boys from the majority dinka tribe of south sudan are seen in a wut, or cattle camp. a dinka boy will lavish endless care and affection on his animals, which he considers part of the family. he is named after his favored ox, his namesake ox, who will accompany him everywhere into adulthood in the hopes that he will mature with the same strength and beauty.

between november and april every year, the dinka move their vast herds to dry season cattle camps to take advantage of the rich grasslands on either side of the nile. despite the river running through south sudan, agriculture and fishing is negligible. cattle herding is the most important cultural and economic activity, with more than 80% in south sudan reliant on livestock for their livelihoods.

cattle generate nourishment, fuel, clothing, draught power for crop production, and cash for things such as grain and school fees. “they are stores of wealth which provide a sense of security [particularily during times of drought], prestige, social status and cultural value,” is how this report put it.

but calf mortality rates are as high as 50% - the un food and agricultural organization will spend two million vaccinating almost half of south sudan’s eleven million cattle this year - and tribal violence over cattle ownership is endemic as a consequence.

south sudan gained independence from the north in 2011 after 30 years of civil war, and pro south dinka farmers are in conflict with the cattle herding misseriya arab tribesmen who favor partition from the south. and a cattle raiding feud between rival ethnic groups has left hundreds of people dead and some 100,000 displaced in jonglei state since independence.

despite the importance of cattle, 98% of south sudan’s wealth is derived from oil, and fighting has broken out this month between rebels from ethnic minorities and a dinka dominated government that has siphoned off billions in oil revenues from china.

photos by angela fisher, goran tomasevic and francesco zizola

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