The Lopit people are an ethnic group found in Eastern Equatoria State, South Sudan. Traditionally, they refer to themselves as donge (plural) or dongioni (singular). The Lopit number 160,000 to 200,000 people living in the Lopit area, in the Lopit mountains which extend from the east to the north of Torit.
The Lopit area borders Pari to the north, Tennet to the North and East, Bari to north-west, Lokoya and Otuho to the west, Otuho and Dongotono to the south, and Toposa and Boya to the east. Lopit comprises 55-57 villages. Imehejek is the headquarters of Lopa county and is located in the Lopit area. There are six payams (administrative areas) in the Lopit area: Imehejek (eastern / centre), Lohutok and Obunge (south), partly Arilo (north), Longiro and Bule (western / centre).
The Lopit people number about 25,000 to 30,000 people. They inhabit the Lopit hills that form the eastern frontiers of Torit district. The main settlements of the Lopit are Mehejek, Lohotok and Hiyala.
The Lopit live in a hilly environment and are agro-pastoralists practicing traditional agriculture as well as livestock rearing. These socio-economic occupations are carried out both on the mountain slopes and in the plains.
The main crops are sorghum, bulrush, millet, pumpkin; groundnuts, simsim, and okra. They also harvest forest products: honey and shea nuts from which they press oil. The Lopit, like other groups in the area practice extensive hunting. They engage in the trade of various commodities: cattle, groundnuts, sorghum, honey, chicken, handicrafts, okra, calabashes, hoes, tobacco.
The Lopit came to Southern Sudan from East Africa, probably late migrants from Lake Turkana.
Very little is known about the origin of the Lopit apart from the widely held view that they came along with the waves of groups migrating from Lake Turkana. The Lopit are said to have broken away from the Dongotono after a quarrel over gazelle soup.
Linguistically, the Lopit belong to the eastern Nilotics and their language is much closer to the Lotuka, Dongotono and Maasai of Kenya languages. These linguistic similarities give clues to the common origin of these people.
The Lopit are very proud of their cultural entity and this informs most of their attitudes and social life. Their material culture (especially southern Lopit) is similar to the Otuho while at the same time distinct (especially in central and northern Lopit). They practice several cultural initiations: childhood (naming initiation), adulthood, initiation into the camp (i.e. Mangat), and age-set initiation.
Once a child was born, both the mother and the infant underwent a period of exclusion ranging from 7 to 8 days depending on the sex of the child. This seclusion ended in a naming ceremony in which old women come to the homestead and perform some rituals that are particular to the child’s sex. After this ritual the mother of the child could now move freely and can go to the river.
When the child reached 14 or 15 years of age, the second life cycle initiation took place. The young adult will be initiated, in a short ceremony into adulthood (dure horwong) for the boys and (hodwo) for the girls.
They are secluded from the rest of the community for a period of 7 days while being looked after by the village spiritual leader. During this period they are served food and water in new calabashes, pots etc. They then emerged as new human beings with the girls prepared for marriage while the boys get initiated into the ruling age-set ''monyomiji'' (ruling class).
Marriage begun with courtship in the course of which the girl eloped with her sweet heart and only returned to her parental home after 3 to 5 days. The dowry is then settled and she returns to her new home.
The monyomiji are the authorities and representatives of each village, and the most powerful people in the village. They make the important decisions about war, festivals, cultivation, and initiations. They are respected and obeyed, but are obliged to serve the community and previous generation of monyomiji. If they are seen to be making bad decisions or not following the rules, then this older generation of monyomiji may suspend them.
A great ceremony is held when the new generation of monyomiji takes over from the previous ruling age set. This transfer of power happens at regular intervals, ranging from 12–22 years depending on the location, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
When this happens, they are sometimes sent away from the village and expected to return with a valuable item to express their apology.
In central and Northern Lopit (Ngotira, Dorik, Ngabori), a new set of monyomiji is initiated every 12 years. There are two names which are alternatively used for this group: ngalam and lefirat.
