Shilluk people

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Sudan Malakal two Shiluki 1936.jpg
Two Shilluk men, photographed 1936 near Malakal, South Sudan
Total population
Shilluk, English
African traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
Other Luo peoples, other Nilotic peoples

The Shilluk (Shilluk: Chollo) are a major Luo Nilotic ethnic group of southern Sudan,[clarification needed] living on both banks of the river Nile, in the city of Malakal. Before the Second Sudanese Civil War the Shilluk also lived in settlements on the northern bank of the Sobat River, close to where the Sobat joins the Nile.

The Shilluk are the third largest ethnic group of southern Sudan, after the Dinka and Nuer.

Their language is called Dhøg Cøllø, dhøg being the Shilluk word for language and mouth. It belongs to the Luo branch of the Western Nilotic subfamily of the Nilotic languages.

History and culture[edit]

Shilluk woman carrying a jar
Photo of Shilluk "material culture" from the late 1870s
More Shilluk "material culture"

The Shilluk people formed today's Shilluk Kingdom in southern Sudan in 1454. Historically, the Shilluk was a patriarchal monarchy led by a reth from the divine lineage of the culture hero Nyikang who is believed to affect the nation's health. Their society was once fairly hierarchical, with castes of royals, nobles, commoners, and slaves.[1]

Today, democracy governs the Shilluk through an elected headman voted in by a council of hamlet heads.[1]

The Shilluk are closely related to the Anuak people, also members of the Luo Nilotic. The Shilluk language shares many words with dha anywaa, the Anuak language.

Most Shilluk are sedentary agriculturists.[1] Like most Nilotic groups, cattle-raising is a large part of their economy; however, agriculture and fishing are more significant activities than usual. Both sexes engage in agricultural work.[1]


The Shilluk, along with the Dinka, are some of the tallest people in the world. In an investigation between 1953-1954, D. F. Robers reported that Dinka Ruweng males were, on average, 181.3 cm (5 ft 11 1⁄2 in) tall, while Shilluk males averaged 182.6 cm (6 ft 0 in).[2] General characteristics among the Nilotic people include long legs, narrow bodies and short trunks, adaptations to South Sudan's hot climate.[3]

However, in 1995, male Shilluk refugees in southwestern Ethiopia were, on average, 172.6 cm (5 ft 8 in) tall. The study suggests that Nilotic people "may attain greater height if privileged with favorable environmental conditions during early childhood and adolescence, allowing full expression of the genetic material."[4] These refugees were displaced as a consequence of the succession of civil wars in their country from 1955 to the present.


Most Shilluk have converted to Christianity, while some still follow the traditional religion or a mixture of the two; a few have converted to Islam. The Shilluk pride themselves in being one of the first Nilotic groups to accept Christianity, the other being the Anuak people.[citation needed] The Episcopal Church of the Sudan dates the event to the late 19th century, when the Church Mission Society first began to send missionaries.

Colonial policies and missionary movements have divided Shilluk into Catholic and Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church historically proselytized in the western bank of the Nile and ran mission stations at Lul, Detwoc, Tonga and Yoynyang, while the American Inland Mission ran a mission station at Doleib Hill, located to the south of Malakal on the eastern side of the Nile, but situated on the Sobat River. The Shilluk were a minority in the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) for most of the Second Sudanese Civil War, their number peaking in the late 1980s and the pre-ceasefire fighting in 2004.


During the summer of 2010, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), in an attempt to disarm the tribe and stop a local Shilluk rebellion, burned a number of villages and killed an untold number of civilians in South Sudan's Shilluk Kingdom.[5] Over 10,000 people were displaced in the midst of the rainy season and sent fleeing into the forest, often naked, without bedding, shelter or food. Many children died from hunger and cold.[5]

Violence started again in April 2011 with an SPLA crackdown on rebel-controlled regions. Shilluk and Nuba were the alleged victims.[6]

Violence broke out again in Tonga in late 2022.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d "Shilluk | people | Britannica". Retrieved 1 May 2023.
  2. ^ Roberts, D. F.; Bainbridge, D. R. (1963). Bainbridge, D. R (ed.). "Nilotic physique". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 21 (3): 341–370. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330210309. ISSN 0002-9483. PMID 14159970.
  3. ^ Stock, Jay (Summer 2006). "Skeleton key". Planet Earth: 26.
  4. ^ Chali D (1995). "Anthropometric measurements of the Nilotic tribes in a refugee camp". Ethiopian Medical Journal. 33 (4): 211–7. PMID 8674486.
  5. ^ a b "Sudan: Transcending tribe"., LLC. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
  6. ^ "Southern Sudan: Abuses on Both Sides in Upper Nile Clashes". Juba: Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  7. ^ South Sudan: ‘Raw violence’ displaces thousands during ‘ruthless conflict’, UNHCR says, UN News, United Nations, December 7, 2022


  • Corbett, Greville G. (2000). Numbers. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 156–158. ISBN 0-521-64970-6. This section discusses number systems in Dhok-Chollo.

External links[edit]