DINKA PEOPLE: THE GREAT CATTLE HERDERS OF SUDAN
The Dinka are a group of several closely related peoples living in southern Sudan along both sides of the White Nile. They are one of the blackest and ancient people in the world. The Dinka with with other tribes in Sudan formed the ancient Nubian kingdom. The Dinka just like the other tribes such as Nuer, Turkana, Samburu and masai`s are one of the tallest people in the world. Males can have an average height of 1.9 m (6 ft, 4in), while women of 1.8 m (6 ft). These people have slim but strong bodies, and their heads are more elongated than in the case of the typical African Blacks.
Every morning hundreds of animals are taken out to graze. White is the Dinkas' favorite color for cattle, but they recognize a myriad of other colors with subtle distinctions and spend hours discussing them. They cover a wide area along the many streams and small rivers, concentrated in the Upper Nile province in southeast Sudan and across into southwest Ethiopia.
According to an ancient myth held by many Dinka sections, the first people to be created by God (Nhialic) were Garang and Abuk, understood now as being the equivalent of Adam and Eve. Deng was their first born from whom all Dinka people are descended.
Manuel Bol (1962-2010) Sudanese Dinka-born basketball player and activist.(At 7 ft 7 in (2.31 m) tall, Bol was one of the tallest players ever to appear in the National Basketball Association. Bol was officially measured at 7 feet, 6 3/4 inches tall by the Guinness Book of World Records.)
Identity: The Dinka are one of the branches of the River Lake Nilotes. Though known for centuries as Dinka, they actually call themselves Jieng (Upper Nile) or Muonyjang (Bahr el Ghazal) “People of the people.” The Nuer call them ‘Jiang’; Shilluk call them ‘Jango’; Arabs and Equatorians call them Jiengge; all stemming from Jieng. The Dinka is the largest single national grouping in South Sudan. Numbering about 2.5 to 3 million and constituting of more than 25 aggregates of different Dinka sections (Wut). The more numerous Southern Luo branch includes peoples throughout central Uganda and neighboring sections of Zaire and the lake area of western Kenya. The Dinka peoples still live near the hot and humid homeland of the River-Lake Nilotes. They are the largest ethnic group in southern Sudan. The Dinka groups retain the traditional pastoral life of the Nilotes, but have added agriculture in some areas, growing grains, peanuts, beans, corn (maize) and other crops. Women do most of the agriculture, but men clear forest for the gardening sites. There are usually two plantings per year. Some are fishers. Their culture incorporated strategies for dealing with the annual cycle of one long dry season and one long rainy season.
Dinka young cattle herder as captured in Award-Winning Photographers Carol Beckwith And Angela Fisher’s New Book “Dinka” Is A Breathtaking Look At The Cattle Keepers Of Sudan
The Dinka language (Thong muonyjang or thong-Jieng) and its different variations (dialects) is spoken through Dinka land. Because of this variation it is not surprising that certain sections are unintelligible to others. The Rek of Tonj is said to be the standard Dinka language. The Dinka language relates to other Nilotic group of languages.
Alek Wek, Sudanese Dinka tribe international supermodel.
Before the coming of the British the Dinka did not live in villages, but traveled in family groups living in temporary homesteads with their cattle. The homesteads might be in clusters of one or two all the way up to 100 families. Small towns grew up around British administrative centers. Each village of one or more extended families is led by a leader chosen by the group.
Traditional homes were made of mud walls with thatched conical roofs, which might last about 20 years. Only women and children sleep inside the house, while the men sleep in mud-roofed cattle pens. The homesteads were located to enable movement in a range allowing year-round access to grass and water. Permanent villages are now built on higher ground above the flood plane of the Nile but with good water for irrigation. The women and older men tend crops on this high ground while younger men move up and down with the rise and fall of the river.
Marriage is obligatory among the Dinka. Polygamy is allowed among the Dinka, though many men may have only one wife. The Dinka must marry outside their clan (exogamy), which promotes more cohesion across the broader Dinka group. Relatives marry to the ghost of a male who died in infancy –many ‘ghost fathers’ exist among the Dinka.
Dinka ladies wearing Jang necklace-Yirol, Southern Sudan,Africa.
A “bride wealth” is paid by the groom’s family to finalize the marriage alliance between the two clan families. Levirate marriage provides support for widows and their children. All children of co-wives are raised together and have a wide family identity. Co-wives cook for all children, though each wife has a responsibility for her own children.
Dinka Man Before Marriage.
Chief’s daughters fetch more cattle in the same way chief’s son is expected to pay more cattle for his wife. University graduates fetch more bride prices; a factor that is likely to positively affect enrolment of girls in schools. Like other Nilotics, sex among the Dinka is only for social reproduction. Thus, fornication is prohibited; adulterers are despised and heavily fined, sometimes this may be source of conflict and clan fighting. Incest is usually unimaginable and indeed abhorred.
