Flat Earth: Tribesmen face udder dismay

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The Independent Online
CATTLE are in short supply on the east bank of the Nile in southern Sudan. This is no footnote: it's a crisis, especially for the region's Dinka tribemen.

The Dinka are the ultimate cow people of Africa. Forget the Masai across the border in Kenya. The Dinka are more obsessive. They don't wear clothes because they consider them a sign of slavery. They don't even wear beads. All they carry is a spear and a tiny stool.

Their problem began last year when allies fell out in the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) - the group of southern tribes fighting for autonomy from their masters in Khartoum. The SPLA split on tribal lines leaving the Nuer (also cattle folk) and the Dinka eyeball to eyeball across the Sobat River on the east bank of the Nile north of Uganda. They have been fighting ever since, the Dinka losing most of their cattle to more heavily armed Nuer raiders.

The Dinka too are divided. On the Nile's east bank are the Dinka Bor and on the west the Dinka Bahralghazal. Whereas the Dinka Bor are now cattleless, the Bahralghazal are flush with livestock.

Faced with this imbalance, the price of brides has gone haywire. Any Dinka Dor man who wants to marry one of his own has to go, stool and spear in hand, to his cousins across the Nile for a cattle loan. In some cases, men have also taken out IOUs with their bride's families. The question facing tribal elders is when and how the debts will be repaid - when better times come, seems to be the usual terms. In contrast the cattle-rich Dinka men from the west bank are in great demand and apparently having the time of their lives.

The shortage has also led to wives being bought with money. That is scandalous and subversive, because money can be hidden or divided unequally.

Furthermore, in Dinka eyes cash is as vulgar as clothes. After all, where do you put your money if you have no pockets?