In the regions of Central and Eastern Equatoria, there are dozens of ethnic groups and sub-groups, considered among the most isolated and poorest in the world, due to the paralysis the country has been in for decades, but very rich in traditions and free from the flattening of modern times, which is often the enemy of peoples’ identity cultures.
Visiting one of the Mundari camps on the outskirts of Terakeka, their capital, is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and exciting experiences in South Sudan. A plunge into a past that is still incredibly relevant, amid surreal landscapes of shepherds sprinkled with ash and cattle herds of hundreds of head, whose indefinable weaves of long crescent-shaped horns are lost in the soot emitted by the large manure pyres, in a thick blanket of smoke that shields the sun and darkens the sky, tinging the atmosphere with silvery and orange tones. An almost dreamlike vision that lovers of photography will particularly appreciate.
To the east of Juba lie the fertile rural plains near the towns of Torit and Kapoeta, sporadically enlivened by a few rocky heights, where a small universe of peoples, preserving intact their customs and traditions, their ancestral religions and rituals, their subsistence economies, have been handed down from generation to generation since the dawn of time. Here, a multitude of remote villages of mud, branches and thatch shelter archaic societies, mainly of cattle breeders and farmers, but also, when necessary, of skilled hunters and fishermen.
The Jiye herders, belonging to the large group of Karamojong and Turkana peoples, with their characteristic tribal dances and ceremonies, inhabit the lands around Kapoeta, together with the Toposa, herders who also share the same Nilotic origins, forming the main clan. Famous for their walled villages, called boma, whose dwellings are decorated with animal skulls, the Toposa are organised in strongly hierarchical societies, in which the aesthetic cult of the body is a preponderant part, according to a complex symbolism, expressed in elaborate decorations and showy scarifications on the face and body, indicative of the status and role each individual occupies in society.
Equally characteristic and significant are the beaded ornaments and identity scarifications of the Larim herdsmen, a tribe that long ago perched in the hills of Boya to escape wars and cattle theft, building houses of clay and thatch, richly decorated with as many symbolic motifs. Their economy and social life revolves around the rural market called Camp 15, where they spend their days smoking tobacco in artisanal pipes, trading goods and livestock, especially with the neighbouring Didinga clans.
In the surroundings of the town of Torit, a mountainous and rocky landscape offered shelter to the ancient Lotuko Kingdom, a people who settled in the area in the 15th century, becoming sedentary and living off agriculture, animal husbandry and fishing. Their economy and spirituality revolves around the cyclical nature of the seasons, in which the figure of the chief witch doctor, who officiates at propitiatory rites for the abundance of rain and harvests, is of particular importance.
A common characteristic of these strongly identity peoples, and of many other tribes inhabiting the South Sudanese lands, is undoubtedly the deep attachment to their ancestral traditions that have been perpetuated intact for centuries, motivated by animist beliefs and ancient cults, despite the spread of the Christian religion in South Sudan. Focusing on propitiatory sacrificial ceremonies, initiations and rites of passage to adulthood, and ancestor worship, their rites are mainly governed by the cyclical nature of rainfall and natural events, officiated by a spiritual leader. To visit the villages and rural communities of what was called Equatoria by the first settlers is to plunge into an authentic dimension that goes far beyond history, into a sphere of time that still belongs to myth and nature. The forced, but also partly desired, isolation of these populations, in a country that has particularly suffered from international and internal conflicts, but which today is increasingly moving towards the coveted stability.
Day 1: Tuesday 13 February 2024
Outbound flight/Juba (JUB)
Day 2: Wednesday 14 February 2024
The bustling Konyo Konyo market in Juba.
Day 3: Thursday 15 February 2024
Towards the tribal regions of Equatoria.
Day 4: Friday 16 February 2024
In the small kingdom of Lotuko, admiring superb traditional architecture.
Day 5: Saturday 17 February 2024
In the foothills of the Boya Hills, meeting the Larim tribe.
Day 6: Sunday 18 February 2024
Greetings with the Larim tribe and depart for the East.
Day 7: Monday 19 February 2024
Toposa breeders and the characteristic “boma”.
Day 8: Tuesday 20 February 2024
The encounter with the Jiye herders and their scarification and piercing.
Day 9: Wednesday 21 February 2024
Greetings with the Toposa and return to the capital.
Day 10: Thursday 22 February 2024
From the banks of the White Nile to the meeting with the Mundari.
Day 11: Friday 23 February 2024
Life in the camp of the Mundari herders.
Day 12: Saturday 24 February 2024
Juba (JUB)/Return Flight