Dinka bride-Rumbek,Southern Sudan,Africa
Every Dinka male is given an ox by his father, uncle or whoever is responsible for him. His ‘bull-name’ like other Dinka names also derive from colour of their cattle and a girl (Ayen, Yar, etc.) or a boy (Mayom, Mayen, Malith, etc.) could be named after the colour of the best ox (mayom, malith, mayen) or cow (ayen, yar) that was given in marriage by the father. Like other Nilotics, the Dinka have special names for twins: Ngor, Chan, Bol, etc. indicating being a twin.
Dinka princes Rambek,Sudan
The Dinka have large vocabulary for cattle, their colours and take great interest and pride in the art of making different conformations to which their horns can be trained to grow. When discussing, debating about anything or in a dance, a Dinka usually throws up his arms in imitation of the shape of the horns of ox.
RIGHTS OF PASSAGE - INITIATION
'Dinka Initiation Into Manhood. Scarring Ceremony In Which Each Boy Has Six Horizontal Lines Cut Into His Forehead, Any Sign Of Weakness Brings Dishonour.
Initiation marks a young man's passage from boyhood to adulthood. An initiate is called a parapool - "one who has stopped milking". Initiation means he no longer does a boy's work of milking, tethering the cattle, and carting dung. Initiation is marked by mutilation - tribal marks of several parallel lines or V-shaped marks - are scarified onto the youth's forehead.
Dinka Tribal facial Initiation marking ending with the sixth line
Dinka boys covering tribal facial marks after initiation
The pattern of scars may change over time but the parapuol is always easily recognisable as belonging to a particular tribe. This scarification takes place at any age from ten to sixteen. Initiates are warriors, guardians of the camp against predators - lions, hyenas - and against enemy raiders. Some stay with the cattle all year round. All of them stay with the cattle during the dry months but most return to the villages to help cultivate the crops during the wet season. Even in this duty, the parapuol have the role of warrior protectors. The cattle, protected by the parapuol who remain with them, are kept in camps on the plains at the base of the foothills for the entire wet season.
Rite of Passage
Initiation occurs around harvest time. The night before the ceremony the boys come together to sing the songs of their clans. Their heads have already been shaved in preparation for the initiation ritual itself. At dawn, they are collected by their parents and taken to where the ceremony will take place. After receiving a blessing, the boys take their places in a row, sitting cross-legged, the rising sun behind their backs. As the initiator comes to each boy in turn, he calls out the names of his ancestors. The initiator clasps the crown of the boy's head firmly and spins it past the blade of an extremely sharp knife. After the first cut, the initiator makes the second and third, etc., whatever the clan pattern of scars might be. The cuts are deep, in fact skulls have been found that have the scars visible on the bony forehead. The initiate, psyched up by a night of clan song-singing, looks straight ahead and continues to recite the names of his ancestors.
Dinka boys after initiation
This is the moment he has been waiting for; when he joins the ranks of the warriors and puts aside the lowly status of boyhood and the demeaning chores it represents, and takes on the status of warrior, with all the privileges and honour this brings. His initiation scars declare him to be a warrior and a man, and therefore brave and proud. To flinch or scream during the initiation ritual would be to deny his own courage and therefore to disgrace his family and his ancestors. A kink in his initiation scars would brand him a coward, visible for all to see.
Dinka man with scars on his forehead that he received during tribal initiation (into manhood) when he was a teenager.
When all initiates have been ritually scarred, their fathers wipe the blood from their sons' eyes and mouths, then wrap a broad leaf around their foreheads. Initiation scars mean that a man is able to marry - the parapuol may now begin to court eligible girls. The boys are presented with a spear, a club and a shield - necessary accoutrements of a warrior. There is great rejoicing within the group, with singing and dancing going on for several days. After his initiation, a parapuol is given an oxen, his "song oxen". It is his most precious possession and he will lavish care on it, even to the extent of delicately training its horns into unusual, often asymmetrical, shapes.(http://www.ptc.nsw.edu.au/scansw/dinka.htm)
Dinka woman with facial tribal marks
Dinka woman with her initiation facial marks
Girls learn to cook, but boys do not. Cooking is done outdoors in pots over a stone hearth. Men depend upon women for several aspects of their life, but likewise the division of labor assigns certain functions to the men, such as fishing and herding, and the periodic hunting. After initiation to adulthood, the social spheres of the genders overlap very little. The basic food is a heavy millet porridge, eaten with milk or with a vegetable and spice sauce. Milk itself, in various forms, is also a primary food.
The Dinka wear few clothes, particularly in their own village. Adult men wear corset known as "malual.' It exposes many parts of their body except for beads around the neck or wrist. The women commonly wear only goatskin skirts, but unmarried adolescent girls will typically be nude.these garments are used to communicate characteristics such as gender, age, wealth, and ethnic affiliation.
