The Didinga (diDinga) occupy the Didinga Mountains region in Budi County, Eastern Equatoria State in South Sudan. They live in the valleys, on the plateaus and slopes, and on the adjacent plains of the region. Their neighbors include the Toposa, the Boya, Ketebo, Logir, Teuth and Dongotona peoples - groups with whom the Didinga have had frequent conflicts due to economic pressures.
Demography and Geography
The Didinga inhabit the Didinga Hills, formerly part of Kapoeta district in east bank Equatoria. The Didinga and Boya now inhabit Budi County whose headquarters is Chukudum. The Didinga people number about 60,000. Their main settlements are Chukudum, Nagishot, New Kush-Heiman, Laura and Natinga.
The Didinga terrain is hilly. It rises to about 2,000 feet ending up in a plateau. It has sufficient rainfall to sustain thick vegetation and supports a burgeoning agriculture, in which the people cultivate maize, sorghum, beans, wheat, tobacco. The Didinga are pastoralists by inclination and agriculturalists by necessity.
They have two crops per year growing mainly maize, beans, millet, simsim, pumpkins or tobacco. They engage in craft making, pottery, etc. The Didinga county has a high potential for commercial farming of wheat, barley, maize, Irish potatoes etc. The Didinga pan alluvial and fluvial gold from the river beds. Other minerals with high economic potential include marble, limestone for cement making, gold and gemstones.
The Didinga, Boya, Tennet, Murle and Mursi of Southwest Ethiopia share a language that distinguishes them from all other groups in the Sudan. Their language, often called the Murle-Didinga language, is also spoken by a group living in southwest Ethiopia. The Didinga claim to have lived in southwest Ethiopia two hundred years ago. During their migration to the Didinga Hills, the Didinga, Murle, Tennet and Boya were one group. They lived in harmony in Sudan until a hunting-party dispute caused the Murle to leave. Later, a famine caused the Boya to withdraw. Today, though the groups have separated, their language remains the same. Their most urban town is Chukudum, a historic town that hosted the first Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) National Convention in 1994.
During the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) tensions with the Dinka people built up after the Dinka-dominated SPLA forces moved into the area in 1985. They came to a head in 1999 when the Didinga officer Peter Lorot was passed over for promotion in favor of a Dinka, assassinated his rival and took to the woods with his supporters. The fighting with Lorot's forces displaced about 16,800 people from Chukudum to nearby villages in the highlands. The "Chukudom Crisis" was resolved in August 2002 during a Peace Conference organized by the New Sudan Council of Churches. An attempt by the SPLA in June 2006 to disarm Lorot's militia was ignored, with the group threatening to start fighting again.
For many years, the Didinga enjoyed a quiet, rural life. They took great pride in raising cattle and owned large herds that were supervised by the young single Didinga men. However, in 1963, a political disturbance which lasted until 1973 caused many Didinga to leave their cattle behind and to migrate to Uganda. While in Uganda, for the first time in their lives, Didinga were exposed to large-scale farming. Also, their children were introduced to education. These experiences created in the people the desires to make money and to gain knowledge, things which had been unimportant in the Hills.
When they returned to Sudan in 1973, the people were filled with a new vision for a more advanced life. They hoped to incorporate into their own culture many of the ideas and concepts they had learned in Uganda. They were met, however, with a drastic decrease in the numbers in their herds: clansmen who had remained in the Hills had failed to restock the cattle during the disturbance. Today, many Didinga are still working to enlarge their herds. They purchase cattle either through the exchange of grain or beer, or with money.
At present, farming and the desire for an education are as important to the Didinga as the herding of cattle is. The traditional values associated with raising cattle remain embedded in all Didinga. Many still take great pleasure in owning large herds. Their new-found hope for change that was brought back from their temporary migration also remains instilled in their daily lives. The Didinga use their cattle not only as a means of wealth, but also for their milk that is consumed daily and made into butter. Didinga also consume fresh blood drawn from the necks of cattle with miniature arrows. The Didinga do not fish at all, because the eating of fish is taboo in their culture.
The Didinga live in scattered homesteads, with each clan grouped together. Homes are round with cone-shaped roofs. During certain seasons and during grazing periods, the Didinga also live in rustic camps. An important aspect of Didinga society is the organization of 'Nyekerehet' (age-grades) for boys. Every three to five years, boys who are around eight years old are placed together to form a new "age-grade." These boys work and play together until they are married.
The Didinga do not practice, as in other communities, infant or pre-arranged marriages. The prospective couple is guided by their own feelings and emotions and only after they have agreed to marry does the suitor approach the parents of the bride. On going to announce the affair he is accompanied by three friends and takes along 6 goats, a spear and a hoe. Dowry is agreed upon and settled. Sterility is not a ground for divorce, making divorce rare among the Didinga.
After delivery the woman remains secluded, in the house for 3-4 days depending on whether the child was a boy or a girl, except for intimate relatives and friends. She is considered to be in a condition of ‘ceremonial pollution’ and she is not allowed to cook food.
Delivery to twins as well as triplets is considered luck. However, until the triplets reach puberty, their father is prohibited from eating with others or may not accompany any party going to war or hunting.
Ordinarily, children are named after their grand parents. A posthumous child is always named lokidak or ikidak (female). A child born after a series of infantile deaths is named lokure or ikure (female).
The dead are buried with the heads facing the east in a deep grave outside the village.
The Didinga are divided into two main political groups: the eastern Didinga - consisting of Bokorora, Laudo and Marukoiyan; the western group - consisting of Patalado, Thuguro, Kademakuch, Lakorechoke and Lomongle.
The Didinga clans are exogamous. There is no definite centre or organisation. But the Didinga have the office of paramount chief, which is hereditary – a son or in default a brother’s son takes over. There is also a rain-chief for both the Didinga and Boya. The rain chief receives offerings of goats to ensure rain and in return gives sacred water used in local rain ceremonies. Didinga chiefs lead in war and may summon people for an organised raid. In peace times they arbitrate in disputes among their own people or with aliens and generally represent their men when a litigant has a cause to plead before another chief. Didinga chiefs have little privileges and their control is nevertheless negligible except in matters concerning the whole community.
The Didinga like their neighbours live a life that accepts the existence of a supreme being and the sphere of spirits interacting with the living through prayers, offerings and gifts.
Their traditional beliefs and religious practices include having a tribal rainmaker who is entrusted with performing certain rituals to bring rain. Didinga also worship and sacrifice to spirits and gods and place great importance upon the worship of dead ancestors.
The Didinga have musical implements, drums harps which are sounded on occasions, for example, when either going to dance, hunt or war.
The Didinga neighbour the Boya to the north, Toposa to the east, Dodoth to the south, Dongotono to the south west, Lotuka and Lopit to the west. In the past, the Didinga used to have constant feuds with Dodoth, Toposa and Turkana of Kenya but lived on terms of amity with the Nipore through trading with iron products, and friendly with Lango, Teretenia, Dongotono and Logir. They intermarry with the Boya.
The eruption of the war witnessed recruitment of large numbers of Didinga youth. The first SPLM Convention 1994 was held in Chukudum. The area is now linked to northern Kenya by a road that has motorised the transport between Chukudum and Lokichoggio.
The war caused the displacement of some Didinga people and a small community lives in Kakuma.