Demography and Geography
The Didinga inhabit the Didinga Hills, formerly part of Kapoeta district in east bank Equatoria. The Didinga and Boya now inhabit Budi County whose headquarters is Chukudum. The Didinga people number about 60,000. Their main settlements are Chukudum, Nagishot, New Kush-Heiman, Laura and Natinga.
Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
The Didinga terrain is hilly. It rises to about 2,000 feet ending up in a plateau. It has sufficient rainfall to sustain thick vegetation and supports a burgeoning agriculture, in which the people cultivate maize, sorghum, beans, wheat, tobacco. The Didinga are pastoralists by inclination and agriculturalists by necessity.
They have two crops per year growing mainly maize, beans, millet, simsim, pumpkins or tobacco. They engage in craft making, pottery, etc. The Didinga county has a high potential for commercial farming of wheat, barley, maize, Irish potatoes etc. The Didinga pan alluvial and fluvial gold from the river beds. Other minerals with high economic potential include marble, limestone for cement making, gold and gemstones.
Mythology and History
Tradition has it that the Didinga arrived and occupied their present home sometime in the 16th century. They were part of the group that migrated away from Lake Turkana, although some of them believe they originated from Ethiopia. The story of gazelle soup having been the cause of split with other groups is ubiquitous among the people of east bank. This must point to their common origin in the past.
The Didinga speak a language very close to the Boya, Murle and Tenet.
Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions
The Didinga society is sedentary agrarian. This has kind of isolated them resulting in much of the Didinga traditions and customs remaining almost intact. Didinga youth are initiated into adulthood every 3 years in a ceremony (nameto) about the time they have grown their first head dress (temedik).
The Didinga do not practice, as in other communities, infant or pre-arranged marriages. The prospective couple is guided by their own feelings and emotions and only after they have agreed to marry does the suitor approach the parents of the bride. On going to announce the affair he is accompanied by three friends and takes along 6 goats, a spear and a hoe. Dowry is agreed upon and settled. Sterility is not a ground for divorce, making divorce rare among the Didinga.
After delivery the woman remains secluded, in the house for 3-4 days depending on whether the child was a boy or a girl, except for intimate relatives and friends. She is considered to be in a condition of ‘ceremonial pollution’ and she is not allowed to cook food.
Delivery to twins as well as triplets is considered luck. However, until the triplets reach puberty, their father is prohibited from eating with others or may not accompany any party going to war or hunting.
Ordinarily, children are named after their grandparents. A posthumous child is always named lokidak or ikidak (female). A child born after a series of infantile deaths is named lokure or ikure (female).
Death and Burial
The dead are buried with the heads facing the east in a deep grave outside the village.
Political Organisation and Traditional Authority
The Didinga are divided into two main political groups: the eastern Didinga – consisting of Bokorora, Laudo and Marukoiyan; the western group – consisting of Patalado, Thuguro, Kademakuch, Lakorechoke and Lomongle.
The Didinga clans are exogamous. There is no definite centre or organisation. But the Didinga have the office of paramount chief, which is hereditary – a son or in default a brother’s son takes over. There is also a rain-chief for both the Didinga and Boya. The rain chief receives offerings of goats to ensure rain and in return gives sacred water used in local rain ceremonies. Didinga chiefs lead in war and may summon people for an organised raid. In peace times they arbitrate in disputes among their own people or with aliens and generally represent their men when a litigant has a cause to plead before another chief. Didinga chiefs have little privileges and their control is nevertheless negligible except in matters concerning the whole community.
Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs
The Didinga like their neighbours live a life that accepts the existence of a supreme being and the sphere of spirits interacting with the living through prayers, offerings and gifts.
Culture: Arts and Physical Culture
The Didinga have musical implements, drums harps which are sounded on occasions, for example, when either going to dance, hunt or war.
The Didinga neighbour the Boya to the north, Toposa to the east, Dodoth to the south, Dongotono to the south west, Lotuka and Lopit to the west. In the past, the Didinga used to have constant feuds with Dodoth, Toposa and Turkana of Kenya but lived on terms of amity with the Nipore through trading with iron products, and friendly with Lango, Teretenia, Dongotono and Logir. They intermarry with the Boya.
The eruption of the war witnessed recruitment of large numbers of Didinga youth. The first SPLM Convention 1994 was held in Chukudum. The area is now linked to northern Kenya by a road that has motorised the transport between Chukudum and Lokichoggio.
The war caused the displacement of some Didinga people and a small community lives in Kakuma.