Dinka men wearing their traditional corset (Malual)
"The tight beaded corsets indicate the men's position in the age-set system of the tribe. The corsets are first sewn in place at puberty and not removed until the wearer reaches a new age set. Each group wears a color-coded corset: a red and blue corset indicates a man between fifteen and twenty-five years of age; a yellow and blue one marks someone over thirty and ready for marriage."
Dinka man wearing corset (Malual)
"The Dinka beaded vest and corset shown in "Beads of Life" were collected in the southern Sudan during the mid-1990s. Ornaments of this type first came to the attention of the general public with Angela Fisher's Africa Adorned (1984), which instantly transformed the Dinka people into an exotic attraction at the very time when the Dinka were suffering from the war in the southern Sudan. Although worn only by the Dinka Bor, they have since acquired emblematic status among some Dinka war refugees, who make woollen versions of the corset and occasionally wear these for dances.
The Dinka corset shown above is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
These ornaments probably appeared during the second half of the twentieth century as glass beads became available in greater quantities in the southern Sudan. They are apparently "extensions" of formerly existing belts for men and necklaces for women. The male corset is easily recognized by its "horn" (fungi), flinging itself toward the sky at the back of the body. Cowrie shells (gak) are sewn at the front and back of the female vest, probably to protect the wearer and ensure her fertility. Both corset and vest come in different colors, each linked to a particular age group. A man in his early twenties would have worn the corset, and a married woman in her late twenties the vest."
Dinka corset that was on display at the NY Tribal and Textile Arts Show in 2005 from Tribal Gathering London.
The tight beaded corsets indicate the men's position in the age-set system of the tribe. The corsets are first sewn in place at puberty and not removed until the wearer reaches a new age set. Each group wears a color-coded corset: a red and blue corset indicates a man between fifteen and twenty-five years of age; a yellow and blue one marks someone over thirty and ready for marriage."
Dinka woman wearing traditional corset
Clothes are becoming more common. Some men will be seen in the long Muslim robe or short coat. They own very few material possessions of any kind.
Personal grooming and decoration are valued. The Dinka rub their bodies with oil made by boiling butter. They cut decorative designs into their skin. They remove some teeth for beauty and wear dung ash to repel mosquitoes. Men dye their hair red with cow urine, while women shave their hair and eyebrows, but leave a knot of hair on top of the head.
Dinka woman with her colored braids
The Dinka are an acephalous nationality – a cultural rather than political federation of sub-nationalities. The concept of state and hence political institutions, structure and consequently authority does not exist among the Dinka. Each Dinka section is an autonomous political entity in itself. The major influence formerly was exercised by “chiefs of the fishing spears” or “spear masters.” This elite group provided health through mystical power. Chieftainship is hereditary and holds the title of beny (plural bany), which translates into different things such as chief, expert, or military officer. The title always has an attribute in order to indicate the office, for example, beny de ring or beny rein (or riem) - Northern Dinka and beny bith in the remaining parts of the country. The word ring (or rem) probably refers to the supernatural power of the chief. Bith, on the other hand, is the sacred fishing-spear (unbarbed or un-serrated spear) as a symbol of office . The spiritual leaders (fishing spear chief, medicine women/men, and Deng’s chiefs) exert great influence. Except in few cases, the spiritual leaders more often reject secular authority. Dinka chiefs exercised authority by persuasion not through any known instruments of coercion and force. Their role has been eradicated due to changes brought about by British rule and the modern world. Their society is egalitarian, with no class system. All people, wealthy or poor, are expected to contribute to the common good.
The primary art forms are poetry and song. There are certain types of songs for different types of activities of life, like festive occasions, field work, preparation for war and initiation ceremonies. History and social identity are taught and preserved through songs. They sing praise songs to their ancestors and the living. Songs are even used ritually in competition to resolve a quarrel in a legal sense. Women also make pottery and weave baskets and mats. Men are blacksmiths, making all sorts of implements.
The Dinka lifestyle centres on their cattle: the people's roles within the groups, their belief systems and the rituals they practice, all reflect this. Cattle give milk (butter and ghee), urine is used in washing, to dye hair and in tanning hides. Dung fuels fires from which ash is used to keep the cattle clean and free from blood-sucking ticks, to decorate the Dinka themselves (body art), and as a paste to clean teeth. While cattle are not killed for meat, if one dies or is sacrificed, the meat is eaten and the hide cured. Skins are used for mats and drum skins, and belts, ropes and halters are also made from it. Horns and bones are used for a range of practical and aesthetic items.
Dinka woman and child after bathing in a lake
Modernity and foreign ideas have permeated Dinka culture and are slowly replacing their traditions and customs. They have adopted either jellabia or European dress and now nudity and wearing of skins are rare sight even in the cattle camps.
