Dinka people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Dinka)
Portrait of Dinka man
Regions with significant populations
 South Sudan4.5 million[citation needed]
Christianity, Dinka religion, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Nuer and Atwot

The Dinka tribe (Dinka: Jiɛ̈ɛ̈ŋ) are a Nilotic ethnic group native to South Sudan. The Dinka mostly live along the Nile, from Bor[1] to Renk, in the region of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile (two out of three Provinces that were formerly part of southern Sudan), and the Abyei Area of the Ngok Dinka in South Sudan.

They number around 4.5 million, according to the 2008 Sudan census, constituting about 40% of the population[2] of that country and the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan. The Dinka refer to themselves as Muonyjang (singular) and jieng (plural). They make up one of the branches of Lake Nilotes (mainly sedentary agropastoral peoples of the Nile Valley and African Great Lakes region who speak Nilotic languages, including the Nuer and Luo).[3]

Dinka are noted for their height, and, along with the Tutsi of Rwanda, they are the tallest group in Africa.[4] Roberts and Bainbridge reported an average height of 182.6 cm (5 ft 11.9 in) in a sample of 52 Dinka Agaar and 181.3 cm (5 ft 11.4 in) in 227 Dinka Ruweng measured in 1953–1954.[5] However, the stature of Dinka males later declined, possibly as a consequence of undernutrition and conflicts. An anthropometric survey of Dinka men, war refugees in Ethiopia, published in 1995, found a mean height of 176.4 cm (5 ft 9.4 in).[6]

The Dinka people have no centralised political authority. Instead their clans are independent but interlinked. Some traditionally provide ritual chiefs, known as the "masters of the fishing spear" or beny bith,[7] who provide leadership and are at least in part hereditary.


Sudanese tribesmen raid a Dinka village in around 1870

According to oral traditions, the Dinka originated from the Gezira in what became Sudan. In medieval times this region was ruled by the kingdom of Alodia,[8] a Christian, multi-ethnic empire dominated by Nubians.[9] Living in its southern periphery and interacting with the Nubians, the Dinka absorbed a sizable amount of Nubian vocabulary.[10] From the 13th century, with the disintegration of Alodia, the Dinka began to migrate out of Gezira, fleeing slave raids, military conflict, and droughts.[11]

Conflict over pastures and cattle raids has been happening between Dinka and Nuer as they battled for grazing land.[12]

The Dinka's religions, beliefs, and lifestyle have led to conflict with the Arab Islamic government in Khartoum. The Sudan People's Liberation Army, led by Dinka Dr. John Garang De Mabior, took arms against the government in 1983. During the subsequent 21-year civil war, many thousands of Dinka, along with non-Dinka southerners, were massacred by government forces. Since the independence of South Sudan, the Dinka, led by Salva Kiir Mayardit, engaged in a civil war with the Nuer and other groups, who accuse them of monopolising power.[13]


In 1983, due to Sudan's second civil war, many educated Dinka were forced to flee the cities to rural areas. Some were Christians who had been converted by the Church Missionary Society.[14] Among them were ordained clergymen who began preaching in the villages. Songs and praise were used to teach the mostly illiterate Dinka about the faith.[15] Most Dinka converted to Christianity and are learning to adapt traditional religious practices to Christian teachings.[16] The conversion took place in rural villages and among Dinka refugees country. The Lost Boys of Sudan were converted in significant numbers in the refugee camps of Ethiopia.[17]

Bor massacre[edit]

On November 15, 1991, the event known as the "Dinka Bor Masscre" commenced in South Sudan.[18][1] Forces led by the breakaway Riek Machar faction deliberately killed an estimated 2,000 Dinka civilians that included Hol, Nyarweng, Twic east and Bor,[19] and wounded several thousand more over two months. Much of their wealth was destroyed, which led to mass starvation deaths. It is estimated that 100,000 people left the area following the attack.[20] [21]

Pastoral strategies[edit]

An example of rainy season temporary settlements—note the stilts upon which the huts are built to protect against periodic flooding of the region.
Cattle of the Dinka people, Juba, South Sudan

Southern Sudan is "a large basin gently sloping northward",[22] through which flow the Bahr el Jebel River, the White Nile, the Bahr el Ghazal (Nam) River and its tributaries, and the Sobat, all merging into a vast barrier swamp.

Vast oil areas are present to the south and east on the flood plain, a basin in southern Sudan into which the rivers of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia drain from an ironstone plateau that belts the regions of Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile.

