Dinka Cattle Camp

The Dinka of South Sudan live in the remote inland delta of the Nile known as the Sudd, the largest swampland in the world. They refer to themselves as Monyang which means the “Men of all Men”.

Ranging in height from 6’6” to 7’6” they are the tallest ethnie in Africa, and cattle are the essence of their lives.

Of all African tribes, the Dinka are the most devoted to their animals. At puberty a Dinka boy receives a namesake ox. This is his personality ox, he is named after it and believes that he and the animal are one. The ox will accompany him for the rest of his life. For the Dinka, cattle are their inspiration; they provide them with milk, a source of wealth and the hides they sleep on. They are even their spiritual link to God.

For four months of the year during the dry season, the Dinka take their cattle to graze in the swamplands of the River Nile. There they live with their animals, herding them during the day and sleeping beside them at night. The cattle camps also offer many opportunities for courtship and finding permanent partners for life.

During the courtship season, a young man accompanied by his namesake ox will visit the girl he is courting. As he parades the ox past her he holds his arms up in the air, mimicking the shape of its beautiful horns. He sings songs to the girl, praising the magnificence of his ox, its size and virility, which is his way of promoting himself.  The courting couples wear extraordinary beaded corsets and bodices which are not only alluring but revealed coded messages of his or her availability for marriage.

The tragedy of the thirty-year Sudanese civil war has left its mark. Millions of Dinka were killed or displaced and many of them who remained were forced to abandon their unique creative identity. Many had to exchange their body beadwork for Kalashnikov rifles and western clothes.

Our deepest wish for their future is that peace between the north and south of Sudan makes it possible for the Dinka to follow their traditional way of life for as long as they choose. We hope the Dinka can maintain their deep-rooted human values, their gentle and caring nature and their extraordinary bonding with their beloved animals.