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The Curious Relationship between Man and Cattle: A Case of the Mundari Tribe of South Sudan

Humans are social beings, making them likely to communicate and interact with others. As social beings, this makes them less self-reliant in certain ways, hence relying on others for support, especially emotionally. Strangely sometimes, we seek this emotional support from some other beings that are not human.

A man of the Mundari Tribe. Photo: @marcogrob

It is said that dog is man’s best friend thus the global relationship between man and dog. This relationship between dog and man, for some those not exposed to domestic animals, cannot appreciate the relationship that some have with their dogs. Dogs have since been known to be and are largely the acceptable known house pet and some seek emotional support from them in ways unimaginable to others.

As some find relationship in dogs, cats, fish and the likes, some have found a stronger relationship with their cows. In South Sudan, there exists a phenomenal tribe among others called the Mundari tribe. The Mundari tribe of South Sudan, are known for their peculiar relationship with their cows. Being predominantly nomads, there is no need to worry about how cows will fit into a house as domestic pets.


Rearing of cattle is something common among African countries, due to its tropical riches gifted by nature. It is a region rich in pasture which is indispensable to cattle grazing, thereby aiding the movement of nomads from one place to another. Of the different tribes in Nigeria, the one most commonly associated with cattle rearing are the Fulani herdsmen though presently they represent something else other than cattle rearing. The relationship the Mundari man has with his cows is on a different basis which in turn nurtures the peculiar relationship between man and cow, developing into a bond.

This bond seems to have risen from economical egocentric and chauvinist factors. A typical Mundari male hustles for more cattle to be able to marry. Marriage for the Mundari of South Sudan is highly dependent on females because they act as a financial and economical gateway from poverty for their families and the attainment of more cows. Marriage is a union beyond the individuals getting married and for a successful wedding ceremony to take place in this tribe; herds of cattle are used to pay bride price while tens and hundreds of cows are required to marry a girl.

A Mundari man. Photo Atlas Of Humanity

Their cows are their sources of income and source of marriage. The large amount of cows a Mundari man has equates his strength as a man and a warrior being in a war-torn region.

Subsequently that more cows show his strength as a man asides marriage, the Mundari man has “mad love” for his cattle. Just as Christians say Christ died for them, the Mundari man reenacts this act for his cow. He is ready to die and kill for his cattle as they reflect a man’s strength in their custom as earlier stated. Before modern times, they fought with spears and machetes to protect their territory and their herds, but the modern era has introduced them to other new and effective weapons of killing each other.

A CNN photographer Tariq Zaida who was surprised on the relationship between man and beast and reports that “their guns are not to kill anyone but to protect their herd”. However but what happens when push comes to shove? Rampant and persistent fights and killings have gradually become the major issues of the internal war they face which is slowly killing the tribe. Though this act of bravery in the face of death proves and avows their ego, making these young men more attractive bachelors for the single ladies.

Another interesting fact about the Mundari cattle herder is the use of the cow urine to wash as an antiseptic with the ammonia from it colouring their hair. They proceed also to the burning of the cow dung which produces orange coloured ash. This is used as powder, which gives them the orange face makeup they have on their faces, mainly used as a sunscreen from the blazing heat of the sun. They not only beautify themselves but their herds as well, just like twinning up with a friend. One more twist is the stimulation of their cows to aid in the production of more milk and the list goes on with saying they sleep two feet away from their favourite cattle. The cattle also serves as currency and as a means of food. Rearing of cattle is predominant in Southern Sudan while having other sources of livelihood; the Mandarin tribe has cattle herders as well as agriculturists.

Oddly as it is the rearing of cattle seems to bring with it wars and fights. Notwithstanding every man needs an emotional support system and ends up clinging to things some might consider bizarre. The Mundari male tribe of South Sudan has found theirs in their cows.

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