Southern Sudan will become an independent country in July 2011.
After many decades of on off war with the north the Republic of Southern Sudan will start life with little infrastructure, few services like schools or clinics and an economy wholly dependent on oil extraction, a process still largely controlled by Sudan’s capital Khartoum and one which few southerners understand or have any active role in.
But there are some things are not in short supply: fighting spirit, culture, river, land … and cattle. After years of rebel fighting the complicated work that now lies ahead is how to use these resources to build up a country.
In Southern Sudan it is individuals from pastoralist groups that occupy the main jobs in the army, the government, in the nascent business sector and these men (mostly) all still have cattle in large herds and maintain very close ties with their communities at home. Here, unlike almost anywhere in the world with traditional cattle keepers including northern Sudan, it is other non-pastoralist groups that are marginalized. Here cattle keepers are also the primary landowners. Cattle are involved in every aspect of life for these groups: you can’t get married without them; you can’t get respect without them. Young boys weaned off their mothers are given a cow; share their names with bulls. Hides, horns, dung, urine are all used. Cash is for spending, cows are for keeping. Traditionally the only time cows are sold is for much-needed drugs or food. Sick cows are also slaughtered but fine bulls only to celebrate important moments. Hundreds of young men armed with AK-47s are killed every year in cattle raids and retributive counter-raids and the wounds these conflicts have left in the South fester, could contribute to the new country’s undoing.
Cattle are politics, economics, culture, love, hate, self-hood, community, greed, celebration, nervousness for the future … The represent everything here but are also adored in themselves, stroked, talked to, dusted, painted, named, sung to.
The men in suits with cows back home talk a lot about Southern Sudan catching up with its neighbors, industry, agriculture, tourism. What role will cattle and cattle keepers play in this?
There are far, far more cattle in Southern Sudan than people (maybe 8 to 10 million people live in the South). The Government of Southern Sudan is hoping that they will soon not just be the mainstay of life for much of the south but also form a big role in the new economy. Cattle – sold to dryer states in northern Africa - in northern Sudan form a large chunk of the economy but there’s a long way to go before the south will be in a similar position. First of all the keepers have to change their minds about what their cattle are for.
This short looks at the role cattle play in the Mundari tribe. Living closer to the south’s capital Juba this tribe is at a watershed moment. Life is still pretty traditional but more and more children are going to school and more and more cattle are being sold to market. More than other more isolated groups in this vast almost-country they are beginning to see what the future might be like.