South Sudanese Society

Indigenous people of South Sudan can be broadly categorized into the Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic and the South-Western Sudanic groups.


Nilotic people include the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Murle, Kachiopo, Jie, Anyuak, Acholi, Maban, Kuma, Lou (Jur), Bango, Bai, Ndogo, Gulu, Endri, Forgee, Chod (Jur), Khara, Ngorgule, Forugi, Siri, Zandi, Benga, Agar, Pakam, Gok, Ciec, Aliap, Hopi, Guere, Atuot, Apaak, Lango, Pari, Otuho and Ajaa.


Nilo-Hamitic groups include the Bari, Mundari, Kakwa, Pojulu, Nyangwara, Kuku, Latuko, Lokoya, Toposa, Buya, Lopit, Kuku, Kakwa, Nyabgwara, Tennet, Lopit and Didinga.

The South-Western Sudanic group includes Kresh, Balanda, Banda, Ndogo, Zande, Madi, Olubo, Murus, Mundu, Baka, Avukaya and Makaraka.



The famous long-horned cattle prominent in South Sudan


South Sudanese are world renowned for their impressive height. They are bold, patriotic, hospitable, honest and hard working.

South Sudanese communities generally live in semi-independent homesteads forming villages inhabited by close and extended relatives. Their societies are structured into kinships, clans and villages administered by a king or chief, depending on the ethnic community.


South Sudanese practise Christianity, Islam and indigenous religions. Some communities also believe in the power of spirits. Consequently, diviners, rainmakers, fortune-tellers and spear-masters are revered in these communities.

The South Sudanese generally eat together in groups differentiated by gender, age and social status. Depending on their communities, South Sudanese enjoy a wide variety of foods. Some of their staple foods include milk, beef, dura (millet), sorghum, honey, fish, mutton, traditional herbs and vegetables, groundnuts, beans, wild game, sesame, finger millet and yams.


Traditional South Sudanese dancers


Traditionally, there is clear division of labour depending on gender, age and social status. Men generally fend for and defend the family while women are homemakers.

All communities have some form of initiation rite into adulthood. Removal of lower teeth, facial markings, wearing of special beads and male circumcision (among the Bantu groups) are some of the common initiation rites practised by the people of South Sudan.


Marriage is one of the major milestones among South Sudanese and often involves all members of the immediate and extended families, including maternal relatives in some communities. Ordinarily, youth do not engage in marital arrangements directly; their parents discuss, facilitate and organize marriage of their children. Various communities perform diverse rites during marriages. However, exchange of gifts between families is common.


Bride-price (dowry) is an important element of marriage. Marriage creates deep bonds between the families involved, making divorce impossible except where serious matters are involved. In case of a divorce, the whole dowry or part of it is returned to the man and his family.


Childbirth is also treated as special, with specific rituals being performed depending on the community and gender of the child. Children are generally named according to seasons and events or after relatives. Due to the elevated status of cattle in most communities, children may also be named after the colour of the family cattle. Boys take the colour of bulls while girls take that of cows.


Funeral rites are very elaborate. Among the Dinka community, men are buried on their right and women on their left. Wife inheritance is also practised among several South Sudanese communities, ostensibly to enable a dead husband’s kinsmen to continue his lineage and protect his family. Generally, a widow is inherited by close relatives, although in some communities she is free to pick an inheritor of her choice.


This article was updated on Aug 19, 2011

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This article was updated on Jun 1, 2010