Mundari Tribe Tour
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. It is a plunge into a past that is still incredibly relevant, amid surreal scenarios 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.
Indigenous to the Nile Valley, the Mundari is a small ethnic group of roughly 100,000 (very tall) people. As is the case for many other tribes in the area, everything is about the cows for the Mundari. Cattle are the Mundari’s primary source of wealth; the cows serve as a form of currency (these days, an attractive bride can “cost” as much as 100 cows) and, as such, have become a symbol of status and power. And the cows are…magnificent. These Ankole-Watusi cows are gigantic and have impressive curly horns. They are also remarkably friendly, even with an uninformed foreigner who repeatedly walks in their paths and disturbs their activities.
The Mundari are a semi-nomadic people. Women, children, and the elderly stay in a permanent village while the men and boys accompany the cattle searching for grazing. To do so, they live in a temporary camp, where they can keep a close eye on their “property.” There are a few young women in the camp, helping out on some cattle-related activities, but mostly cooking and taking care of their infants or young children who accompany them.
The activities in a cattle camp are quite predictable. At dawn and dusk, fires are lit to burn heaps of dung that have been collected and dried. The ashes from the dung fire are turned into a light orange powder used to lovingly massage the cows, serving as both a fly-repellent and sunscreen. The Mundari also cover their bodies with those ashes, hoping for the same benefits. Over and over, was I offered this magic powder by a kind Mundari as they were concerned that my rather pale skin would not do well with this harsh sun. I initially tried to convey that I had my own sunscreen, but by the end, I let a young boy rub his silky orange powder on my forearms to his delight. In retrospect, I should have let him apply it to just one arm allowing for an experimental test of the claimed benefits. Clearly, my research tools are getting rusty
Mundari Tribe Tour
Meet the Mundari, a cattle herding tribe living remotely along the White Nile river, north of South Sudan’s capital Juba. Their vast herds of sacred cattle graze on fertile river land, with the Mundari living mainly off the milk, not the meat. Wrestling and playing music are popular Mundari pastimes, and each morning they massage their cows with ash, a technique used to keep flies and insects away.