Photographers Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher spent over 30 years taking photos of ceremonies, rituals and the daily life of African tribal peoples. These extraordinary images tell the story of the Dinka tribe in Sudan.

The Dinka are a pastoral-agricultural people that make up the largest ethnic group in South SudanThey vary their lifestyle by season – in the rainy season they live in permanent savannah settlements and raise grain crops like millet, while in the dry season they herd cattle along rivers throughout their region. Their lives are very closely intertwined with those of their cattle – at their coming of age ceremony, young Dinka men are given an ox, and that ox’s name becomes a part of their own name. As it grows, they also shape their ox’s long horns into different forms.

Unlike the heavily Arabized Islamic population of northern Sudan, the indigenous African population in the south of the country has maintained animist religious beliefs that were incorporated into the Christianity established by 19th century missionaries. The religious and cultural differences between the north and south of the country, exacerbated by tribal disputes and politics, led to conflicts that persisted and intensified throughout the twentieth century and which eventually led to total civil war in 1955. The situation has created one of the most war-torn nations in the world, with hostilities continuing almost uninterrupted ever since. In July 2011, South Sudan seceded after a referendum, although the infrastructure and economy will take years to recover. In both the Islamic north and the Christian south, internal strife persists.

One of the most haunting aspects of the ongoing conflict was the phenomena of ‘The Lost Boys’; tens of thousands of young men displaced by warfare, journeying by foot across the country to refugee camps, from which many were taken to America and resettled by aid organisations. The phenomenon has been the subject of a number of films and books. God Grew Tired of Us, which follows a group of Sudanese young men taken to America as refugees, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. John Bul Dau, one of the boys featured, also wrote a memoir of the same name, and has since started the John Dau Foundation to improve healthcare in South Sudan.

 The Dinka People are among the tallest African ethnic group, and several Dinka have achieved success as models or athletes. South Sudanese British supermodel Alek Wek has written a book, Alek, about her journey from civil war to catwalk. A number of Dinka males have also made it to the NBA, including Manute Bol, who at 7’7 was one of the tallest players to ever compete in the sport. A committed activist for his home country, he reputedly donated most of his earnings (several million dollars) to helping Sudanese refugees. In 2001, he was offered a post as minister for sport in Sudan, but turned down the offer because one of the conditions was converting to Islam. He became embroiled in a political and religious dispute, and was accused of aiding the Christian rebels in the south of the country. He was eventually re-admitted to the States as a religious refugee in 2002.

After decades of oppression and massacres, the Dinka may have a brighter future now that South Sudan has seceded.

These photos capture the dignity, beauty and innate royalty of a wonderful people group who have added so much flavour to the mixing pot of Africa. Also known as the Muonyjieng , the tribe features heavily in the recently released ‘Children of Saba’ book (Best African Books 2013 – The Guardian newspaper UK).

Carol and Angela also give a fascinating insight into the art of body painting in Africa, collated from their journeys and time spent with the tribes of Africa. fascinating viewing (the YouTube video can be found at the end of the post).

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About The Author


Neva is a storyteller and media strategist with a background in PR, film, advertising and digital marketing who is passionate about technology, new media and the endless possibilities of the social and mobile sphere. Read more about her on our 'About Us' page.

3 Responses

  1. sacha

    Thank you so much for this article, especially the video. I have literally learnt so much in a few minutes than I do at school in a month! I wish more people took time to broaden their knowledge of African tribes.

    Once again, thank you so much.


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