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A group of Dinka tribsemen, courtesy National Geographic.

The Dinka are a group of tribes of south Sudan, inhabiting the swamplands of the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Nile basin, Jonglei and parts of southern Kordufan and Upper Nile regions. They are mainly pastoral people, relying on cattle herding at riverside camps in the dry season and growing millet (Anyanjang) in fixed settlements during the rainy season. They number around 2 million people, constituting about 5% of the population of the entire country, and constitute the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan. Dinka, or as they refer to themselves, Moinjaang, are one of the branches of the River Lake Nilotes (mainly pastoral peoples of E. Africa who speak Nilotic languages, including the Nuer and Masai) (Seligman 1965). They are black African people, differing markedly from the Arab tribes inhabiting northern Sudan. Dinka are sometimes noted for their height. The popular belief that Dinka "often" reach more than seven feet finds no support in the scientific literature. An anthropometric survey of Dinka men published in 1995 found a mean height of 176.4cm, or roughly 5 ft 9.45 in (Chali 1995). Dinka women were prized as slaves for many years, with some being sold to Arabia until as late as the 1960s (and later, by some accounts).

The Dinka have no centralised political authority, instead comprising of many independent but interlinked clans. Certain of those clans traditionally provide ritual chiefs, known as the "masters of the fishing spear", who provide leadership for the entire people and appear to be at least in part hereditary.

Their language — also called Dinka as well as "thuongjang" — is one of the Nilotic family of languages, belonging to the Chari-Nile branch of the Nilo-Saharan family. The name means "people" in the Dinka language. It is written using the Latin alphabet with a few additions:

A/a Ä/ä B/b C/c D/d Dh/dh E/e Ë/ë Ɛ/ɛ Ɛ̈/ɛ̈ G/g Ɣ/ɣ I/i Ï/ï K/k L/l M/m N/n Nh/nh Ny/ny Ŋ/ŋ O/o Ö/ö Ɔ/ɔ Ɔ̈/ɔ̈ P/p R/r T/t Th/th U/u W/w Y/y


[edit] Pastoral Strategies of the Dinka

An example of dry season site dwellings. Note the conical roofs that are indicative of these Dinkan residences.
An example of rainy season temporary settlements. Note the stilts upon which the huts are built to protect against periodic flooding of the region.
  • Southern Sudan has been described as “a large basin gently sloping northward (Roth 2003),” through which flow the Bahr el Jebel River, the (White Nile), the Bahr el Ghazal (Nam) River and its tributaries, and the Sobat, all merging into a vast barrier swamp
  • Vast Sudanese oil areas to the south and east are part of the flood plain, a basin in the southern Sudan into which the rivers of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia drain off from an ironstone plateau that belts the regions of Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile
  • The terrain can be divided into four land classes:
    • Highlands—higher than the surrounding plains by only a few centimeters; are the sites for “permanent settlements.” Vegetation consists of open thorn woodland and/or open mixed woodland with grasses
    • Intermediate Lands—lie slightly below the highlands, commonly subject to flooding from heavy rainfall in the Ethiopian and East/Central African highlands; Vegetation is mostly open perennial grassland with some acacia woodland and other sparsely distributed trees
    • Toic—land seasonally inundated or saturated by the main rivers and inland water-courses, retaining enough moisture throughout the dry season to support cattle grazing
    • Sudd—permanent swampland below the level of the toic; covers a substantial part of the floodplain in which the Dinka reside; provides good fishing but is not available for livestock; historically it has been a physical barrier to outsiders’ penetration
  • Ecology of large basin is unique; until recently, wild animals and birds flourished, hunted rarely by the agro-pastoralists (Roth 2003).
The Dinka's migrations are determined by the local climate, their agro-pastoral lifestyle responding to the periodic flooding and dryness of the area in which they live. They begin moving around May-June at the onset of the rainy season to their “permanent settlements” of mud and thatch housing above flood level, where they plant their crops of millet and other grain products.
An example of a cattle byre. Note the immense size of the structure, indicative of a large investment in resources and labor that would only be found in a more permanent settlement.
These rainy season settlements usually contain other permanent structures such as cattle byres (luaak) and granaries. During dry season (beginning about December-January), everyone except the aged, ill, and nursing mothers migrate to semi-permanent dwellings in the toic for cattle grazing. The cultivation of sorghum, millet, and other crops begins in the highlands in the early rainy season and the harvest of crops begins when the rains are heavy in June-August. Cattle are driven to the toic in September and November when the rainfall drops off; allowed to graze on harvested stalks of the crops (Deng 1972).

