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The Dinka of Sudan

The dancing begins just after sunrise as the thump of a drum splits the cool morning air in the Mangalatore camp on southern Sudan’s vast savannah. A bull’s horn wails. A swell of song fills the air. Young men run and leap, legs splayed, in a traditional Dinka dowry dance. During the dance, men try to jump the highest to impress the women and family of the bride-to-be. This impressive sight is augmented by their very distinctive appearance – they are very tall people with dark skin, narrow square shoulders and piercing almond-shaped eyes below tribal scars on their foreheads. The Dinka are the richest and proudest tribe in Africa’s largest country. Split into twenty or more tribal groups, they are further divided into sub-tribes, each occupying a tract of land large enough to provide adequate water and pasture for their herds. To this day, the Dinka lifestyle revolves around cattle: the people’s roles within the groups, their belief systems and the rituals they practice, all reflect this. Cattle give milk (butter and ghee); urine is used in washing, to dye hair and in tanning hides. Dung fuels fires from which ash is used to keep the cattle clean and free from blood-sucking ticks, to decorate their bodies and as a paste to clean teeth. Skins are used for mats, drums, belts, ropes and halters, while horns and bones are used for a range of practical and aesthetic items.

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