved. Between segments of the same tribe, opposition is expressed by the institution of the feud. A fight between persons of the same village or camp is as far as possible restricted to dueling with clubs. The hostility and mode of expression in these different relations varies in degree and in the form it takes. Read further here:http://jefferson.library.millersville.edu/reserve/ANTH201_Trussell_Chapter09-Evans-Pritchard.pdf
Warriors from a Nuer tribe Showing traditional fight of a Nuer tribe..


The Nuer traditional Time: Social life and culture in Southern Sudan

                    Anuak nuer village
The Nuer (Naath) people in South Sudan are one of the largest ethnic groups in the northeastern Africa which stretches from Egypt for 2000 km and westward from the Red Sea for 1500km. They are the second largest tribe in South Sudan, numbering over one and half million people. Principally, the Nuer inhabits the swamps and expansive open grassland on either side of the Nile River, and its tributaries in the Southern part of Sudan. Although these people have never had a kingdom and have no technological skills, they are internationally known for their strong individualistic personality, routed in an egalitarian philosophy with social order maintained by community value, culture and lineage system.  Therefore, the scope of this analysis will explore and focus primarily on the beliefs, marriage and lineage system or culture in general.

The Nuer (Naath) people are an extremely religious people whose beliefs can be summarized by the word Kuoth (God).  “Kuoth (God) is an all-encompassing God associated with the sky, but is always present in all things, living and dead, and is also associated with many spirits; and the spirit form of Nuer tradition.” In the Nuer culture, Kuoth (God) “supplies explanation for phenomena which cannot be explained in everyday life.” Because of the fact that it is accepted without question, the Nuer have difficulty of explaining Kuoth (God) because of “its abstract nature and the fact that it’s used to generalize the spirits of who possesses people.” Kuoth (God) is always given the role of creator, and is said to be the origin of the ancestors.
The Nuer people, however, were traditionally sophisticated enough to adhere to the concepts of “aliveness” which include the notion of a soul or spirits residing in the object. They treat the objects they consider animate as if these things had a life, feeling, and a will of their own, but “did not make a distinction between the body of an object and soul that could enter or leave it.” The reverence that Nuer people in Sudan grant to deceased relatives is based on believing that in dying, they have become powerful spiritual being or “even admittedly less frequently to have attained the status of gods.” This is usually based on the belief that ancestors are active members of society, and still interested in the affairs of their living relatives
                                                    Portrait of Nuer man
The cult of ancestors is certainly common although not universal and has been particularly well documented in many African societies. In general, “ancestors are believed to wield a greater authority, having special powers to influence the course of events or to control the well-being of their living relatives.” They are often considered as the “intermediaries between the supreme God, the people and they can communicate with the living through dreams and by possession.” The attitude toward them is one of mixed tear and reverence and If neglect, the ancestors in heaven may cause diseases, drought, famine and misfortunes. Instantly in the Nuer societies, “propitiation, supplication, prayer and sacrifice” are the various ways in which the living can communicate with their ancestors. Ancestors worship is a strong indication of the value placed on the household, and of the strong ties that exist between the past and the present. “The beliefs and practices connected with the cult help to integrate the family to sanction the traditional political structure, and encourage respects for the living elders.”
  Nuer woman

The Nuer’s dearest possession is cattle. Life in earliest time depends on cattle and the Nuer always risks their life to defend the animals when external enemies come to take them. Their traditional world view usually is that of a Herdsman, and prestige is measured by the quantity and quality of the cattle owned. “Both men and women take the names of their favorite oxen or cows in ritual of honor and most typically prefer to be greeted by their “cattle names.” While the Nuer people usually engage in the agricultural pursuits, the care of cattle is the only labor they enjoy as a part of agricultural practices. It is said that conversation on virtually any subject “usually inevitably involves a discussion of cattle.” In this ways, it is easy for the people to understand why cattle play an important part in the Nuer’s religion, daily activities and ritual ceremonies. Cows are usually dedicated to the ghosts of the lineages of the owner and any personal spirits that may have possessed them at any time. The cattle usually become something of an extension of the family for the Nuer in traditionally setting. “The Nuer establishes contact with those ghosts and the spirits by rubbing ashes along the back of oxen or cows dedicated to them through the sacrifice of cattle.” There is no important Nuer ceremony of any kind that is completed without such a sacrifice in Nuer Land. Cattle in traditional setting were used to buy everything from food to bride, and to pay for anything from personal debts to fines.
Many aspects of the Nuer culture are sometimes similar to the cultural aspects of the Bible’s Old Testament people which include feature of their social structure, the kinship reckoning and the extended family aspects of marriage, divorce, rite of passage and even religious concepts of God, spirits, sin and sacrifice. In the spiritual beliefs of Nuer culture, “women who are having their menstrual period cannot drink milk, visit the cattle area or eat food that had been cooked in kettle used for boiling milk because doing so would be harmful to the cattle.” If the child suffers from vomiting immediately after the villages have been visited by strangers, they are suspected to be the cause of the sickness. But “standing up certain type of green grasses near the back door of hut usually prevents harm from coming to a sick person within the houses.”
            Nuer woman
Culture is very important for the Nuer people in Sudan.  Gender roles have traditionally been well-defined. “Men always tend to care for cattle and were the warriors fighting neighboring societies for land use, cattle, and out of a sense of pride in their tribe and abilities.” While women managed the household and “make most decisions regarding the rearing of children,” The men play their role of war and war related concern in the field.  Besides that, the idea of home includes both men and women; “without a man, there is no home and without a woman there is no home.” In most cases, “women are often consulted on the issue of public affairs and play an important role in mediating the disputes, be it community dispute or family dispute.”

