Opinion by: Yien Wil Mayuak Nyoch
I was born and grew up in my village Pakur which is 10 km away from Kupe village of Maban people of Baneshowa payam, Maban County in Upper Nile state, South Sudan until I was at the age of 13 when I left for school in different towns.
I didn’t know that some traditions were not parts of either the Nuer or Maban culture adapted by either of the tribes from each other until I came to Pugnido refugee camp in Ethiopia in 2008. Before coming to Pugnido, I only knew that we and the neighboring Maban tribe have traditions in common, I didn’t know that the two tribes adopted some traditions from each other. In Pugnido, some people used to call me a Maban boy and that indeed used to annoy me not because I hated Maban people but because I knew that I am a Nuer boy.
As I stayed a bit longer in Pugnido, those people then explained to me why they used to call me a Maban boy. In their explication, they started by telling me that you Thieng Bar eat this and that, by the way, I am Thieng Bar or mathiang community, a sub-clan of Eastern Jikany Nuer (Gaat-Kir) located in Longechuk County of Upper Nile state who are neighboring Maban and Komo tribes of Upper Nile state. Mathiang is the firstborn of Kir-Kaker and one of the sons of Kir-Kaker namely Majiok Kir who is the father of Gajiok Kir, Kun Kir who is the father of Gajaak Kir, Nyang Kir who is the father of Gaguang Kir of the Eastern Jikany Nuer. The members of the Mathiang community are found in Longechuk County in South Sudan and Lare in Gambella Ethiopia.
As a young boy who didn’t know that what we used to eat in our village while growing up was different from what other Nuer boys eat in other parts of the Nuer land, I said, “We used to eat rats in our village while growing up.” Then the people who were chatting with me started to laugh loudly which led me to realize that there was something odd. I continued saying that we used to eat different types of while cats and different types of small birds such as weaver birds.
The fun then continued with the raising tune which additionally gave me a clue that something was funny. I asked those Nuer men and boys who were conversing with me whether they used to eat the types of food I mentioned while in their villages and they said no, only Maban people eat those things. Those people continued asking me different questions like the issue of intermarriage between my people and the neighboring Maban and Koma tribes which I said yes, I told them that there is an inter-marriage between my people and Maban plus Komo. They continued asking me whether my mother is from Maban or not which I said no with a smile on my face due to the mere joke those people were making. I told them that my mother is a Nuer.
Analyzing our conversation and comprehending our overall interaction with the Maban tribe in the village, later on, I understood that my people and the neighboring Maban adapted so many traditions from each other. The Maban people of Baneshowa Payam are living like Nuer like my people in the village live like Maban in some instances.
Our amicable relationship with the Maban people of Baneshowa is a long history. A long time ago, their great grandfather whose name was Chuanye told them to always stand with Nuer in both the bad and good times to which they have been doing for such a long period of time. To prove to you their respect for their great grandfather’s words, the people of Baneshowa have been standing with the Nuer since the outbreak of the South Sudan civil war in 2013. The few people who might have been with the government are the soldiers and the politicians. The whole community has been under the leadership of Dr. Riek Machar, the current first vice president of the Republic of South Sudan since the outbreak of the South Sudan civil war.
We and the people of Baneshowa live like one family. There was a Nuer girl from the Mathiang community whose name was Nyan-yoang married by the people of Baneshowa. Nyan-yoang was married by the people of Baneshowa and this linkage through Nyan-yoang strengthened our relationship with the people of Baneshowa.
We always call them Cie-Nyan-yoang or Nyan-yoang family. We always feel secure when in Baneshowa and we feel it like a home to us. I remember my several visits to Baneshowa with a repertoire full of happiness. Every time I visit Baneshowa, I never feel isolated. I used to walk with the Maban boys at night in the village attending different dance parties and interacting with the Maban girls. I even had a friend, a young boy whose name is Wake Zeke. Every time I visit them while on my way to Maban town which is located about 70 km away from Baneshowa Payam, the whole family would be very happy. We would spend some days together happily walking around the village and meeting other boys in the village.
Talking about why I quoted the term Maban-Nuer tribe, I quoted that word for several reasons. I come up with that word due to the verbal isolation I experienced while in Pugnido when some people used to call me Maban boy and how other Maban communities call the people of Baneshowa ‘Nor’ which means Nuer. I also quoted that word due to the cultural convergence I observed among the people of Baneshowa and the people of my village.
