Bari people

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Richard Buchta - Portrait of a Bari man.jpg
Total population
Regions with significant populations
South Sudan
Bari language
Traditional African religion,
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
other Nilotic peoples, esp. the Pojulu, the Kakwa, the Nyangwara, the Mandari, and the Kuku

The Bari are a tribe of Karo, Nilotic people inhabiting South Sudan. The Bari speak the Bari language as a mother tongue, which belongs to the Nilotic family.


Late 1870s portrait of Bari man with tribal scarification
Bari homestead late 1870s

bari family The Bari of the Nile are sedentary agro-pastoralist. They exploit the savanna lands along the river Nile, and up to 40 miles east and west of the Nile. The Bari economy is based on subsistence mixed farming; their domestic livestock (small and large) are mainly raised for supplementing food, but mostly as a socio-economic and financial investment. Notably, livestock are exchanged as gifts in marriages, and other social functions or sacrificed in celebrations, and funerals; and whenever the need arises they are sold for cash.

The Bari are consistently under pressure: now from modern urbanization annexing their green lands and infusing different cultures into their lifestyles; and historically the Baris have been devastated by slave traders, and forced by Belgians (especially from the Lado Enclave) into labor camps and used as porters to carry ivory tusks to the Atlantic coast. The two Sudanese Civil Wars (1955–1973; 1983–2005) have also affected the Bari social, economic and financial dynamics.

War (intertribal or resisting foreigners) is not alien to Bari history. Generally, the Bari have co-existed well with the neighboring ethnic groups, but have had to pick up arms to defend their land against slave traders, and plundering warriors. There is documentation of Bari resistance against invasion by Dinka, Azande (Zande), and numerous encounters with Turkish slave traders.

In the past it was a fashion among the Bari to undergo initiation ceremonies. Both boys and girls subjected themselves to removal of lower front teeth. The girls, in addition got scarifications: around the belly area, the flank, the back, and the face (on the temple) in the form of arrow shapes, or simple flowers. bari girl with scarification

Along the banks of the Nile, in the heart of the Bari land, lies the historical villages of Mongalla, Lado, Gondokoro (Kondokoro), and Rejaf (Rageef). The capital city of South Sudan, the town of Juba, is also in the Bari land, situated ten miles to the south of Gondokoro, and seven miles to the north of Rejaf.

Social organization[edit]

the bari have a caste system of two groups, the "lui" (freemen) and the "dupi" (serfs). The lui were the chiefs and the fathers of the soil while the lower caste dupi were those who had a trade such as iron smelters, fishermen ironlongers etc. The dupi were a hereditary class of serfs who had to give their services to the lui. The lui represented the superior cattle owning element of bari society[1] [2]

Origin of the Bari[edit]

Based on Bari folklore, their history dates back to the 15th century when the bari came from the north. Some places in southern dinkaland still retain bari names, which indicate those areas were previously home to the bari until the Dinka arrived and the bari fled southwards. The Bari probably arrived in their current location in 1650's or early 18th century. Oral history recounts that when they arrived in their present homeland from the north they found a group, the Pari people there and drove them away.[3][4]

Bari forced into slavery[edit]

Since their arrival in the new land, the Bari have been plagued by war and conflict, especially from slave raiders and Azande. Even before the 19th century, the Arabs and Turks involved in the ivory trade raided slaves from the bari to supply domestic needs of their home communities and to sell them in the markets of Northern Sudan and beyond.

The second Expedition to discover the source of the White Nile entered the Bari lands on 24 January 1841. Unfortunately with this progress in the quest for knowledge, came undesirable invaders in the form of European and Turkish traders looking for slaves and ivory. This was the first time Bari encountered Europeans travellers. The Bari were lucky in this encounter, as the Turkish army assigned to protect the Nile explorers behaved, unlike the brutality they unleashed on the ethnic groups (Mondari, Dinka, Shilluk) to the north of the Bari, Pojulu, Kakwa to the South and Kuku to the South-East. However, subsequent expeditions were different.

The third expedition (1841–42) to discover the source of the White Nile also discovered that Ivory was abundant in the Bari area. From thence onwards, the rush for ivory tusks in the White Nile valley escalated. Initially, both European and Arab traders began sponsoring trips to Gondokoro for ivory. And for a decade the Bari freely sold ivory tusks and other artefacts to the traders without intimidation, and no incidents of slavery was reported by that point in time.

