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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

October 5th: Cattle Camp Near Rumbek

On October 5th 1980 I was at a cattle camp near Rumbek.  A cattle camp is a place where the clan's cattle are herded communally.

This was a full day away from the school with Sarah Errington, a photographer, who had been working on a book on the Dinka for Time Life with John Ryle.  It was difficult to get out of Rumbek, motorised traffic was rare, bicycles were not really strong enough and it was dangerous to head off across the bush on foot where there was nothing to focus my eyes upon, as I had discovered on my efforts. It was supposed to be a trip to Sarah's village, Billing.  But she came to collect us earlier to try to visit the cattle camp first.

Song bull at the cattle camp:  my picture
We drove out across the bush and the country seemed as attractive as anything I had seen in Africa. We arrived at the camp just as the cows were being led out for grazing, and there were just some calves and a few bulls around. We were taken on a tour of the buildings and shook hands with the ash-covered people. The atmosphere was outstanding, the smells of ash and cattle, it felt as though I was a witness on another world, different from anything in my experience.

Sarah had a tukul (hut) back in the village, where we went afterwards and were royally entertained and feasted by the villagers. I made a note of the food afterwards: we ate first chicken (really good - the best), then kissera (a kind of durra pancake) and broth and tomatoes, then hard-boiled eggs, then pumpkin and peanut butter, finally several hours later green beans, like the vegetables before mixed with peanut butter.

A warrior prepares to break into the circle:  my picture

Then we went to the dance at the big tree in Billing. This was very different from the public dances every weekend in Rumbek, which rarely varied from a standard male attracts female cattle format. Here it was mainly songs, dancing of a few people in a circle, with one young man telling a story, very graphically - no need for translation - putting himself graphically in the role of someone desperate to go to Khartoum to make his fortune and falling off the roof of the train from Wau to Khartoum. This was broken up with violent spear-dances when a warrior broke into the circle and challenged everybody.

Although the school and the town were ethnically very mixed, the area around was Dinka Agar territory, and the Dinka were never far away. They came to town a lot, to do a little market trading, a lot of socialising, and go dancing in the square at the weekend. The men came to smoke tobacco and drink tea in a Dinka area in the souk, the young women to buy skirts from the tailors in the souk. Mayen, one of Sarah's main contacts, and his friend Beith used to come regularly to the house, to leave their spears (not allowed in the town centre) and to use a mirror to check their haircuts and ornamentation - most important for parapols (young warriors) on the make.

Dinka covered in ash:  my picture
Puppies get fresh milk:  my picture

Mayen (left) with friend:  my picture
Beith in his finery:  my picture

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