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Portraits of the Dinka people of Panpandiar Village in Kolnyang South Sudan

Published January 27th, 2013

For a documentary about a former childsoldier returning to his country of birth after living in Holland for twelve years I travelled to South Sudan. The first two weeks we spend in Juba were definitely very difficult. Juba is the youngest capital in the world and has grown immensely from a relatively small trading centre during the 50 year war to a chaotic city with a mix of different nationalities and Sudanese tribes after the 2005 peace agreement. Needless to say the years of war have left their marks on the people. Surely there are a lot of nice and honest people around, but also some of the worst individuals I’ve ever met during my travels. Walking the streets there I always felt a certain unsafety and indeed some nasty things happened to me and my Sudanese friend, which at the end made me wanna leave as soon as possible.



Luckily we also planned to have a look at the Dinka village close to Bor where my friends family is living now. During the war the people fled the surroundings of Gak (then called Adol Kolnyang Payam) from the bombings and ground attacks to seek refuge close to the Nile, a village formed which is now called Panpandiar. In case of an emergency the Dinka’s would just swim across the Nile, something they are still doing with their cows in search of land for their cattle to graze.



The Dinka are a proud people, recognisable by there markingings (reverse triangle) and removed lower teeth for beauty purposes. The people from Panpandiar are still living in a very traditional way. The women do most of the work such as agriculture, cooking and taking care of the children. When they are younger the men spend their time in a cattle camp and when they get married they usually spend their time lazing under a tree during daytime. The conditions are tough: dry land with swampy patches and therefore lots of mosquitoes and malaria. But the Dinka are tough people, among the tallest and strongest people in the world. Most of the men for instance were a lot taller than me which doesn’t happen a lot with my 6 ft 2, especially in Africa. It is said that its because of their diet of mainly fresh milk straight from the cow (three times daily in large amounts) some meat and available fruits and vegetables.



The cattle camps are something rather special also. First a big piece of grassland is set ablaze to create a septic environment with ashes. Then the Dinka men make a camp and gather the cows, secure them and spend the night guarding them. Big fires are lit with dry cowdung to keep the mosquitoes at bay and to provide light and warmth for the evening activities like dancing, singing and Dinka wrestling. During the day the cows are released to graze in the surrounding area. The Dinka’s take care of their animals very well. At dusk and at dawn they treat the cattle, and themselves on an ashrub as a protection against mosquitoes and tsetse flies. It also serves as soap in the absence of water.



During my stay I was amazed by the peacefullness of this village in contrast to what I experienced in Juba. The people are lovely, very hospitable and always in for a chat. It was a pity for me that I only learned minor Dinka so after the introductionary chat I had to resort to hands and feet to make myself sort of understood. After a few days of filming I got most of the shots I needed and deceided to start shooting portraits of these beautiful people. Most people never saw a white person, and sometimes not even a camera so the shooting of the portraits was an amazing experience both for them and for me. I made a promise to print them out and send them with the next people who will visit the education project of my South Sudanese friend.



I made a selection and I hope you will enjoy viewing these pictures as much as I did taking them! :)

Dinka boy in cattle-camp

This photo was taken in a cattle camp in Panpandiar South Sudan. Cattle camps are landscapes of ashes with smoldering piles of cowdung. These measures protect the cattle and the keepers from tsetseflies and malaria. The people also rub thereselves and their cows with ashes to provide extra protection. It also serves as an antiseptic in absence of water. This boy coveres his head from the sun with a colourful cloth while a child peeps up behind him to have a look at the "Kawaga" (white man) taking a photograph.

  • December 27th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/1250 sec

Proud of the sour milk

This boy wanted to get his portrait shot with his bottle of milk. I found out the hard way that the Dinkas of Panpandiar drink their milk extremely sour outside the cattle camps.... Not surprising the milk goes soure quickly with no power or fridges in 35+ degrees temperatures.

  • December 25th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/2000 sec

Digital reunion

This lady has a mesmerizing look on her face. Her thoughts seem very far away. A week later when I uploaded this photo on my website I got an email from a Dinka called David who is living in Australia. He told me that he looked through all the portrets in search of the portrait of his mother, which he didn't see in a very long time and found her in this picture. Coincidence?

  • December 25th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/2000 sec

Future

Not all the people of Panpandiar live in a traditional way. This man goes to school in Juba and was back in the village for holidays. The youth of South Sudan have a big responsibility to rebuild the country after the 50 year war ended and South Sudan gained independance.

  • December 26th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/1250 sec

Faith

Not more than 20 years ago all the Dinka's on the Southern Sudanese countryside worshipped their traditional gods. Since then christianity took over pretty soon. Now, even in the most remote villages, christian rituals play a big role in daily life and rituals. Needless to say there are many representatives of faith like this woman in Panpandiar. The serene look on her face and the cross she holds tell the story..

  • December 25th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/4 / 1/400 sec

The generous soldier

When I went to the small trading centre close to Panpandiar I met this SPLA soldier. He greeted me and presented me with a 5 South Sudanese Pound bill. I didn't know what to think or say but understood that he wanted me to have it. I hesitated, thought it was some cunning trick (had problems with army folks before), but he kept pushing. Finally I decided to take the 5 pounds from him. A unique moment, the first time during my travels that someone actually gives me money instead of asking for it!

The next day he located the hut where I was staying in and ofcourse I had to take his portrait!

  • December 26th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/1000 sec

Unease

This boy in the cattle-camp doesn't know how to behave when the "Kawaga" is photographing him..

  • December 27th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/2000 sec

Goodbye

A friendly goodbye from a man who's eyes reveal something of the scars of his past.

  • December 25th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/2500 sec

Untitled

When passing her hut in Panpandiar South Sudan this girl wanted to be photographed with her little sister. The calm look of the eldest contrasts with the annoyed look on the face of the youngest. Was it the fly or the photographer who caused this?

  • December 27th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/1000 sec

Mabir the village chief

A portrait of the village chief of Panpandiar. A very friendly man, although he has a worried look in his eyes.

  • December 25th, 2012
  • Canon EOS 550D
  • 50mm / f/2.8 / 1/640 sec

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BrunoAkanni
Bruno Akanni  over 2 years ago
0
Great serie