In April 1854, the peaceful relationship between the traders/explorers and the Bari came to an end when a Turkish trader, without provocation, fired his guns into a crowd of Bari at Gondokoro. Accordingly, the Bari mounted a counterattack that was devastating to both sides. Subsequent to this the Bari became defensive and less friendly, and the traders (mostly Arabs, and Turks) resorted to violent means to procure ivory tusks, but also started taking people (young men and women) as slaves. Girls were raped, or taken as wives by force. Some of the merchants even built fortified depots near Gondokoro where people were kept awaiting shipment down the White Nile.

Diaries of European missionaries[which?] in the region, indicate that in the market of Cairo (Egypt), the number of slaves to be sold to Europe from the White Nile area increased from 6,000 between 1858 and 1862, to approximately 12,000-15,000 per annum. These numbers reflected mostly, Bari, Dinka, and Mundari; but also included people of other ethnic groups neighboring the Bari, and beyond were hunting for elephant tusks was intense during that time. By 1863 when Sir Samuel White Baker arrived at Gondokoro, also on an expedition to discover the sources of the Nile, boats of buccaneers (even one flying an American flag) were anchoring at Gondokoro, with the sole purpose of picking up slaves to the new world. By 1865 about 3000 slaves at any one time could be found waiting at Gondokoro to be carried down the Nile.

Baker returned in 1869 with the express purpose of stamping out the slave trade. By this time, the Bari people and land were already devastated. Bari folklore tells us of how long ago the land flanking the Nile was full of strings of villages spread out to the horizon, as far as the eye could see. Baker concurs, in his book "Ismailia" (1874),[5] that this had been so when he first visited the area. However he describes how, by the time of his next expedition, the slave traders had reduced the Bari villages to a miserable few. Neither could he obtain co-operation from the Bari, who had been persuaded by Abou Saood, the chief slaver of Agad and Company, who had a government monopoly for trade and slaving, that it was in their best interests to help the slavers and hinder Baker.

Ever since then, recovery has been difficult, considering also the fact that the civil wars in 1955-1973; and 1983-2005 have further taken their toll on the Bari.

Courtship and marriage[edit]

In the past, it was not uncommon for the Bari to use intermarriage to form bonds between two families. Although these arrangements were sometimes made when the children were very young, the bride price was not necessarily paid until the betrothed children reached marrying age. Today, marriage among the Bari more often involves a period of courtship followed by consent of the families involved.

After a period of courtship, the male suitor usually declares his intent to marry (nyara in Bari) by presenting himself at the house of the girl's parents, accompanied by a few close relatives and friends. Before the wedding ceremony (budu, typically several months later), the families meet in the bride's parents' house to negotiate the bride price that the bridegroom is obligated to offer; the parents of the bride and bridegroom are never directly involved in these negotiations, though they may be involved indirectly and behind the scenes. Because the Bari have long been agro-pastoralists, the bride price is traditionally paid in the form of live animals. A typical bride price might be composed of two dozen cattle and 40 head of sheep and goats. When the use of animals is too difficult, such as in the case of drought or natural disaster, bride prices in the form of cash may also be acceptable. Behaviors considered disrespectful may increase the bride price during negotiations (though it is also possible for civil courts to get involved); these can include premarital sex, eloping, and aggression towards in-laws. Once the negotiations are successful, both families bless the marriage and commence in a feast that involves drinking and dancing. After the feast, the bridegroom returns home alone, but after about two weeks, the bride arrives to take charge of her house.

For Bari who have converted to Christianity, an additional step occurs wherein the marriage also receives a church blessing. Ideally, this would occur before the husband and wife begin living together. However, because of the financial burden of having both a Bari traditional wedding feast and a Christian wedding ceremony, the trend has been to first have the traditional feast and then put off the Christian wedding for a year or longer while the couple saves up money for the occasion. This can be problematic when couples do not also wait to have children, which may be perceived as producing children out of wedlock. While the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) declaration opened the door for adaptation of some African traditional practices into the church, this has not yet led to the formation of a single wedding ceremony for Bari Christians.

BARI PEOPLE: past present and the future

         	“ Kulya aje’dur tye’ na raratat”

In this article, we are trying to shed light on the history of the political development of the Bari people in the colonial and post colonial period. The objective is to assess the development of Bari culture and identity during these periods and to point out the challenges and opportunities before the community provides future perspectives!

