South Sudan

Toposa, Larim and Mundari Tribes

In March 2020 I was lucky enough to go on a bit of a reccy trip with my company (Untamed Borders) to South Sudan.  The focus of the trip was very much to experience the various tribal cultures, some of the oldest and remotest in Africa, despite the country being the youngest in the world.Urban Sketching South Sudan

We started out in Juba, photography is strictly prohibited here, so I didn’t sketch anything either.  In fact, we were almost arrested later in the trip due to a member of the group taking a photo of the Nile as we headed over a bridge back into the city. It was an honest mistake, which luckily only delayed our time rather than cause any serious repercussions.

We took a small old charter plane from Juba to Kapoeta.  There are no roads in South Sudan (well, there’s one…so far).  So to have taken the same journey by 4×4 would have taken 2 days (so I’m told).  I’m glad we flew.  It took 45 minutes.

Once in Kapoeta we drove another 2-3 hours and finally arrived at the villages of the Toposa tribe.  Catching the first glimpse of the Toposa and their villages really blew me away.  The huts are fantastic, especially the food stores on stilts.

South Sudan Toposa Village Illustration

South Sudan Travel Illustration

After a night spent camping with the Toposa, we drove back to Kapoeta, checked out the markets and walked around a church bombed during long years of civil war. I tried to sketch it but I’m not sure it worked out so well.

South Sudan bombed church

The following day we drove onwards towards the Boya Mountains to visit the Larim tribe (also known as the “Boya” – which is sort of a slang name referencing their love of living in and around the mountains).

The Larim tribe also have amazing huts, not far off the design and architecture of the Toposa, which is fascinating as they live far apart and perhaps with little knowledge of each other.South Sudan Larim Boya Mountains We spent an afternoon, night and morning with the Larim and they saw us off with some traditional dancing.

We then drove a few hours into Lotuko territory, a Christianized tribe clinging to the feudal system. The Lotuko are divided into 4 kingdoms. We visited the kingdom of Ilieu.  We hiked a short way up into the mountains and met with the King.  The polite way to greet him was to say “Mong, mong, mong”!  I felt like I was in a Douglas Adams novel.

The King was a gracious guy, freshly from a funeral, his trousers ripped at the knees, and his walking cane gripped in his hand.  He welcomed us heartily into his kingdom, and we were permitted to go and see his house (hut) and grounds as well as the rest of the village and how the people live.

Lothoko KingAfter our visit with the king, we drove onwards to Torit to spend the night.  We drove for most of the following day, passing back through Juba to restock some supplies and onwards to Terekeka, home of the Mundari.

The Mundari are a spectacular tribe who live amongst their cattle.  Their world revolves around the cattle.  They are fascinating and, I think, beautiful animals.

Mundari Cattle

The Mundari rise each morning with the sun to coat each cow with a mixture of dung and ash in order to protect them from the many insects.

As the Mundari live near the Nile, and the climate is so humid, the insects (especially mosquitos) are a real threat to both the cows and humans.  Even the horns of the cows are coated as insects can burrow into them and cause all sorts of problems.

South Sudan Mundari cow illustration

The Mundari care well for their cows.  They live basic lives consuming only cow milk once or twice a day.  They do not use their cows for meat.  Cows are precious and indicate wealth. They are used as currency predominantly for dowries. The tribe use the dung of the cow for protection against insects, they set alight to it at dusk also to keep insects at bay, and cow urine is also seen as precious.  They wash in it and believe it has medicinal qualities too.  Apparently it’s good for acne!

Mundari cattle

We spent a couple of days camping with the tribe observing daily life and getting some incredible photos before heading back to Juba, and to an internet connection, and to learn the Corona Virus has got exponentially worse from when we had left a week earlier.

As such my trip to Scotland right after South Sudan was cancelled.  But here’s hoping for 2021.