Marriage concept is usually an ultimate goals in the life of Nuer men; women and is the primary ambition of all children. “Marriage among the Nuer is brought about by payments of bride-wealth, and by performance of certain ceremonial rites. The rite cannot take place without payments, but transfer of cattle does not by themselves bring about the union.” Both are necessary and they are process in connected movement towards the full establishment of the union. “Each enforces, and reinforces the other.” The bride’s people “can enforce by holding up the rites, put the pressure on the bridegroom’s people to make the payments and also the bridegroom’s people can reinforce by withholding the cattle, induce the girl’s family and kin to advance the ceremony.” First, one pedal is pressed down, and then the other as the marriage is propelled to its appointed end. It is often clear that payments should reach a certain point before a certain rite is held, and the performance of the rite is usually in the recognition of the transfer of cattle, an estimate of 40-100 cows depend on the quality of the girl (education and beauty). 
            Nuer woman and her family
The new social ties of conjugality and affinity are made stronger by each payment and each ceremony so that a marriage which is insecure at the beginning of negotiations becomes surer with every new payments and rite; both sides by, the giving; “the receiving of 40 cows and by joint participation in the rite become more deeply committed to bringing about the union.” Therefore, a marriage that has reached the final rite may be regarded as a “stable union and will generally prove to be so.” Generally, girls are marrying around the age of seventeen, eighteen and above. If the man impregnates a girl, “he is expected to marry her and he is sometime likely to find himself subject to the girl’s family raiding his land, properties, and taking his cattle by force.” Most marriages in Nuer Land are always intertribal marriage. “Men tend to marry women who are within visiting distance of their village, but they are strictly forbidden to marry women to whom he is even distantly related because doing so will cause an incest which is a dead cultural relations’ disease. After the couples agree to marry, “the announcer usually goes to the villages, singing and dancing to inform the people about the coming celebration. The first day of celebration is always declared to both sides and preparation will take place for three months to four. Marriage in Nuer culture has many ceremonial steps. These ceremonies include betrothal, wedding and the consummation. 
Photo by David Azia / AP
Nuer people from South Sudan perform for people gathered following rehearsals for independence celebrations in Juba, South Sudan, Tuesday, July 5, 2011. South Sudan declared independence from the north on Saturday.
A betrothal ceremony is necessary, but it is sometimes possible to proceed at once to the full wedding ceremony, and “this is usually done when the bridegroom is a rich man with plenty of cattle, and when the bride is a girl who has passed the usual traditional age of marriage.” Usually, the betrothal ceremony is held in the rainy season, and the wedding in the following windy season. If there is a longer interval, it is “generally due to the immaturity of the bride.” The holding of the betrothal ceremony always means that “the marriage is provisionally agreed upon by both sides.” The transfer of cattle to the bride’s family of the betrothal is always from “three to ten head for further acknowledgement of this understanding.” Before the ceremony take place, it always been agreed upon how many cattle should eventually be handed over to the bride’s family.
Communit (Nuer Sudanese) members perform, sing during wedding. see:http://www.borglobe.com/25.html?m7:post=sudanese-educate-children-in-native-traditions

In most instance, the wedding day is one of importance event that  also takes place some weeks later, and in the meanwhile there are always further discussion of a bride-wealth;  not only  in the home of the bride’s father, but also in the home of her senior uncle who is responsible for the negotiations on the mother’s side. The uncle’s claims are usually less flexible and there cannot be many disputes about them. So it sometimes happens that “they are settled provisionally in the father’s byre, and that the final discussion will be with the uncle himself who might live far away and sometime the issues are left until after the wedding or until after the consummation ceremony is done.” Usually there always been an urgent need from both sides because they want to complete the marriage without undue delay and release the girl to her new husband. 

