The Nuer People of Southern Sudan — Part 2

17 August 2008

"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 (agriculture) as toil forced on them by poverty of stock, for at heart they are herdsman, and the only labor 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 possessions and they gladly risk their lives to defend their herds or to pillage those of their neighbors. Most of the social activities concern cattle and cherchez la vache is the best advice that can be given to those who desire to understand Nuer behavior."

"The Nuer" — E.E. Evans-Pritchard

This was first published in 1940, a long time ago and much has changed, but much has also remained the same. Indeed it is hard to overstate the importance of cattle in the lives of the Nuer. Before I came to southern Sudan I was told to buy a book on Canadian cattle, as a way of opening up lines of communication with the Nuer. At the time, I found this suggestion outlandish. Now, eight months later, I realize I should have made space in my backpack for such a book.

The Nuer are primarily cattle herding pastoralists and their lives are closely intertwined with that of their herds. Traditionally, the Nuer are a migratory people moving in rhythm with their environment and the needs of their cattle. It is the wet season now, when the White Nile and other rivers flood their banks and turn southern Sudan into a huge swampland. Flooding forces the Nuer to seek higher ground in villages like Lankien, places where they and their cattle are protected and where the Nuer can cultivate crops. When the rains cease and the land becomes parched during the dry season, they will move their cattle back to ‘cattle camps' situated closer to rivers and other water sources.

Below: Cow on the Airstrip

Cow on the airstrip

Below: Cattle mix freely with people in the market

Cattle mix freely

Below: Byre (barn) for cattle

Byre (barn) for cattle

Below: Young girl with milking gourd

Young girl with milking gourd

Below: Cattle Camp from the air, dry season Photo Credit: Negar Adib

Cattle from the air, dry season - Photo : Negar Adib