September 13, 2007


In Southern Sudan, Peace Slowly Alters a Way of Life (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 9/12/07, NY Times)

Southern Sudan was home to Africa’s longest-running civil war, a rebellion that began even before Sudan was granted independence in 1956. The rough outlines were that the south, which is mostly Christian and animist, was fighting the north, which is mostly Muslim and Arabic-speaking. A peace deal signed in 2005 is starting to deliver dividends, though much too slowly for most south Sudanese.

Many towns still have no electricity, no cellphone service, few roads and few jobs. Out here, the economy rests on four fuzzy legs.

Panthar’s herd is smaller than the herds of times past. Because more Dinka boys are migrating to other areas and marrying outside the tribe, the typical price for a pretty bride has dropped to 100 cows, from 200. Still, some Dinka have found a way to straddle two worlds, growing up with cows in what is called cattle camp and then going on to become hotel clerks, drivers, journalists and office managers.

Years ago, William Malual left behind the heaps of manure to drive a truck for the United Nations. He said the hardships of cattle camp steeled him for life.

“I will never forget the rain,” he said. “And the heat.”

That skin-crisping heat started to ease up around 4 p.m. With the cows still gone, the camp was quiet. Women sewed baskets. Men slept under trees. The metallic buzz of cicadas sawed on.

By 6 p.m., Panthar’s father had started to pace.

“The boy still has a lot to learn,” he said, recalling a time last October when Panthar got lost with the cows. When he made it home, after surviving off leaves for several days, his father whacked him with a stick.

Finally, at nearly 7, a little head popped out of the low, scratchy trees. Then the sound of clucking. It was Panthar, and the cows.

His father flashed a “well done, son” expression.

Panthar smiled.

“I’m free,” he said, for the evening, anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2007 6:21 AM
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