In most instances, “the bridegroom’s people want their wife and the bride’s people want their cattle so that they can finalize marry in short period of times.” They might not even include or care to use the cattle of the betrothal for this final purpose because these are only on pledge and if negotiation breaks down, they have at once to be returned (cows) back to the owner without any cow remaining behind.  In this time, the marriage is usually still not yet considered to be completed until the consummation ceremony and the birth of the couple’s first child. After this, “the wife is given the name newlywed and is given her own hut ( from her parents) along with other various gifts such as cooking sets, butter, and other special things to care of her husband who usually come in distant to meet her in her father’s home.”
In the Nuer traditional culture, arrangements are made to hold the wedding on a certain day. In the homestead of the bride, they usually make many foods, wine (beer), two oxen are usually killed and in the homestead of bridegroom there is always much rejoicing. “Men and women plays, chanting poems in that night before they go to the wedding center on the next day.” Early in the morning, the bridegroom’s kin discuss the situation in his father’s byre. Most of the time, they know what “outstanding claims are likely to be advanced because they know the persons on the other side who stand in those relationship to the bride, and to which beasts are due by the custom.” They usually run over quickly in the morning, the herds and assign particular beasts to meet probable claims from the girl’s relative ranging from Father, Cousin, uncle, brothers and the mother. “A marriage concluded without all those concerns and dowry means humiliation and even dishonor to the wire.” 
Divorce can also be granted for several reasons such as “drunkenness, sexual and temperamental incompatibility and unfriendly relationship with mother-in-law, adultery; barrenness and impotent.” In South Sudan, when the woman divorce, the child custody typically goes to the males (problem of gender balance). If the husband and wife are having a lot of crises, “the members of the extended families, both men and women will discuss the situation. The wife usually goes to her parent’s house and the husband usually will remain home and his relatives will then meet with the male relatives of the wife’s family to further discuss the situation and determine a course of action.” In most of the case, the husband and the wife will follow the recommendation made by both the relatives and the elders of the other family who are invited during the discussion.
A herdsman from the Nuer tribe stands among his cattle at a cattle-camp, near Nyal, in South Sudan on Nov. 11, 2011. 

On the other hand, one of critical events that also take place in the Nuer traditional culture is “cutting of six tribal scars/marks on each side of forehead.” This cutting of scars is a transition of childhood to adulthood or is ways of qualifying a boy for manhood and he is then able to fight in the battles. At the time of cutting, the boys always remain emotionless while this is occurring for two reasons. First, “the girlfriend of the boy attends to see how brave the boys act during that period of intense suffering, and showing fear would subject the boy to ridicule insult and ignorance from the society.” Second, the cut could be made uneven, “bearing a permanent sign that the boy flinched while they were being cut.” After they all finish, the mothers of the boys will dance and the big cow (bull) is always killed to show that we have a young men. In the preparation for the ceremony, “all hair is shaved off, all clothing is removed and all ornaments are discarded from the boys.” This ritual is usually performed on a group of boys at one time to allow them the comfort and companionship of each other. 

The Nuer people have many traditional things that they considered as important for their life, and they value this traditional system and community value that guards them through their lives. Nuer people traditionally value things that are not considered important in other part of the world as important to them. One of the most important things is the burial of dead person. Burial process for the Nuer is another important ceremony. After the death of a Nuer man or woman, “a grave is unceremoniously dug, and the person is buried as quickly as possible.  Grave-digging privileges are given to the other relatives of the deceased persons,” and only family members attended the burial at that movement. Graves are always dug on the left side of the person’s hut. All the ornaments are always removed from the person and the body is placed in the grave facing west. At this point, no ritual occurs at the grave site. A few days after the burial, “the ritual expects of the family make a sacrifice asking the ghost of the deceased person not to bother the living family members.” The mourning period always lasts until the mortuary ceremony which happens several months after the death of the person.

In general, the period of mourning lasts five to six months for a man, but only two to three months for a woman or a child who died for natural death. During this time, “all hairs are shaven off and no bodily ornaments are worn unless the person was murdered because Nuer do not mourn much for a man who is murdered, knowing that they will revenge.” The primary purpose of the mortuary ceremony is always to finally severe the ties between the dead and the living, and also to prevent the misfortune from happening to the alive relatives.
The Nuer people are strongly known in Sudan for their social order and community value.  Traditional system is only one thing that Nuer beliefs the most then the other things. The community is ruled by people selected through the election, but leader must have certain characters that he might be known for before he becomes a leader. Leaders emerge in the community after demonstrating leadership qualities and gaining the respect of the other community members. In many Nuer villages, people are always generous to each other, but “any request which has an overtone of an order can quickly anger them.” Friends must have an obligation to be hospitable to each other. Hospitality offered by one friend must be returned by the other at a later time. Relative age is of great importance in interpersonal relations in society and in a group clubs. Every person is in categories in terms of age set which is an association made up of equal in age. Therefore, the Nuer always considered their culture, lineages or kinship system as the best among the best cultures in the world according to their view of others’ culture. (http://untimes.org/details/129)


2 comments:

  1. I am proud with our beautiful culture and heritage through many years began from our ancestors to present generation.

    ReplyDelete