Cattle resting under Dum Palms

Cattle with interesting coat patterns are much admired, and the bull in the foreground is a particularly beautiful animal. There are different names for all the different coat patterns (in the same way that eskimoes are said to have many different names for different types of snow), and these are the names traditionally given to boys, in memory of bulls that their fathers have grown up with.

Sheep and goats resting in a cattle camp

Although of lesser status than cattle, sheep and goats are a vital part of the livelihoods of pastoralists the world over. They breed quickly so their numbers grow more quickly than with cattle; their milk, meat and hides are all used, and they are readily sold, given, bartered or exchanged. In many ways they are the ‘cash’ in the economy, while cattle are the ‘savings accounts’. They are often the responsibility of women (and children) and so are of particular importance to female headed households. In war areas, when cattle have been raided or people displaced, sheep and goats can provide a way back into the pastoral economy.

A man watering his cattle

This picture is taken in the far south of Sudan, south of the clay basin, in the higher, more forested areas. Here seasonal rivers flow in sandy water courses. When the dry season comes, the herders dig down into the river beds until they get to the water table, and then uplift water for their animals, into troughs made from dug out palm trunks.

A dog by a water trough

After the cattle, sheep and goats have been watered, a dog looks to see if there is any water left for him. Dogs are kept to help with hunting and security, as well as for companionship.

Calves awaiting the return of their mothers in the late afternoon

The light is fading, the dung fires have been lit, and the cows will soon return from their day’s grazing. The young calves, which stay in the camp all day while their mothers go to graze, will then be able to get some milk to drink. In many villages, particularly where biting insects are bad, most of the animals (all the young stock) sleep in luacs (Nuer) or under shelters (Dinka), together with young men and boys, who all benefit from the protection of the fires. Women sleep in their own dwils. In the migratory cattle camps, people sleep around fires or under mosquito nets if they have them.

Dung fire and cattle

The smoke and smell of dung fires is a characteristic part of life in South Sudan. The smoke repels the biting flies and mosquitoes that irritate and spread disease. When biting flies are particularly bad, cows will voluntarily return from grazing to stand in the comfort of a dung fire’s smoke. The ash from dung fires also repels insects and is antiseptic so is used as a wound dressing.

Cock ticking

Chickens are kept round permanent villages for eggs, meat and exchange. They also help the other animals by picking ticks and other insects off their coats. Chicken are looked after by women, so like sheep and goats, are particularly important for female headed households. For displaced people, they are often the first animals purchased when the family tries to return to a pastoral life

Boy dusting bullock

In the UK, cattle are lucky to live beyond 5-6 years old before they are sent to slaughter. In South Sudan, they are given much greater care and attention and will live beyond 15 years if war or famine do not interfere. There is a great bond between people and there animals, and young men in particular will spend much time caring for their favourites including singing to them. This boy is dusting his bullock with ash from a cow dung fire to deter insects.

A boy trying to lead a reluctant cow

Children help with all the daily tasks from an early age, particularly with herding of sheep, goats and young animals, and with other camp tasks. Caring for the animals helps them realise the extent of their mutual dependence on each other, and develop respect. From a children’s point of view, animals provide food, companionship, social and economic security, and cultural identity.

Woman milking

Livestock are not routinely killed for food; they are primarily dairy animals. When times are hard, they are also bled. The blood is then usually mixed with milk or grain. This is similar to what used to done in Britain particularly in the times of cattle drovers.

A boy drinking from a goat

Children often have responsibility for herding the sheep, goats and calves; and may take the opportunity for a quick drink of milk.

Boy collecting urine

Urine is sterile and antiseptic. In a country with no easily accessible sterile water, and little firewood to use for boiling water, cow urine is used for washing and is sometimes mixed with milk for drinking.

A woman licking her lips after a good drink of milk

Women and children do the milking, and women are responsible for dealing with, and distributing, milk and milk products. Animals are milked into gourds. Some of the milk is soured for storing, some is drunk fresh, and some, if there is plenty, is transferred to special gourds in which it is churned to make butter.

Gourd bowls

Gourds are the most common containers, and are kept very carefully. Often they are richly decorated. They come from plants in the same family as cucumbers and pumpkins and are grown specially for the hard gourd they produce.

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