Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Meeting the chiefs

Several tribes in this area are fighting heavily over cattle, so now the chiefs must get together to try and work things out. This is part of their tradition and culture since anyone can remember. So many things are intertwined with the stealing of another tribe's cattle that it’s hard to imagine it ever changing- although over time and with greater development and access to education I hope that it can.

Cattle here is the source of wealth, only more important because it determines who you can marry. Each woman is given a dowry of a certain number of cattle when she is married and the number of cattle that she is worth depends on many factors. Marrying off your daughter is a way of gaining wealth for your family. This means that the women don’t have much choice in who they marry- it depends on the man who can provide the largest dowry regardless of what the woman wants. Because of being a source of wealth daughters are treated as precious and are second in importance only to the cattle. The way a local told me, the household is ranked- first in importance is the man, then the cattle, then the wife- because she will bring you the children to get more cattle, then the daughter- because she will bring more cattle when she is married, and last the son who is only there to protect his sisters but has no real means to bring more wealth into the family (unless he steals some cattle of course).

During the war in Sudan many tribal conflicts such as these were exacerbated and politicized in order to gain allegiance to either side. Then when the guns flooded the area the whole idea of cattle rustling became a much deadlier game. Now people are being killed over cattle and no one really knows why they are fighting anymore. In essence there were several wars going on in Sudan at the same time- that between the North and the South and that between the South itself. Both need to be addressed in order to have a lasting peace and for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to hold.

But at least we are speaking about peace, even if it only a short term fix to the problem of cattle rustling. The chiefs in the area come together to discuss how many cattle were raided from each side and what the way forward is from here. The Toposa chiefs come with their own mobile chairs that they carry with them at all times. The arrangement of seating is based on hierarchy with the elders also playing an important role in the discussions. Arguments arise on both sides, but hopefully through dialogue stolen cattle will be returned and an agreement not to steal each other’s cattle will be reached. As you can see, there were no women at this meeting as this kind of role is seen as “men’s talk”. I’m encouraging them to send some female representatives, but changing that role will not happen overnight… Sadly the women are all out doing all the work- collecting the water, the firewood, preparing the food, taking care of the children, etc… Sudan will still be far from a sustainable peace unless all members of the community are really involved- including the women.


Aaron in South Sudan said...

Good thoughts here, it's also worth noting that in a country with no banks and fluctuating currency cattle are an insurance policy. As you mentioned before the war only magnified this perception.

You might be interested in an article recently posted on Alertnet.

Keep up the good work and drop by my blog some time, it's always nice to stay in touch with others working in Sudan. :)

All the best,

lu said...

i miss my flatmate!! can't wait until may when we can properly catch up. until then i will have to be content with your blog and gmail!