Bari people



The Bari are a tribe of Karo, Nilotic people inhabiting South Sudan. They are known as the Duor by other communities occupying the savanna lands of the White Nile. The Bari speak the Bari language as a mother tongue, which belongs to the Nilotic family.

Bari people

The Name

The people who call themselves Bari live in the valley of the River Nile. Their villages are spread along the east and west banks of the Nile but also up to 30 miles away from the banks.



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.

Traditionally the Baris believe in one almighty God and existence of powerful spirits (good and evil). Today the Bari's demography is made up of Christians (Catholics and Protestants), Muslims, and followers of traditional religions (not organized).

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 tattoos: around the belly area, the flank, the back, and the face (on the temple) in the form of arrow shapes, or simple flowers.

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.


Origin of the Bari

Based on Bari folklore, the Bari people settled in their current lands prior to the end of the grand trans-migration in Africa. By the time the Luo ethnic groups invaded and migrated through the Bari lands about 1650, the Bari were already sedentary agro-pastoralists, living, and trading with the neighboring ethnic groups.

Bari people Bari people

Demography and Geography

The Bari inhabit a good portion of land along the River Nile in what is currently marked as Juba County, extending westwards to the borders with Pojulu and Nyangwara people; northwards to the borders with Mundari and Dinka of Bor; southwards to the borders with Kuku, Madi and Acholi people; eastwards to the borders with Lulubo and Lokoya people.

The population occupying the countryside has been diminished considerably; first, historically by the Slave traders, but more recently due to years of displacement by the two Sudanese civil wars (1955-1972, and 1983-2005). The latest population figures show that few Bari are still living in their villages; most of the Bari continue to live in towns as Internally Displaced People (IDP), awaiting help to resettle in their former villages; in the meantime though, their lands are at risk of being annexed into the growing suburbs of Juba, and the planned capital city.


Environment and Economy

Ecological changes over the last few decades have transformed the Bari-land from a tropical rain forest into an arid poor savannah with fewer rains. The huge forests have disappeared under the pressure of charcoal industry. The Bari economy is mainly agrarian based with emphasis on subsistence agriculture. Both large and small domestic livestock are also kept, but mainly for sociocultural and traditional functions, although they represent a source of quick cash as dictated by family circumstances.

Depending on the area, the main crops grown include sorghum, maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, groundnuts and sesame (simsim). The Bari who live along the banks of the Nile also use the islands and banks of the river to engage in small scale commercial farming of vegetables and fruits to feed the towns (Juba and suburbs, Mongalla, and Rejaf).



The language spoken by the Bari is called Bari. A considerable number of ethnic groups neighboring the Bari do speak languages that share a substantial vocabulary with Bari language. These ethnic groups include the Mandari, Nyangwara, Pöjullu, Kakwa, Kuku, Lulubo, and Nyepu (related to the Lotuho language).


Social Structure

The Bari society was differentiated primarily into the Lui (free people) and the Dupi (serfs) - who were mainly artisans, hunters and fishermen. Traditionally the kimak (chiefs) and the komonye-kak (fathers of the land) hailed from the Lui. These constituted the kworiniko or aristocratic class of wealthy cattle owners. In the old days and as was fixed by custom, the ‘Dupi’ used to be a hereditary class of serfs who lived under obligations of service to the Lui, presumably the chiefs and komonye-kak, although wealthy men could acquire them. The serfs were differentiated according to trade: tumunit lo yukit (tomonok ti yukit) iron-mongers or the smiths; lumunit lo kare (lomonok ti kare) fishermen and the yaritat (yari) or the hunters.
Bari society has divisions based on status: lupudyöt (young boys); kö’disi (young girls); the kalipinök (the initiates); the teton (young men, often the warriors) and the temejik (the elders).

Bari people



Many social events bring the Bari together; smaller events or ceremonies are usually restricted to clans, but marriage or funeral rites are usually attended by many if not a whole village regardless of clan. Initiation into adulthood, although now no longer practiced, used to be a huge event without restriction to clans. For girls, the initiation ceremony used to involve the extraction of lower teeth and/or tattooing of body. It was conducted over a period of 3 months during the dry season. This was the opportunity for courtship and engagements and marriage arrangements. The boys conducted their own initiation in a ceremony in which they gave themselves a nickname suggestive of their philosophy of life.