The Bari people during the colonial period:

It is well known that colonialism had a devastating impact on Africa in general and the Sudan in particular. It is true that Bari people resisted the invaders (Turkish and Mahadi soldiers) in their territory and even British colonialists were not an exception. Despite their fierce resistance, the British managed to establish administrative centers in Bari land and they started to implement anti slavery policies to fight the slave trade and other l practices which were foreign to their culture and had been imposed in the region during Turkiyya and Mahadia periods. It is noteworthy that due to the availability of firearms of the British, the Bari people were reduced to passive resistance.

 In its attempts to govern the region, the British rule  has adopted  different policies starting with direct and  strong military rule besides establishing  Christian missionaries that were  tasked  to “pacify” the people and help to win the confidence of the inhabitants.
No doubt that the British colonialism had some negative impact but there were  some colonial policies that to certain extent  benefited the Bari people in their way toward modernity. For example, the appointment of L. Col Roger Carmichael Robert Owen as the Governor of Mangalla, who came with the idea of Southernization or Southernism by which the Bari language was the first to get favor among other Southern Sudanese languages. Unlike the Turkish era in which Bari were badly treated  and enslavement were rampant,  the Bari people and language were elevated  to another level thanks to the above mentioned policy. Bari being used beside English as medium of instruction in missionaries schools, in addition to its usage in the churches, the Bari language was revived (from oral to written language) and became among the first languages in South Sudan to acquire such status. These developments made Bari to be in focus and  a source of concern to Jallaba elites in the North who started to point fingers at the missionaries and viewed them as  an obstacle to their policy of Arabization of the South. No wonder, a Jallaba  afterwards did not like  the idea of seeing  the  Bari people  proudly speaking and writing his language and in such a way  resisting  his  policy of assimilation into Arabic culture. As result, the Bari people started to restore their  dignity and pride which had been severely damaged after long period of abuse and slavery by Turkish and Mahdiyya. During this era a new  system of chiefdom was introduced in an attempt to weaken and replace the Bari traditional system of chiefdom. Although the two forms of colonialism had a negative impact on the Bari,   the British colonialism  was  more benign and provided more space for South Sudanese as well as Bari  identity to develop.

Thus, this shift made by Owens, of the trajectory of identity from Arabism to Africansim mixed with western religion and language were not welcomed by Jallaba as some elites started to look at it with suspicion and considered it a threat to Arabism which was a project in the process then. Between 1948 and 1950 a policy was devised to introduce Arabic into Southern Schools above elementary school level. This was part and parcel of a broader decision to unify and amalgamate the South with the North. But this policy was rejected in Equatoria province. Though some British administrators did not believe in the unity of Sudan, they found it worthwhile for the sake of Egypt and Northern Sudan. Meanwhile the trajectory of Bari people development continued to go forward with confident steps and to grow steadily till the advent of the Independence of Sudan where most of Bari elites realized their full self-consciousness and identity as Bari group. This self-consciousness was manifested in their political positions against policies and actions that were mostly not favoring the interest of their people. For example in September 1, 1954, in a letter from chiefs Lolik and Severino Swaka as representative of Juba District chiefs, to the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior concerning harassment of chief Lako Logunu by provincial administration. In nutshell, the two chiefs complained about the action of higher officials:

‘who have caused much inconveniences against  one of the leading personalities in Mangalla… from the behaviour of these officials, we are convinced that the Government is sending us very bad people. Ever since Sudan fell under joint rule of the British and Egyptian Governments we never heard of a D/ Governor pending his care to listen to incredible reports by a non-govt official, and without proper evidence taking steps which are below his power’. The officials used the local merchants as informers and agents  and they fed the official with lies instead of proven facts and evidence. The two chiefs stated and asked whether the government has given merchants special privileges over Equatoria province and added perhaps that is why they openly declared that we are under their feet (gizma). In their defence chief of Mangalla, the two brave and proud  chiefs demanded the removal of the Police Inspector and  D/ Governor and warned that any attempts by the government to bribe them would be futile. The name of the local merchant (by name Sh. Bilal Faragalla) who misinterpreted the aims of the meeting held by the chief Lako longunu at Mangalla and communicated false stories accusing them of contributing money to buy weapons from Sayed Siddik el MAHDI. This depicts how Bari used to defend and respect his chief and come to their rescue at any cost in case there are threats.

