Demography and Geography
The Jur (Beli & Modo) people number a little more than 100,000. They are divided geographically into 2 distinct groups namely: ‘Beli and Modo. The area of the ‘Beli extends from Bahr Gel, north of Cueibet, to Wulu and then Billing.
The Modo live in Mvolo, Bogri, Woko and bahr Girindi near to Yirol. In between the ‘Beli and Modo a minor group called Lori are to be found in Woko and Gira. The Modo have two sub-sections: the Wira (Yeri, Lesi and Dari) and Nyamosa group (Yeri, bahr girindi, ‘Boyi, and Kpelikiri), who have been mistakenly but deliberately counted as Moru clans.
Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
The Jur Beli area ranges from rich savannah in the east to tropical equatoria in the west. It has flat plains with low-lying outcrops of granitoid rocks. It has sufficient annual rainfall to sustain this vegetation and extensive agricultural activities. The Jur (Beli & Modo) are sedentary agriculturalists who practice shifting cultivation. Their main crops are sorghum, millet, beans, cassava,, groundnuts and simsim.
They keep goats and sheep and very few cattle (Dinka influence). They engage in honey-bee keeping, with an adult Jur (Beli & Modo) expected to own more than 20 bee-hives. They engage in hunting and fishing. The main economic potential of the area are timber (mahogany), honey and shea oil.
Mythology and History
The Jur (Beli & Modo) believe they came from Central African Republic in the company of the Bongo/Baka group. Being hunters they followed the forests south-eastwards.
The Bongo decided to settle down in the area north of Rumbek, while the Jur (Beli & Modo) continued to their present location where the Baka proceeded south-westwards to their present location in Maridi.
The Jur (Beli & Modo) speak a language that belong to the central Sudanic groups of languages but linguistically belong to the Baka/Bongo group. They share this language with the Baka, Bongo and Moro Kodo.
Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs
The Jur (Beli & Modo) society is organised as kinships, clans and families subscribing to social norms and values with little variations. Social events that bring the people together include dances, marriage ceremonies, funerals and funeral rituals, work parties (kaya), fishing and hunting that brings people from different villages into camps to fish and hunt together. The Jur (Beli & Modo) have elaborate customs and traditions.
The Jur (Beli & Modo) remove lower teeth at the age of 12 and one is said to have joined the human race. Boys and girls are taught their respective roles in society. The respect for in-laws take the form of law. One is not expected to be rude or insulting in the presence of in-laws. A child is not supposed to look an elder straight in the eyes; it is rude. One does not call a mother or a father by their names.
The Jur (Beli & Modo) have respect for in-laws and thus, tradition does not permit laxity. The prospective groom informs his father through an uncle. The elders analyse the bride’s family background to determine whether or not there was some form of relationship.
The prospective groom accompanied by his friends goes to the bride’s home. Tradition has it that they must arrive before sun set. The prospective bride must demonstrate her consent by welcoming the party and giving a seat to her groom.
They spend the night and in the morning, are called out for introduction. Once the proposal had been accepted by the bride’s side, the party is decorated, for which they must carry home to demonstrate that the engagement has been successful.
The process of paying the dowry then begins in earnest. The completion of the dowry is marked by the groom having worked for a complete season in the in-laws gardens and having built a house for them.
He then takes his wife in a ceremony marked by celebration and feasting. Until the ritual for ‘mouth opening’ ceremony (kpakopi) has been performed the groom or the bride can not be seen eating in either in-laws home.
Birth and Naming
The moment the bride become pregnant she removes all her decorations in a ritual . On delivery, she and the baby are secluded for 4 days (male) or 3 days (girl) and this period is terminated in naming ritual (tojakole yaga).
Death and Burial
Death announcements, particularly of an important person, is by four special tunes of the drum with mourning starting immediately with preparation for the burial. A man is buried lying on the right side, while the woman lies on the left. Mourning last for 4 days during which the widow/widower and orphans shave their heads.
On the 4th day the compound is cleansed in a ritual. The last funeral rites are conducted after 4 years. Following this ritual, the widow or widower is permitted to be inherited or remarry. In case of the widower, the in-laws now give their consent for him to remarry.
Socio-Political Organisation, Traditional Authority
The Jur (Beli & Modo) live in homesteads and extended villages in which there is a head (bo ya ’da) who attends to the affairs of the homestead, settling disputes and represents the homestead dispensing ancestors blessings and performing other rituals. This is followed in authority by the mukungu, the sub-chief (wakili) who has wider powers than the mukungu or headman. The chief is the most important authority in the Jur (Beli & Modo).
Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs
Jur (Beli & Modo) believe in God the creator (Boko’ba). People offer sacrifices when they become sick or begin a new homestead in a ceremony performed by the fortune teller (boya’da) who then pleads with the spirits of the ancestors. The Creator is not happy when people shed blood whether of humans or animals. Cleansing rituals (tokpa) are performed for murder or killing big game for the first time. It is believe that God will punish one with hernia if one does not perform this cleansing ritual.
Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft
The ‘Beli culture is orally expressed in songs and music to reflect the best in the human being. Insulting songs (nda’ba) and songs of praise (gumo or zari), music and dance are used also to describe, correct and discourage anti-social traits in the society. Jur (Beli & Modo) have perfected their arts in iron smelting, production of arrows, axes, spears, hoes and in wood carving for example, grave poles that are carved to look like the persons under them from hard wood which can last for more than 50 years. They produce stools, chairs, etc. The ‘Beli men weave storage baskets and make giant mud pots for storage while the women engage in weaving smaller baskets and necklaces, pottery, etc.
Neighbours, Foreign Relations and Co-operation
The Jur (Beli & Modo) neighbour the Dinka Agar and Gok (Rumbek and Cueibet), Atuot (Yirol); Moru in the south (Mundri) and Moro Kodo (Amadi). The relationship with the Dinka has not been easy. The Jur (Beli & Modo) have cordial relationship with Moro Kodo by virtue of the fact that they have identical cultures and traditional practices. The relationship with the Moru is not cordial due to their condescending attitude of the ‘Beli.
The Jur (Beli & Modo) have been divided between Mundri and Rumbek Counties. The recent creation of Mvolo County tentatively under the office the Chairman of the SPLM has given the ‘Beli separate administration, which will enable them participate in decision-making that affect their lives.
There is a small ‘Beli Diaspora in the United States, Norway and Australia.
Several articles and essays on the Jur Beli by Mr. Sapana A Abuyi of the Sudan Inland Development Foundation. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
E. E. Evans-Pritchard, ‘Non-Dinka Peoples of Amadi and Rumbek.’ Sudan Notes and Records Vol. XX 1937 pp 156 – 158 Seligman, C. G., and Seligman, B. Z., ‘Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan.’ George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1932.
Collins, Robert O., ‘Land beyond the Rivers, the Southern Sudan, 1898 – 1918.’ Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1971.