There are a lot of traditions adopted by either of the tribes from each other. When you see someone from my village speaking in Maban language or someone from Baneshowa speaking in Nuer language, you cannot be able to identify which tribe that person belongs to. The people of those two communities have gone further; when a group of Baneshowa people is together with Maban people from other places, they speak in Nuer language which could not be understood by those people. Likewise, the people of my village, when they are with Nuer from other places, they speak in Maban language which could not be understood by those Nuer. I think this among other factors was the rationale for those in Pugnido to call me a Maban boy.
Apart from the types of food adapted and the languages learned by either of the communities from each other, there are several other traditions adopted by either of the communities from each other and practiced. Such traditions are farming activities, family interaction, rearing of cattle, hunting, and inter-marriage. Each tradition is completely adopted by either of the communities. One cannot be able to differentiate between who adapts to each tradition and who really belongs to either of the tribe with that tradition. The consistency between the two communities paves the way for the complete adaptation of the traditions of either of the communities.
Different farming activities are adapted from the Maban tribe of Baneshowa by the Nuer people of the Mathiang community. The Maban people practice different farming strategies such as crop rotation, planting a variety of crops, and so forth. The Maban people are skilled farmers; they plant different types of crops including varying legumes, vegetables, and cereals. The people of my village are great farmers; they cultivate a variety of crops like the Maban people. They practice a social farming practice like the Maban. My people use the locally produced wine to help each other weeding on the farm and this helps them to have a good size of farm.
Apart from the permanent garden, every Nuer family has at the back of the barn, the people of my village usually have a temporary garden which is cultivated only in a single year. That temporary garden is more fertile than the permanent garden at the back of the barn. That garden is prepared at the beginning of the summer by burning dry grasses on that land followed by sowing the seeds of different crops such as maize, pumpkin, sorghum, and so on. In another year, another new land with dry grasses will be searched and turned into a garden. This farming practice is very productive since the land is new and full of minerals appropriate for the growth of plants. My people adapted that farming practice from the Maban and it became a very common farming practice in my village Pakur and other villages of Mathiang community.
The Maban people on the other hand adapted cattle rearing from my people. The Maban people don’t rear cattle as of their culture. The domestic animals they rear include pig, goat, sheep, and chicken, and pig being the prioritized animal which is like a cow to Nuer. The people of Baneshowa currently have so many cattle and one can be amazed when visiting Baneshowa for the first time. In Baneshowa, there is a lot of milk and the people of Baneshowa cook the traditional Nuer food called wal-wal which is always eaten with milk.
In the Maban villages of Baneshowa, one feels like in the Nuer land due to the presence of so many cattle in those villages
Hunting which is a prominent and usual tradition of the Maban people is adopted by the people of my village. Most of the Nilotic tribes do hunting traditionally as parts of their life but the hunting modalities differ from tribe to tribe. The Maban people have unique hunting strategies the whole of which is adapted by the people of my village. In the Maban tribe, dogs are trained for hunting, and men go hunting using dogs. While I was in the village, I was a good hunter using my dogs. Another strategy that is used while hunting during the dry season is the burning of dry grasses to which the animals use to hide.
The dry grasses are surrounded by the hunters and their dogs alongside them. After fully surrounding the dry grasses, the grasses are burned and when wild animals like wild cat and gazelle try to escape the fire, the animal is easily caught by the dogs. I witnessed that hunting strategy so many times while I was in the village as a young boy.
In Maban culture, there are no boundaries among the young and old, men and women in the family but now, the Maban men of Baneshowa live separately as the Nuer men do. In Maban culture, a man eats together with small children and his wife(s) but now the Maban people of Baneshowa have become exceptional.
The Baneshowa men who are neighbors have their dining area where all the foods are brought by all their wives and then they eat together as the Nuer men do. The Maban people adapt this from the neighboring Mathiang community. Such a tradition is not practiced by the Maban people of other places in the Maban land. A small boy with a dirty hand joins his father and shares the meal with his father. The woman also shares the meal with her husband.
The relationship between the Maban people of Kupe village and the people of my village Pakur is very tight. The people from both communities share so many things in common. They help each other on the farms during the wet season. Considering all those phenomena, I quoted the term Maban-Nuer tribe and in this case, I can call myself a Maban Nuer Man.
Our relationship with the people of Baneshowa is unbreakable and if there is anything I can do to strengthen the relationship of the two communities, I think it should be taking a girl from the people of Baneshowa as a wife so that my children with that lady can be truly Maban-Nuer.
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