Even in 1947 conference Abdulrahman Sule despite being Muslim was against the imposition of Arabism the same position espoused by his Southern colleagues who are Christians. After the independence of Sudan from the British, the Arab elites assumed power and defined the country as Arab state and joined the Arab League due to support from Egypt. As a result, the Arabic language became the official language of postcolonial Sudan. II. Bari in Post colonial era: After Sudan got Independence from the British the second national government of General Abud which came to power through a coup d’etat was the most hostile to South Sudanese in general and Bari in particular and its hostility towards Bari could be equated with Bashir's government in terms of Brutality. Abud came and restored the old policies of Turkish Era of Arabism by stopping all the schools in local languages under the pretext of national security threat posed by these languages and to create unity by imposing the official language. Due to his dictatorial policies of introducing Arabic as a medium of instruction, many Bari language teachers lost their jobs and left many of Bari to leave the country to neighboring countries. In his criticism to Abud’s policy, Dr. Mansur Khalid cited in one of his books that Gen. Abud's policy of closing the schools in local languages was a target to Bari language which reached to standardized level that enables them to issue a newspaper in Bari language at the time which named Dabur a Bari word for the Dawn. The irony is that instead of seeing the dawn of the Bari language after liberation of South Sudan from the yoke of Arab colonialism as Gen. Ladu Gore once said, we are witnessing its decline without any tangible policy neither at community level nor at state level. Instead one can easily observe in Bari territory the imposition of Arabism which is unfortunately championed and hailed nowadays by Bari themselves. When the Graduates' Conference ( Mu'tamar Al KHARIJEEN), the educated elites of northern Sudan were planning their hegemonic policies, they discussed at length the identity of the whole Sudan which they crafted based on “Islamism and Arabism “. When asked why they didn’t consider the non Arabs cultures they responded arrogantly by saying these nations in Sudan have no alternative other than entering this melting pot they have crafted because these nations can offer nothing of value. Their message was to clear any obstacle that tried to stop the advancement of Arabic language and culture and their mission is to spread them all over the country and beyond. So, the only tribe in South Sudan that reached to consciousness and political awareness by then was Bari as a result since then they became a target and under the systematic plan to annihilate them ensued and anti- Bari policies and sentiments being developed so as to render any indigenous language and those who speak it as backwards. Now the majority of Bari sons and daughters in Juba feel inferior and they shy from the language of their fathers and grandfathers. It is in fact such policies which sponsored by the government was nothing less than cultural genocide. Kill the spirit and the body will rot. Cultural war is the most dangerous and insidious kind of war and you can not see the enemy and you do not feel the attacks and the battlefields not far in the bushes but could be your towns or villages and even in your home. A sign of a dead spirit can be seen in Juba. These anti Bari sentiments were first developed in the Arabic schools formed by Abud in Juba town. Most of Bari suffered from it as the vice president Dr. James once said that the people in Juba call their brothers who speak their mother tongue `` Öho. It is sheer naivety and utter ignorance to deny these anti Bari sentiments. In his famous speech the late General PETER CIRILO, one of the greatest Bari leaders in late eighties, addressing the National Conference on Peace in Sudan, addressing the conferees that: “ it is imperative to examine the roots causes of the problems of Sudan in its historical context with frankness and sobriety”. He criticized the minority ruling circles in Khartoum who projected and promoted an inverted image of superiority over the majority of Africans and who to all purposes must be Arabized. He demanded the government of Sudan to stop its policy of cultural domination which manifested in various forms for example the predominant use of Arabic language as medium of instruction at all levels and warned against the imposition of Arabism. Even the famous Bari leader Alfred Ladu Gore once said South Sudan has at last liberated itself from the yoke of Arab colonialism he knew that Since the Independence of Sudan especially from sixties up to this moment, Bari character and personality experienced severe attack with the aim to cripple it and rendered it ineffective. These challenges will not stop the spirit of the Bari to revive and take his bright future in his own hand and battle with the present and learn from the past to reach its glorious destiny. In the 1990s and especially 1992, the Bari’s character had witnessed once again serious strikes due to events that happened in Juba. This event is a landmark in the history of the Bari people and citizens of Juba in general. After this incident, Juba was no longer as it used to be. The indigenous people became suspects and were accused of supporting the rebels or conspired against the regime. During this time, Bari people have lost the best of its intellectuals who symbolised the courage and dignity attached to the Bari’s character and personality. Almost every Bari family had lost one or two of either his close or distant relatives. The government then adopted tough security measures and policies which resembled the policies which were implemented in the Turkiyya period. The objective of these policies were to silence Bari and to rob them of their identity and erase their consciousness that was groomed in them by the British. Bari intellectuals until the eighties hardly spoke Arabic only English and Bari. It could be said that the policies which were adopted that time have wounded the soul of Bari people due to great loss of their dear ones and the only consolation for that great loss is that South Sudan, a country for which they have dearly sacrificed, became an independent state. However, the dejavu of Turkiyya and Khartoum governments seemed to haunt the Bari. But it seems the same policies are reproducing itself to the extent that it makes it seem like it’s a mere continuation of the same past regimes and policies . Still Bari’s character is present to voice out its call against injustice It must be stated that the Bari people are not anti Arab or against any religion. But they value their dignity and freedom and do not like to impose anything on others nor like others to impose their language or culture on them. . The Vice president Dr. James Wani in his latest attempt to revive the Bari language took very bold steps by initiating the reissuing of Dabur newspapers. In conclusion, as we have shown the evolution of the Bari people during past and present times. One is more hopeful and optimistic about the future especially when the Bari people started inside the country and all over the globe to sense the urgency of revival and cultural awareness as well as a restoration of Bari identity and character. In the too fast changing and globalized world, it becomes imperative to know who you are and have cultural awareness in order to keep the legacy of our forefathers alive and not disgrace them by winning the fake world and losing ourselves. It is a mission of each and everyone of us to make the Bari language, Culture and character great again! Unity, Love and peace!

Bari Religion[edit]

A group of Bari talking with a European misisonary, c. 1860

Many Bari combine aspects of their traditional religion with Christianity, which the majority of Bari today follow. They believe in one almighty God and existence of powerful spirits (good and evil). Some still worship solely the traditional gods, one of which is nameless and has two different sides. Half of this god lives in the sky and brings forth rain and the other half of this god lives in the ground and encourages growth in agriculture. They also have many cultural heroes, such as Sabaseba, who is known as "Old Wind." The elders in the village were valued for their knowledge of gods such as these. [6]

Nun, a supernatural power, is something can be found in big, strong trees. Tribe members would stuff the tree bark with tobacco leaves and on occasion, blood and fat from animals were put upon the tree bark as well. The Bari would pray while anointing the tree, and they believed that Nun would visit at night to feast on the offerings. The Nun goes by different names, and each name is associated with a different personality. The Nun-loki is the most benevolent and forgiving, and when he came he would stop the life of whoever he thought had lived long enough. Nun-lukak was known as the "spirit of food" and prayers to him would result in a plentiful growing season. If prayer did not work, then a sacrifice would be made.[7]

The Bari will make small animal sacrifices to the spirits of the dead, and that by doing so, when they die they will move onto the next life in the horizon, which is very much like their first one. [8]

The Bari believe that the world is made up of levels and that the plane they live on now is in the middle. They believe that they are surrounded by beings that live in the water, in the air, on the earth, and in their villages. [9]

When the Bari visited members of another tribe, there would be a ceremony that took place that involved singing and chanting and swinging back and forth on hammocks. The men would swing in hammocks placed closer to the ceiling, while the women would swing on hammocks that hung lower to the ground. They would also exchange gifts to members of the same gender. The gifts had to be of equal value to each other, so men often exchanged arrows or arrowheads while the women would exchange articles of clothing, primarily woven skirts. [10]


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  2. ^ Breidlid, Anders (20 October 2014). A Concise History of South Sudan: New and Revised Edition. ISBN 9789970253371.
  3. ^ Breidlid, Anders (20 October 2014). A Concise History of South Sudan: New and Revised Edition. ISBN 9789970253371.
  4. ^ Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory: The Legacy of War, Ethnicity, and Slavery in Early South Sudan. ISBN 9781580461511.
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  7. ^ Seligman, C. G.; Seligman, B. Z. (1928). "The Bari". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 58: 409–479. doi:10.2307/2843631. ISSN 0307-3114. JSTOR 2843631.
  8. ^ The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Bari". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  9. ^ "Barí". Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Barí". Retrieved 22 October 2020.
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