[edit] Religious beliefs

The Dinka's pastoral lifestyle is also reflected in their religious beliefs and practices (which are animist in character). They have one God, Nhialic, who speaks through spirits which take temporary possession of individuals in order to speak through them. The sacrificing of oxen by the "masters of the fishing spear" is a central component of the Dinka. Age is an important factor in Dinka culture, with young men being inducted into adulthood through an initiation ordeal which includes marking the forehead with a sharp object.

Some of the Dinka practice Christianity, a faith introduced to the region by British missionaries in the 19th century.

[edit] War with the north and status as refugees

The Dinka's religions, beliefs and lifestyle have led to conflict with the Islamic government in Khartoum. The Sudan People's Liberation Army, led by late Dr. John Garang De Mabior, a Dinka, took up arms against the government in 1983. During the subsequent 21-year civil war, many thousands of Dinka, along with fellow non-Dinka southerners, were massacred by government forces. The Dinka have also engaged in a separate civil war with the Nuer.

The experience of Dinka refugees from the war was portrayed in the movie Lost Boys of Sudan by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk. Their story was also chronicled in a book by Joan Hecht called The Journey of the Lost Boys. A fictionalized autobiography of one Dinka refugee is Dave Eggers' novel What is the What.

Sizable groups of Dinka refugees may be found in distant lands, including Jacksonville, Florida and Clarkston, a working-class suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

[edit] Well-known Dinka

Among well-known Dinka are:

  • William Deng Nhial, Founder of Sudan African National Union (SANU), Leading figure during the 1st liberation war against the Khartoum government. Assassinated by elements of the Khartoum regime in 1968 in Southern Sudan during election campaigning.
  • Dr. John Garang De Mabior, Former First Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan, Commander in Chief of Sudan People's Liberation Army and Chairman of Sudan People's Liberation Movement. He died on 30th July 2005 in an air crash which was ruled to be an accident.
  • Lt. General Salva Kiir Mayardit, Dr. Garang's successor as First Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan, Commander in Chief of Sudan People's Liberation Army and Chairman of Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
  • Victoria Yar Arol, ( - 1980)- Politician, Member of Parliament, Woman Activist and the 1st Southern Sudanese woman to graduate from University. Died in 1980 after a brief illness.
  • Bona Malwal, Journalist/Politician
  • Supermodel Alek Wek
  • Former NBA player Manute Bol, one of the two tallest players in the league's history
  • Current NBA player Luol Deng
  • Francis Bok, abolitionist and former slave
  • Emmanuel Jal, Artist/Rapper with number one singles in Kenya
  • Ayak Ring Thiik, Singer
  • Akec Nyal (Modern Folk singer - Brisbane, Australia)
  • Nyankol (Modern Folk singer - Canada)
  • Madding Deng author

[edit] References

  • Chali D. (1995) 'Anthropometric measurements of the Nilotic tribes in a refugee camp', Ethiopian Medical Journal, 33, 4, 211-217.
  • Seligman, C.G. and Brenda Z. Seligman. Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1965.
  • Deng, Francis Mading. The Dinka of the Sudan. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, Inc., 1972.
  • G. Lienhardt, Divinity and Experience, The Religion of the Dinka
  • http://www.openroad.net.au/languages/african/dinka-2.htmlca:Dinka

da:Dinka de:Dinka (Volk) eo:Dinkaoj fr:Dinka la:Dinkae no:Dinka sh:Dinka (narod)


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