The Bari are exogamous and male polygamist. Traditionally, marriage was an elaborate affair, and began with courtship but once an agreement to marry was reached the matter was presented to the respective parents. If the proposal is acceptable on grounds of class, social status, compatibility of clans, and other criteria, the groom family then visits the family of the bride to negotiate the dowry to be paid. At the conclusion of a successful dowry negotiation, the Bari wedding (called Budu) is initiated. Some weeks following the Budu, the bride is accompanied to her new home. It is important to note that, the Bari dowry is not equivalent of buying a woman, but rather it is a token of mutual respect, although the exchange of tokens never ceases.

Bari people Bari people

The Bari also practice ‘friendship marriages’ (mila in Bari) in which parents wishing to consolidate the friendship between themselves, arrange marriage for their children. This form of marriage has almost been phased out. Nonetheless, the mechanics of this form of marriage usually involves agreements when the children are even less than ten years of age, and dowry may even be paid, regardless of the age of the girl. Under no circumstances is the girl considered a wife. She continues to stay with her parents, although she regularly visits her future in-laws and may even stay for days or a few weeks. However, no premarital sex is allowed until the proper traditional marriage/wedding steps are completed, when the girl achieves adulthood.
Forceful carriage away of a girl into marriage and eloping are normally repulsive to the Bari, and in most cases trigger conflict between the two families or even between clans. The traditional marriage steps can only be initiated after payment of ‘kikwa’ (fine for searching of the girl by relatives), as well as fine for premarital sex. These fines are usually requested in a separate meeting between the two families\clans involved,s and if mutual agreement failed, the case may be settled through the Local tribal Chief or magistrate.

The Bari are very particular about virginity of the girl. This could lead to the termination of the marriage if on the ceremony day the groom discovers that the bridge had already lost her virginity. Conception out of wedlock is abhorred and the girl is usually chased away from home, but in essence accompanied to the home of the boy responsible for the pregnancy. Relationship between the families and acceptance of the girl back home only occurs after the usual fines are paid, with or without a pledge for marriage.



The naming of a child is an important ceremony among the Bari. Immediately upon delivery, the mother normally gives the child a name. The names are specific to the serial order of birth. Thus, the names for first born boy or first born girl are specific, and likewise for subsequent children. There is redundancy of names for the first borns since each gets a total of three separate names: one from the mother or maternal family lineage; a second from the maternal grandmother; and the third from the paternal family lineage. All three names are not nicknames; they are independent and are never combined. Relatives from the father's or mother's side usually prefer the name from their lineage. Officially though one name is used whenever a written document is required; usually the name favored by the parents or child dominates.

Examples of first born boy's names are: Jada; Loro; Tombe; Youngo; Yugusuk; etc. and the list could reach fifteen names or more. First born girl's names are also as many as fifteen. Special names are given for certain circumstances; for example a first born girl following boys maybe called "Kiden", or Kenyi for a first born boy following" girls.
The names for second born and subsequent children are set with no redundancy. A second born boy is usually named "Lado or Ladu", or "Swaka" if the father is Lado or Ladu. The third boy in the family is named "Wani", the fourth "Pitia or Pitya", etc. A second born girl is usually named "Poni", the third "Jwan", the forth "Pita", etc.

The child and parents can not share first names, and hence the redundancy of names for the first born allows the avoidance of duplication. For subsequent children, the parents avoid duplication by merely skipping the name order.



The Bari used to believe that however death occurred, it was because of a mishap; a person had been bewitched, a victim of sorcery, or poisoned by another person, etc. If a wife died young without evidence of sickness, the interpretation used to be that she had been mistreated by the husband. The relatives used to come to the homestead with feelings of fighting, and could beat up the husband or relatives in the house or destroy property in retaliation.

Regardless of the cause of death of a married woman, her relatives would not allow burial until the in-laws release a final part of the dowry called 'Kasik' (consisting of goats). To enforce this step, the relatives of the deceased woman would symbolically mount an armed guard over the corpse until the fine is paid. An equivalent ceremony is performed for a deceased man, but the maternal uncles usually mount the armed guards.
To mourn the dead the relatives of the deceased (adults and children) have their heads totally shaved or done so symbolically by having a few hairs removed along the edges.

