Anuak people

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Anuak Girls, Dimma (10399695426).jpg
Anywaak children in Dimma, Ethiopia
Total population
Approximately 300,000 people
Regions with significant populations
East Africa (mainly in South Sudan, Sudan and Gambela Region of Ethiopia)
Dha Anywaa
Christianity, Traditional African religions
Related ethnic groups
Acholi, Shilluk, other Luo peoples, other Nilotic peoples

The Anyuak, also known as Anyua and Anywaa, are a Luo Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting parts of East Africa. The Anuak belong to the larger Luo family group. Their language is referred to as Dha-Anywaa. They are primarily found in Gambela Region in western Ethiopia, South Sudan as well as Sudan. Group members number between 200,000 and 300,000 people worldwide.[1] Many of the Anyuak people now follow Christianity. It is one of the first of the Nilotic groups to become almost entirely Christian, following the Shilluk people.


The Anuak are from the family of Nilotes. They have lived in the area of the Upper Nile for hundreds of years and consider their land to be their tribal land. Hundreds of thousands of Anuak people immigrated to the United States to escape the wars,[dubious ] where they live mostly in Minnesota,[citation needed] which had a refugee resettlement program.

Anuak people on the banks of the Baro River in the Gambela Region.

Unlike other Nilotic peoples in the Upper Nile, whose economies are based on raising cattle, the Anuak are herdsmen and farmers. They are believed to have a common origin with their northern neighbors, the Luo and Shilluk. Also, they share a similar language with their neighbors to the south, the Acholi.

The Luo peoples are scattered all over Eastern Africa, including Sudan and Ethiopia; they identify as a people who have preserved their cultural heritage wherever they reside. The Luo-speaking people of Eastern Africa are found beyond the Sudan and Ethiopia in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Congo. Their language(s) and dialects belong to the broader cluster of Nilo-Saharan languages.

The Gambela region is hot and tropical with rich, fertile, well-watered soil coming from the rivers. Much is carried down from the mountains of the highlands, which has a cooler, drier climate. The differences in geography have caused self-identification by Ethiopians into distinctive categories of "lowlanders", such as the Anuak and other indigenous groups in the area, as opposed to the "highlanders." The latter, including the Amhara, Oromo, and Tigrayan ethnicities, comprise the majority of the population of Ethiopia.

The Anuak and others who live in the lowlands of Gambela complain of racial discrimination and marginalization by other ethnicities in Ethiopia. This has affected the Anuaks' access to education, health care and other basic services, as well as limiting opportunities for development of the area.

The Anuak of Sudan live in a grassy region that is flat and virtually treeless. During the rainy season, this area floods, so that much of it becomes swampland with various channels of deep water running through it.


The Anuak people of Ethiopia and Sudan live of a subsistence economy and have a strong dependence on their rivers. They grow their crops among the riverbanks which in turn provides them a stable and efficient supply of food. When the dry season occurs, the Anuak people hunt the animals that are in search of the waterways. When it is not the dry season, they partake in a large amount of fishing. The Anuaks also choose when to migrate their cattle based on which season is occurring (migrate in dry the dry season). The migration of domesticated animals is not as important to them as it is to other cultures because the Anuak people do not have as much livestock as most as they focus more on agriculture. The Anuaks engage in agriculture, hunting, fishing, pastoralism and gathering to meet their economic needs.[2]

The Anuak villages are very tight-knit with little contact with the outside world. The villages are run by people called Headmen, whose power can easily be removed if deemed unsatisfactory by the people.[3] The ways in which the Anuak people govern themselves are very democratic.[citation needed] The Anuak's tend to not trust outsiders[dubious ] based on past experiences with the Ethiopian Government and also the other tribal groups who share the same land.[4]

Human rights issues[edit]

The Anuak Justice Council (AJC) is an umbrella organization for the Anuak that advocates for non-violent solutions to alleged human rights abuses being perpetrated against the Anuak in the Gambela region of Ethiopia by Ethiopian Defense Forces. The AJC's approach to restoring peace, justice and the rule of law to this area is by means of international advocacy, increasing public awareness and utilizing established legal processes.

Since 2005, the AJC filed several complaints against the government of Ethiopia with several international bodies including, International Criminal Court concerning alleged December 2003 atrocities targeting the Anuak in the Gambela Region. However, the government has denied any involvement in the event. Allegedly, several eyewitnesses who were US citizens were in Gambela during the time of killing and testimonies of several international organizations such as the Genocide Watch report Today is the day of killing the Anuaks! and the International Human Rights Law Clinic's reports submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.[1] In May, 2004, the BBC reported that 20 members of an illegal armed gang, including their leader, an escaped convict known as "Major Kut", were killed by Ethiopian security forces following a shootout in the Gambela region, and that approximately 200 people had been killed in the ethnic violence that began in 2002, ending with the death of Kut.[2]. The 13 December 2003 killing of the Anuak people was alleged to have been sparked by the death of eight Ethiopian highlanders who were killed by unknown groups. However, the strife did not start in 2003, but earlier on, several groups fighting the government of Ethiopia massacred the Anuaks of Itang in 2002 [3], the same location where the alleged ambush occurred.


Anuak militants have allegedly attacked Government forces and non-Anuak civilians.[5] In June 2006, the BBC reported that men dressed in military garb attacked passengers on a bus, killing sixteen, as part of the widespread violence that has occurred in the country.[6]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on March 24, 2005 that documents systematic and widespread atrocities committed against the Anuak by Ethiopian military units and local Ethiopians.[7] HRW indicates that these acts meet the definition of crimes against humanity; however, no one really knows full details of what has occurred.

According to Anuak militants, Anuak men (and some women) continue to be subject to arbitrary arrest, beatings, detentions and extrajudicial killings in Ethiopia[who?]. Rape of Anuak women is allegedly widespread as part of the wartime atrocities. The Anuak continue to suffer huge problems with basic access to water, health care or clinics, food, and education, just like the rest of Ethiopia. Even though the country currently has one of the fastest-growing economies and GDPs, poverty still exists. Entire generations of Anuak children are unable to attend school, and are growing up, without any formal or informal education at all.[citation needed]

According to exiled Anuaks, the Anuak have been the targets of military oppression by Ethiopian governments. Genocide Watch placed the Anuak massacre on its emergency list of ongoing genocides in the world. "The situation reminds me of Rwanda in 1993, when all the early warning signs were evident but no one paid attention," Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, said.[8] Various external actors and governments are involved in proxy wars and conflicts in numerous borders in the unstable region of the horn of Africa, including in Gambela, thus ethnic conflicts could possibly spark and resume.[9]


  1. ^ Anuak at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2019)
  2. ^ Simeone, William E. (2007). "People of the River: The Subsistence Economy of the Han, Athabaskan People of the Upper Yukon River". International Handbook of Research on Indigenous Entrepreneurship. doi:10.4337/9781781952641.00036. ISBN 9781781952641.
  3. ^ "The Anuak - A Threatened Culture". Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  4. ^ "Ethiopia: Targeting the Anuak: Background and Context". Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  5. ^ Anuak militant attack on non-Anuak civilians Archived 2006-11-11 at the Wayback Machine, Ethiopia First, 2002
  6. ^ Amber Henshaw, "Passengers die in Ethiopia ambush", BBC, 12 June 2006
  7. ^ "Ethiopia: Crimes Against Humanity in Gambella Region". Human Rights Watch. 2005-03-23. Retrieved 2017-08-18.
  8. ^ "Anuak Genocide Links". Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  9. ^ "Governments, rebels in various conflicts in the horn", Gambela Today

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1940. The Political System of the Anuak of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. New York: AMS Press.
  • Feyissa, Dereje. 2011. Playing Different Games: The Paradox of Anywaa and Nuer Identification Strategies in the Gambella Region, Ethiopia. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.
  • Osterlund, David C. 2021. The Anuak Legacy: Music & Culture. Saint Paul, MN: The University of Northwestern Berntsen Library.
  • Perner, Conradin 1994-2016. The Anyuak: Living on Earth in the Sky. An analytic account of the history and culture of a Nilotic people. In 8 volumes. Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn Verlag and Schwabe-Verlag. (Vol. I – The Sphere of Spirituality ISBN 3-7190-1330-8, Vol. II – The Human Territory ISBN 3-7190-1507-6, Vol. III – The Human Being ISBN 3-7965-1272-0, Vol. IV – A personal Life ISBN 978-3-7965-2227-7, Vol. V – The Anyuak Village – Centre of Civilisation (on Social Structures and Justice) ISBN 978-3-7965-3211-5, Vol. VI – The Political Body: Power and Authority ISBN 978-3-7965-3402-7, Vol. VII – Spheres of Action, Anyuak Art ISBN 978-3-7965-3465-2, Vol. VIII – Anyuak Histories. With a Bibliography ISBN 978-3-7965-3552-9).
  • Perner, Conradin 1992. Anyuak Religion. Leeds: Journal of Religion in Africa, Vol. II.
  • Perner, Conradin 1990. Anyuak – A Luo Language of the Southern Sudan: Dictionary and short Grammar. Yale: Human Relations Area Files Inc.