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