Religion: The Dinka believe in a universal single God, whom they call Nhialac. They believe Nhialac is the creator and source of life but is distant from human affairs. Humans contact Nhialac through spiritual intermediaries and entities called yath and jak which can be manipulated by various rituals. These rituals are administered by diviners and healers. They believe that the spirits of the departed become part of the spiritual sphere of this life. They have rejected attempts to convert them to Islam, but have been somewhat open to Christian missionaries. Cattle have a religious significance. They are the first choice as an animal of sacrifice, though sheep may be sacrificed as a substitute on occasion. Sacrifices may be made to yath and jak, since Nhialac is too distant for direct contact with humans.
Dinka young girl
Like other nationalities in south Sudan, the Dinka have been affected by war. Many of have been displaced and live either as internally displaced persons (IDPs) or as refugees in the neighbouring countries. This has had influence on the social fabric, traditions and attitudes. In Bahr el Ghazal, Dinka interaction with war and its exigencies has resulted in use of their revered cattle in agricultural production.
Dinka men after dancing
Many have become traders trekking hundreds of kilometres to Uganda and Congo to sell their bulls and bring back consumer goods. International humanitarian and development aid inputs; the monetisation of economy and motorisation of transport are slowly but steadily prompting changes in the lives of the Dinka.
Luol Deng, current NBA player and dinka man
The war has created a Dinka Diaspora in Europe, America (Lost Boys) and Australia. Some in the Diaspora maintain strong links and communication with their family members back home; making regular remittances to support them.
The Spear Masters of the Dinka Tribe
The Spear Masters of the Dinka Tribe of the upper Nile are a hereditary priesthood, and according to mythology, their presence is reinforced by political and religious ideals. The Spear Masters of the Dinka Tribe of the upper Nile are a hereditary priesthood, and according to mythology, their presence is reinforced by political and religious ideals.
There are several legends of the origins of these spear using masters, one in which includes a lion and a man dancing. The lion demands a bracelet that the man is wearing and he refuses. In return, the lion bits off his thumb in order to claim what he thinks belongs to him and the man dies during the confrontation. The man leaves behind a wife and daughter with no son. The daughter weeps at the river and the spirits ask her why she cries. She states she has no son, and in return, the river asks her to lift her skirt so that she may feel the waves brush up against her womb. “She is given a spear, a symbol which depicts a male child, and a fish for food and is told to return home.” The woman is able to give birth to Aiwel, a male child with a full set of teeth, a sign of sacred authority.
DINKA TRIBAL CHIEF STANDING BESIDE SOBAT RIVER
As a baby, Aiwel is cunning and mischievous, playing tricks while his mother is away. On one occasion, the mother comes back and all of the milk has disappeared. She immediately blames her daughter, who feverishly denies the claim. The mother pretends to hide in the home, and to her surprise, Aiwel gets up and walks to the gourd of milk and drinks. She bursts into the room and clearly sees that Aiwel has been stealing the milk. She attempts to accuse him of the act; however he stated that if she told anyone, she would die. She did not keep the secret, and just as predicted, she did die. The power of the spear master was alive in Aiwel as he used the power of words to make something come true.
Portrait Of Dinka Warrior Carrying Spears With His Body Painted With A Mixture Of Dung And Ash And Wearing Traditional Jewellery.
Aiwel was no longer able to live with his family so he journeyed to the river where he grew up with his spiritual father. When he became a man, he made his way back to the village with an ox of many colors called Longar. He raised cattle and worked his land. A drought came and the villagers had to find other means to survive, taking their cattle to lands that were plentiful in grass and water. However, their cattle continued to die as Aiwel’s cattle were continuing to flourish and grow plump. Eager to find out what Aiwel was doing to keep his herd healthy, the young men of the village spied on him. Aiwel knew this, and as the men told others about the secret, they all died. Aiwel attempted to help the villagers, even urging the elders to leave their lands, promising to take them to the promise land. They refused, as Aiwel suspected they would, and as he made his journey by himself he noticed the villagers behind him. He created obstacles in their path, even standing on the other side of a river while the others crossed. He used his fishing spear to kill all men that tried to cross. A man called Agothyathik saw all of this and decided to plan a diversion. While a villager held out a bones large enough to be a human skull, Aiwel attempted to puncture it with his spear.
At the same time, Agothyathik came behind him and they fought until Aiwel grew tired and gave up. He told the people to come over, even though they remained quite frightened, and he gave them war spears and fishing spears. The men that did cross were formed into a clan called the spear masters. The men that came after were a clan of war spear masters. They were left to rule the country, however if in need of assistance during trouble, Aiwel would return. (http://history.knoji.com/the-spear-masters-of-the-dinka-tribe/)
Dinka man with tribal marks
Dinka woman with hair braids
Dinka woman wearing traditional corset
Dinka hair braids
Dinka cattle breeder