Mundari and their Cattle

Mundari and their Cattle
About fifty miles north of the capital of the newly independent South Sudan, Juba, between the Nile tributaries, is the tribal land of the Mundari. This area is remote and inaccessible, which has helped to preserved so much of the Mundari culture.

The Mundari are traditionally cattle herders and their cattle play a very important part in their culture and their heritage. They have a remarkable bond with their cattle and treat them like family. The value of the cattle is present in all aspects of their daily lives:

1. They drink the milk
2. They eat the meat
3. They use cattle to pay for a wife (sixty to a hundred cattle for a bride)
4. Cattle ownership shows wealth and prestige
5. The Rights of Passage ceremonies involve sacrificing cattle
6. Cattle urine is used to color their hair – the Mundari men do this by leaning under a urinating cow so that the urine runs over their heads and stains their hair red.

In the dry season it is the duty of the young men and women of the village to take their herds to the flood plains of the Nile. They leave the elders, mothers and children in the villages. Here they wait for the first rains of the season so they can plant their crops, which is generally sorghum.

In fertile pastures, the cattle graze all day. Before nightfall, the young men herd the cattle into big camps. Each animal is assigned a peg. As creatures of habit, they find their way to the same peg every night, where a young woman waits for her cattle to return to their pegs. She puts a noose around their necks and ties the other end of the rope to the peg. This is where the cattle spend the night. There is a sense of order in the chaos, even when there are over a thousand animals returning to the camp every evening.

When the rains finally come down, much of the Mundari land is inaccessible. Roads become impassable and bridges are washed away. The Mundari are cut off for months. It is this isolation that keeps the Mundari culture free from outside influence, and away from the negatives aspects of the modern world.

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