A married man does not move anywhere until after ‘melona wa let’ (cleansing ceremony of the home) was performed. The man is expected to mourn his wife for a year or two before he is allowed to marry again.

In case of the husband’s death, the woman shaves and mourns for a year or two. The last funeral rites are performed after which the elders of the clan request the widow to choose one member of the clan to take care of the children.


Social and Political Organisation

The Bari society have a traditional system of authority as represented by the "Matat" (chief) hailing from certain hereditary clans. Before the colonial government introduced the idea of Executive or Paramount Chief (Matat), there were the "monye lo kak" (owner of the land) and the "Matat lo piong" (rainmaker) who combined spiritual and secular powers. In certain cases a rain maker became an executive chief.


Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs

The Bari believe in the existence of two spiritual powers. There is the '''' Ngun lo Ki'''' (the Almighty or God of Heaven) and the ''''mulokö'''' (Spirits), that reside on earth in various topographical locations or structures, including homes, forests, streams, rivers, valleys, hills, mountains, etc. They are considered both good and malicious, and are supposedly the cause of sicknesses and bad omen. If a person has been doing bad or evil things in life, these gods are supposed to bring some sort of harm to the individual or even kill the person, and the Almighty would not rescue one. To test whether or not a Bari is lying, one needs to wait until he/she says ''''Ngun lo ki lu’ (let God strike me dead), and you knew the Bari was innocent.


Culture; Arts, Music, Literature, Handicraft

The Bari culture and arts is invested in decency and dignity for young people to their respect for elders of both genders, to expression of feelings in songs of praise, to dancing with girls, etc. The Bari physical art includes: making ‘yika, known as lasira in Arabic’ (mat from reeds); baskets (from reeds or palm leaves); kitty chairs, pots, ‘mae’ (a small net hanging from the ceiling inside the hut, and used for storage of belongings and meals) and beads. The Bari weapons of war and hunting have spears, bows and arrows, whips made from the skin of hippo. The Bari are rich in oral literature, folktales, songs, poems, etc.


Neighbours and Foreign Relations

The Bari neighbour the Mandari and Bor Dinka to the north; the Nyangwara and Pöjulu to the west and north west; the Kuku, Madi and Acholi to the south and south east; and the Lokoya to the east. The relationship with these neighbours has not been very cordial, particularly with the Lokoya who have been raiding the Bari cattle. But the Bari have also experienced raids by Mundari, and in the 60's had to repel invasions by Bor Dinka.


Latest Developments

The growth of the Sudanese state has in a profound manner affected the Bari traditional system. Most of the social fabrics and the class character of the Bari society has been eroded. The long running South-North civil wars have caused humanitarian disruption and displacement of the Bari people leading to the death of elders and custodians of culture and tradition.

After the end of the 2nd civil war (2005), the resettlement of refugees and IDP around Juba has caused further disruption of Bari village communities as the new settlements annexed land previously occupied by Bari village communities. And yet, the planned capital city of the Republic of South Sudan is expected to annex more land from the Bari.



The two civil wars (1955- 1972 and 1983-2005) caused large numbers of Bari to be internally displaced, and become refugees in the neighboring countries. Subsequent immigration to other countries has now given rise to sizeable Bari communities in Australia, Europe and Americas, but many still remain IDP or living as refugees in East Africa.

A favorite Bari dish: Nyette (spinach in peanut butter casserole) accompanied with soft bread made from Sorgham or millet. Other dishes may consist of fish, meat (beef, goats, sheep, or wild game), and may be accompanied with cassava or sweet potatoes.

Typically, in the villages, the traditional system is to eat one big main meal at dinner time (7- 8pm or so), and snacks (corn, fruits, cereals) or smaller portion meals, during the day. Depending on the climatic season, the main meal usually consists of casserole based on vegetables or fish or meat (beef, goats, sheep, or wild game) accompanied with a source of carbohydrate (cassava or sweet potatoes or a soft-bread of sorghum or millet grain or even corn, or mixture of any two). Both dried vegetables and dried or smoked-dried meats are prepared.