The terrain can be divided into four land classes:

  • Highlands: higher than the surrounding plains by a few centimeters; there host permanent settlements. Vegetation consists of open thorn woodland and/or open mixed woodland with grasses.
  • Intermediate Lands: slightly below the highlands, commonly subject to flooding from rainfall in the Ethiopian and East/Central African highlands. Vegetation is mostly open perennial grassland with some acacia woodland and other sparsely distributed trees.
  • Toic: land seasonally inundated by rivers and inland water courses, retaining enough moisture throughout the dry season to support cattle grazing.
  • Sudd: permanent swampland below the level of the toic; covers a substantial part of the floodplain; provides good fishing but not grazing; historically a physical barrier to outsiders.

The ecology of the large basin is unique; until recently, wild animals and birds flourished, rarely hunted by the agro-pastoralists.[22]

The climate determines the Dinka's migration patterns, responding to the periodic flooding and dryness of their surroundings. They begin moving around May–June, at the onset of the rainy season, migrating to their settlements of mud and thatch housing situated above flood level, where they plant their crops of millet and other grains. These rainy season settlements feature other permanent structures such as cattle byres (luak) and granaries. During the dry season (beginning about December–January), everyone except the aged, ill, and nursing mothers migrates to semi-permanent dwellings in the toic for cattle grazing. The cultivation of sorghum, millet, and other crops begins in the highlands in the early rainy season, and the harvest begins when the rains are heavy in June–August. Cattle are driven to the toic in September and November when the rainfall drops off and graze on crop remnants.[23]

The number of Dinka sub-divisions is contested, as the border between groups, sub-divisions, and sections is blurred and often difficult to determine. The Atuot people can be divided into Apaak and Reel, Bor into Bor, Twic, Nyarweng and Hol[24][19] and Panaruu into Awet and Kuel and Ciec manyiel (Jieng) into Ador and Lou.[25][26][27]

Rek people[edit]

The Rek are an ethnic group in South Sudan, a subgroup of the Dinka.[28] Its members speak South-Western Dinka, also called Rek, a Nilotic language. Many members of this ethnicity are Christians. Some estimates put the Rek population at or exceeding 1,200,000 people, they occupy Warrap state and Northern Bahr el Ghazel state.[29]

Cultural and religious beliefs[edit]

Dinka tribesmen, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, c. 1912

Dinka religious beliefs and practices also reflect their lifestyle. The Dinka religion, like most other Nilotic faiths, is Polytheistic, but has one creator, Nhialic, who leads the Dinka pantheon of gods and spirits. He is generally distant from humans and does not directly interact with them.[30] The sacrificing of oxen by the "masters of the fishing spear" is central to Dinka religious practice. Young men become adults through an initiation ritual that includes marking the forehead with a sharp object. During this ceremony, they acquire a second cow-color name. The Dinka believe they derive religious power from nature and the world around them rather than from scripture.[31]

Men and women eat separately. When milk supply is low, children get priority. Children are fed milk from 9–12 months. After about one year, children start eating solid food (porridge). After children turn three, they eat two meals a day. Adults also eat two meals a day.[32]

Popular culture[edit]

Dinka refugees were portrayed in works such as Lost Boys of Sudan by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk and God Grew Tired Of Us, Joan Hechts' book The Journey of the Lost Boys and the fictionalized autobiography of a Dinka refugee, Dave Eggers' What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. Other books on and by the Lost Boys include The Lost Boys of Sudan by Mark Bixler, God Grew Tired of Us by John Bul Dau, They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky by Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak and A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. In 2004 the first volume of the graphic novel Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan was released in Dallas, Texas.[33]


Dinka/Jieng tribal groups[edit]

This list of Dinka tribal grouping by region. Note that these divisions are further divided into several subdivisions; for example, Dinka Rek is subdivided into Aguok, Kuac, and many other things, but they speak the same language; only the pronunciation is slightly different.

There are no Dinka tribes in the region of Equatoria; Dinka is located in the regions of Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile respectively.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Captain J. Liddell's Journeys in the White Nile Region". The Geographical Journal. 24 (6): 651–655. 1904. Bibcode:1904GeogJ..24..651.. doi:10.2307/1776256. ISSN 0016-7398. JSTOR 1776256.
  2. ^ Ancient Historical Society Virtual Museum, 2010
  3. ^ Seligman, C. G.; Seligman, Brenda Z. (1965). Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  4. ^ "The Tutsi". In and Out of Focus: Images from Central Africa 1885-1960. National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  5. ^ Roberts, D. F.; Bainbridge, D. R. (1963). "Nilotic physique". Am J Phys Anthropol. 21 (3): 341–370. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330210309. PMID 14159970.
  6. ^ Chali, D. (1995). "Anthropometric measurements of the Nilotic tribes in a refugee camp". Ethiopian Medical Journal. 33 (4): 211–217. PMID 8674486.
  7. ^ Lienhardt, G. (1961). Divinity and Experience: the Religion of the Dinka. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  8. ^ Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory. University of Rochester. pp. 21–23. ISBN 1580461514.
  9. ^ Werner, Werner (2013). Das Christentum in Nubien. Geschichte und Gestalt einer afrikanischen Kirche ["Christianity in Nubia. History and shape of an African church"] (in German). Lit. p. 160. ISBN 978-3-643-12196-7.
  10. ^ Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory. University of Rochester. p. 21. ISBN 1580461514.
  11. ^ Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory. University of Rochester. pp. 29–31. ISBN 1580461514.
  12. ^ Diamond, Jared (2012). The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101606001.
  13. ^ "As South Sudan implodes, America reconsiders its support for the regime". The Economist. 12 October 2017.
  14. ^ Zink, Jesse (April 2017). "Women and Religion in Sudan's Civil War: Singing through Conflict". Studies in World Christianity. 23 (1): 67–83. doi:10.3366/swc.2017.0170.
  15. ^ Nikkel, Marc R. (1992). "Aspects of Contemporary Religious Change among the Dinka". Journal of Religion in Africa. 22 (1): 78–94. doi:10.2307/1580785. JSTOR 1580785.
  16. ^ Fancher, Karen (2006). "Ritual and Sacrifice Among the Dinka of Southern Sudan: Implications for Christian Evangelism and Discipleship". Global Missiology English. 3 (3).
  17. ^ Snyder, Kathryn (1 January 2010). 'In My Heart I Had a Feeling of Doing It': A Case Study of the Lost Boys of Sudan and Christianity (Thesis).
  18. ^ Sudan (1912). Reports on the Finance, Administration, and Condition of Sudan. F. Nimr.
  19. ^ a b Sudan (1912). Reports on the Finance, Administration, and Condition of Sudan. F. In villages, Nimr.
  20. ^ Clammer, Paul (2005). Sudan: Bradt Travel Guide. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 9781841621142. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  21. ^ Beswick, Stephanie (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory: The Legacy of War, Ethnicity, and Slavery in South Sudan. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press. p. 217. ISBN 1-58046-151-4. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  22. ^ a b Roth 2003[full citation needed]
  23. ^ Deng, Francis Mading. The Dinka of Sudan. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1972.[page needed]
  24. ^ Sudan (1912). "Reports on the Finance, Administration, and Condition of the Sudan".
  25. ^ "TECOSS". Twic East Community of South Sudan. Archived from the original on 2011-06-19.
  26. ^ "Sudanese Twic Association of Michigan". Archived from the original on 2018-03-19. Retrieved 2019-07-26.
  27. ^ "The UN Refugee Agency". UNHCR.[not specific enough to verify]
  28. ^ Beswick, Stephanie (2006). Sudan's blood memory: the legacy of war, ethnicity, and slavery in early South Sudan (Reprinted. ed.). Rochester, NY [u.a.]: Univ. of Rochester Press. ISBN 9781580461511.[page needed]
  29. ^ Middleton, John; Tait, David (2013). Tribes Without Rulers Studies in African Segmentary Systems. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. pp. 97–108. ISBN 9781136532139.
  30. ^ Lienhardt, Godfrey (1961-01-01). Divinity and Experience : The Religion of the Dinka: The Religion of the Dinka. Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN 978-0-19-159185-3.
  31. ^ Beswick, S. F. (1 January 1994). "Islam and the Dinka of Southern Sudan from the Pre-Colonial Period to Independence (1956)". Journal of Asian and African Studies. 29 (3–4): 172–185. doi:10.1163/156852194X00298. S2CID 143445534.
  32. ^ Ogilvy, Susan M. (11 March 1981). "Food habits of the Dinka in the Jonglei area of Sudan--a preliminary study". Journal of Human Nutrition. Retrieved 11 March 2023 – via agris.fao.org.
  33. ^ Cuellar, Catherine (June 28, 2004). "'Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan': Comic Book Tells Harrowing Tale of Refugee Children". NPR News. NPR.
  34. ^ "Leader of Dinka tribe killed in Sudan attack". Al Jazeera English. 2013-05-05. Retrieved 2016-08-02.
  35. ^ Sudan (1912). Reports on the Finance, Administration, and Condition of the Sudan. F. Nimr.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]