In Southern Lopit, (Lomiaha, Lohutok, Lolongo, and 1 village from Ngotira), a new set of monyomiji is initiated every 22 years. The same name is used for each new set: hifira.
From the age of 10–11, young girls begin preparing for initiation into girlhood. They begin to form associations amongst themselves, numbering from 3 up to 10–15. The groups of girls need to find a sleeping space to share in the house of an older woman. This older woman may be one of the girls' grandmothers, or a woman that is approached by a pair from the group who seek permission to stay in her house.
This time is for the girls to gain experience and knowledge of their expected duties as hodwo (adolescent girls). Each day they get up early (around 4am) to start grinding sorghum and other grains for their families. The old woman becomes a mentor to the girls, sharing advice with them in the mornings, as well as stories at night.
The formal initiation into hodwo takes place around the age of 14. An individual girl might be selected by the monyomiji for initiation, or a whole group might be initiated at the same time as the initiation of the new ruling age set (monyomiji).
Girls' duties as hodwo include:
Girls usually remain hodwo until they are married and have children. At this stage, they become honyomiji (women). Unmarried women may choose to join this group, or remain a hodwo for two more years.
Once girls have joined the honyomiji, they are the youngest set of women. It will be 30 years before they are initiated to the next set.
The Lopit live in a hilly and fertile environment and are agro-pastoralists, practising traditional agriculture as well as livestock rearing. These socio-economic occupations are carried out both on the mountain slopes and in the plains.
The main crops are sorghum, bulrush, millet, pumpkin, ground nuts, simsim, okra, syam, cassava, sweet potato, maize and mango. They also harvest forest products, bamboo roots, coconuts, honey, shea nuts (pressed to make oil), figs, and many other sorts.
The Lopit, like other groups in the area, practise extensive hunting. They hunt during the dry season, after the harvest (January – April) has ended. This time is for group hunting, when groups of up to 2,000 men team up to hunt game. Neighbouring villages team up to hunt in the land of the village that has called for the hunt. The call is put out four weeks in advance.
The groups split into two parts that proceed in different directions, and then the heads come together and regroup to cover a large area. The first animal killed in the hunt is given to the king of the land. When the meat is being divided up, elderly people have the first choice.
Some parts of the animal cannot be eaten freely. The internal organs (except for the lungs) can only be eaten by the older men and women, whilst young people cannot eat any part of the head or lower legs of an animal.
Buffalo, elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, gazelle, ostrich and antelope are usually hunted. Special hunts are organised for lions and leopards if they have killed livestock.
Fishing is practised from August to April, in swampy areas and lakes.
The Lopit like the Lotuka transfer power to the younger age-set in an initiation ceremony (hifira) after every 20 or 25 years. The village administration and all other affairs are handed to the new generation. The practice of this initiation slightly differs from village to the other. Most of the villages in southern Lopit tend to be influenced by the Lotuka practices while those in the centre and north have their hifira in a manner quiet different from that of Lotuka.
Like all the nationalities of east bank Equatoria political and administrative authority over the affairs of the community is exercised by the ruling age-set, monyomiji, which is transferred every quarter of a century. The other political cum spiritual institution among the Lopit is the rain-makers, who also enjoy much authority.
The Lopit believe in a supreme being - God, the spirits and their spheres. Most of their beliefs and customs are influenced by the Lotuka culture.
Lopit culture is orally transmitted through songs, poems, music that express feelings and emotions such as love, hate etc. Most of their physical culture and arts is adapted to warfare, hunting and other socio-economic activities and the daily life of the people.
Music and dancing are central to Lopit culture. There are different dances for different occasions. Each dance has specific costumes, music, at time allocations associated with it. Drums are an important part of the dances. Some main dances are:
The Lopit neighbour:
The Lopit have been marginalised and politically excluded as the politics of Torit district used to be dominated by the Lotuka elite. Participation in the war of liberation somewhat included the Lopit in the social and political process of south Sudan.
There is a small community of Lopit in Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya.