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The Traditions of the Mundari Tribe in South Sudan

Welcome to the youngest country in the world - formed after a brutal 21 year old battle with Sudan, they got their independence in 2011. My short trip was all about visiting the famous tribe - the Mundari people, who have maintained their cultural traditions for centuries. As one of the largest ethnic groups in South Sudan, numbering around 750,000 people, the Mundari have managed to preserve their unique customs and way of life.

A Mundari man wearing the traditional clay hair bun colored with red ocher pigment

I have been fascinated with their culture of cattle-keeping for years and I am glad to have finally made it. For those looking to experience authentic South Sudan travel, learning about the captivating traditions of the Mundari offers a window into this storied culture.

The Mundari people of South Sudan gave me a glimpse into a long-standing culture still thriving today. This cattle-herding tribe numbering three quarters of a million has maintained its ancestral traditions even through their country's difficulties. Much of their way of life still centers around cattle, from their diet to their shelters made of dung and urine. Mundari body art and clothing also reflect their customs.

ITINERARY FOR SOUTH SUDAN TRAVEL

Day 1 Land and tour Juba, drive to Mundari trive area by evening

Day 2 Mundari Tribe, camping

Day 3 Back to Juba for flight out

TABLE OF CONTENTS
FLIGHTS + VISA

I flew Ethiopian because it worked for my schedule but you can also choose Fly Dubai.


Visa is now simple and can be done online by uploading documents like date of arrival, yellow fever vaccine, confirmed tour letter, and covid vaccine. Costs $120 per person for single entry. You can only do your visa 7 days ahead of your date of arrival. I got mine in just a few hours.

flying over South Sudan
LANGUAGE

Like most of East Africa, you will find a lot of people speaking English, given the huge UN presence.


BEST TIME TO VISIT

Early december to February is always the best time to visit, especially if you don't enjoy the rains.


CURRENCY

Dollar is accepted in the city, exchange some local currency for souveniers.


HOW LONG TO SPEND IN SOUTH SUDAN

Mine was a long-weekend trip but you can easily organize a (expensive) tour for 9 days covering more of the country and it's unique tribes.


WHERE I STAYED

I stayed in the camp while with the Mundari. During rainy season, it can be very difficult to do this but if you travel during dry season, should be no issue.


COSTS + LOCAL GUIDE

As with any least visited country in the world, there is hardly enough reliable information on there about tour guides in SSD. I found one and contacted Mayoum Bul from Metro Safaris who sorted out the trip in no time. He is South Sudanese who holds a Canadian passport - he returned from Canada to help his people. Very safe and reliable.


SOLO TRAVEL + SAFETY + PHOTOGRAPHY

When you are with a guide, you will have no issues. The country is safe and people are welcoming. Be wary of photography when in the capital - if you carry special camera or gear, then you need to apply for a permit ahead of time to bring it into the country.


HIGHLIGHTS
Juba

Overlooking the White Nile River, I got my first glimpse of stunning Juba. This fast-growing capital has a rich history dating back centuries. Nearby, the sprawling Konyo Konyo market overflowed with fresh produce, spices, and handicrafts from across South Sudan. Walking along the busy riverbank, I could see local fishermen in dugout canoes, just as their ancestors have done for generations. It was easy to imagine caravans bringing wares here long ago when Juba was just a small trading outpost. I wandered past traditional mud and grass tukuls round huts mixed among modern buildings at the city center. Inside the large Catholic cathedral, locals attended Sunday mass, singing hymns in various regional languages. Across the street, inside the Juba Grand Mosque, people gathered for afternoon prayer, continuing religious traditions in the predominantly Christian city. No visit to Juba would be complete without paying respects at John Garang's Mausoleum overlooking the Nile. The memorial gardens were filled with young students, who saw South Sudan's independence leader as a role model. While Juba rapidly modernizes, traditions remain strong in this city shaped by resilient tribes, outside rulers, and inspiring leaders.

Mundari Tribe

After a rough sleep the previous night, I was roused before sunrise by the barking of dogs and lowing of cattle - the Mundari's day begins early. As the tribe came to life, I watched them tend to their prized Ankole cows, on whom their survival depends.

Children as young as five years old were responsible for letting the cows out to pasture and collecting dung. The boys expertly herded the groups of cattle while the girls carried buckets to collect the milk. I was struck by how integrated these children were in the tribe's cow-centered way of life from such a young age. The cattle provide the Mundari with milk, meat, hides, and dung for fuel - the children must learn early to care for their survival lifeline.

The cows are milked, then released to graze on the scrub grasslands under the careful watch of the boys. The dung is collected to build their mud and thornbush huts - the ash also acts as a mosquito-repellent for the cows. These cattle keep the Mundari nourished and housed, forming a symbiotic relationship.

At midday, the heavy rains drove the tribe and herd to seek shelter. The cattle provided a soothing breeze with their massive horns as the Mundari rested. I was offered fresh milk the cattle as gifts but I politely refused. The Mundari revere the cowds as gifts from the gods. As one elder told me, "If the cattle thrive, so do we." As the rain stopped, the cattle were guided back out to pasture in preparation for the evening's rituals. The Mundari are also fiere warriors and often engage in wrestling matches amongst themselves.

The community's connection to the cattle, which provide them with so much, runs deeper than anywhere I've been. My time with the Mundari gave me a new appreciation for a people so intimately entwined with their animals. Sitting around the fire at night, I knew my time with this remarkable tribe was ending. The women smile, a little shy, but beautifully adorned in their unique duku hairstyle. As the cattle lowed nearby, I reflected on the hospitality shown to me, an outsider.

Young girls carrying buckets of fresh milk from the morning milking
FINAL THOUGHTS

Visiting a Mundari village while on South Sudan travel provides an immersive experience into this community's enduring heritage and practices. From witnessing their rugged machoism at display to their intricate orange hair, the Mundari offer travelers a chance to learn about enduring traditions.

The Mundari's generosity and openness surprised me, considering South Sudan's troubled past. Spending time learning of their cattle-focused existence and symbolic rituals left me with a deep respect. My encounter with the Mundari will stay with me as an example of a people preserving their heritage against all odds. I can only hope to return and discover more of South Sudan's vibrant cultures.

Mundari men lounging in the shade drinking piping hot black tea

It was heartening to see this community maintain its heritage despite outside pressures to change. My day with the Mundari gave me hope - hope that their traditions will endure and be passed to future generations. I feel fortunate to have experienced the richness of South Sudan's cultures through its people.

Children as young as five herding goats through the village in the morning

Thanks for reading. Leave your questions and comments below.

Lots of love,

Anki


To explore more destinations, be sure to check out other blogs for additional insights.

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