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  • Writer's pictureAnimal-Kind International

Dogs and Cats in South Sudan

Nickson wrote this article to explain the relationship of South Sudanese with cats and dogs.

The author, Nickson, in South Sudan

In South Sudan, dogs are used to protect against thieves, as a security “machine” in

compounds. Also, they are used by local people to herd cattle, sheep, and goats, and

during hunting trips in the bush.

The value of dogs differs from area to area, depending on the service they deliver

to the owner. Pastoralist communities such as the Bagara in Kordofan State, the

Denkia, Mondari, and Bari peoples, and all other cattle keepers are very serious

about their dogs because they help them on the range.

There is one clan, in the Bari tribe, called Lodara, who looks on dogs as their brothers.

In their tradition, they believe that a woman who has just given birth must eat with a

dog, on one plate, using one spoon, drinking water from the same cup, and sitting

at the same table. This tradition is meant to prove that the baby is actually the

husband’s. If the wife has strayed, and the baby is someone else’s, after she goes

through this traditional ceremony, the baby will die immediately (or possibly one

week or even one month later or the child may turn out to be handicapped in

some way). If the new mother refuses to eat with the dog, the family knows that

the baby is not the true child of the legal husband.

The entire family plays a part in the ceremony by helping to select the dog that

will participate. They select the dog based on the behavior of the wife. If she

is kind to the relatives and a wise woman, they will choose a clean, kind dog.

If they don’t like her, they select a dirty, flea-bitten dog with wounds to eat with her.

This Lodara often marry outside the clan and this ceremony also serves to show

that the new wife accepts this culture in which the dog is their brother. In most other

cultures in South Sudan, it would be unacceptable to eat and drink with a dog, so if a

wife is willing to take part in this ceremony, she has obviously accepted her new

clan and their ways.

The real reason behind this ceremony though is that the husband does not trust his

wife, and the ceremony is used to prove her faithfulness. The dog is used to bring

trust between husband and wife. If she passes the test, her husband will be responsible

for his children because he knows they are really hers. She must go through this

ceremony every time she gives birth.

Lodara babies then grow up, with the dog who shared their mother’s plate, as their

uncle. The child will protect the dog and won’t allow anyone to beat him. The family

may even kill a person who dares to beat or kill the dog, the uncle. The dog remains

an uncle to the child for the entire life of the dog.

Also in South Sudan, people name their dogs so they can call them when

they are together in the bush. They usually give their dogs a traditional

name, and sometimes multiple names. Amirock is a popular name, and in the Bari

language means the enemy. Often the name will depend on some event or the

situation/position of the dog’s owner.

Some people in South Sudan cut the tail of their dog, in the belief that the dog will

be very strong and work hard for his owner. Cutting the dog’s tail is thought

to take away the cowardice and to make the dog courageous in any situation.

We believe that dogs in Sudan are able to identify the people of their ethnic group.

By being able to identify the different dress and different colors, a dog can tell which

group he belongs to.

Also dogs are used in the bush to bring hunters back to their homes in case they are

lost. We believe that dogs don’t forget the direction they came from.

South Sudanese do not eat dog meat in any form. But some South Sudanese

eat cats. In a few parts of South Sudan, if you are an honored guest, you will be fed

cat meat, which, in these areas, is considered the best meat.

People from some tribes, including the Moru Tribe, believe that they can change

themselves into cats. If you do something that a Moru does not like, he will change

himself into a cat and come for you at night and scratch you like a cat. And if you

take a Moru girl and don’t pay bride price—considered an affront to not one, but many

in the tribe, many Moru members will change themselves into cats and all will come for

you at night.

Cats are usually kept in shops and homes to protect them from mice and rats.

When cats are young, Sudanese may feed the kitten, but when the cat is older,

he is expected to hunt for himself, and little if any care is given to adult cats in South Sudan. Most of them are fairly wild, and usually don’t survive long—cats may be

eaten by other animals, hit by cars, or die from some disease.

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