Get to know the Kakwa people

The Kakwa Tribe

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The Name, People and Myth On Origin

The Kakwa are one of the Bari-speaking people. There are 2 main traditions concerning the origin of the Kakwa. One tradition asserts that the ancestor of the Kakwa was Yeki who lived in the Karobe Hill in the area south of present Juba.


Yeki is said to have produced 7 sons; one of whom was fond of biting his brothers. For this reason, Yeki is said to have nicknamed him ”Kakwan ji” meaning bitter. The descendants of Yeki are said to have adapted the plural term and called themselves Kakwa.


The second tradition claims that the Kakwa were originally known as ”Kui”. The Kui are said to have been fierce fighters who inflicted heavy losses on their enemies. For this reason, the Kui are said to have nicknamed themselves Kakwa because their fierce attacks were like the bite of a tooth – probably the reason for teeth sharpening tradition.


Demography and Geography

The Kakwa live in Yei River County, central Equatoria. However, they extend into west Nile District of Uganda and north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Domiciliation in different countries means that the Kakwa as a people have evolved different customs and social values.


Environment, Economy and Natural Resources

Yei River District, the Kakwa main district lies in the tropical rain forest. This has influenced the lifestyle of the Kakwa, who are now predominantly agrarian; engaging in subsistence as well as commercial farming of maize, cassava, simsim, telebon, coffee and teak plantations.


The Kakwa also engage in hunting large game, for example, elephants, buffalos, giraffe and small game such as the bush rats. The Kakwa economy has transformed from subsistence to monetary economy and small open markets move from location to location on specific days of the week.



Linguistically, the Kakwa language, as the Kakwa themselves insist on calling their language – is practically a dialect of the Bari language and could have originated from a common ancestor as the Bari, Kuku, Mundari, Nyangwara, and Pöjulu.


Kakwa Society, Politics and Organisation

The political institutions of the Kakwa were segmentary. There never was no centralised system of government. The clan was the basic social and political unit. Each clan was politically independent of others.


At the head of each clan, the chief known as the ”Mattat” enjoyed sufficient traditional loyalty. Immediately below the chief are the ”Temejik” or clan elders, who more often than not are heads of sub-clans.


Among the Kakwa, traditional chieftainship is confined to the rainmaking clans and the chief would simultaneously assume two titles as ‘chief of the land’ and ‘chief of the rain’ as well.


The position of the chief is hereditary only among the rainmaking clans. However, clans without rainmakers could borrow them from other clans. A borrowed rainmaker did not have political influence but would instead be paid for his services as a rainmaker. It is worth noting that the Kakwa society is matrilineal.


Choosing and Installing a Chief

Before a person could assume chieftainship, he had to perform some form of traditional ritual. Normally a chief had a secret bead which was passed down to him by his predecessors. The chief would often drop the bead in food without the knowledge of his sons and invite them to eat. The one who discovered the bead and gave it to his father would become the future successor.


From then on his father would make him carry his chiefly stick and stool wherever he went. He was further required to observe carefully what his father was doing in order to become acquainted with his future responsibilities.


The elders, however, had the powers to reject if it was known that he was irresponsible. In the absence of an heir apparent, the responsibility passed over to the maternal relatives of the chief. A regent would be appointed if the chief died while his son was still young.


Judicial System

The elders settled the disputes between individuals and clans/families. The most serious of the cases would then be referred to the chief. Women and children do not attend court cases. However, if required to testify as a witness then they would attend and speak only when requested to do so.


The major and/or serious cases warranting death of the culprit include murder and adultery. If a man was caught committing adultery, he would be killed outright and no one would raise a case against the murderer. Similarly, there was no time for judging a thief. He would be killed, “in way the foxes are killed” something similar to mob justice.


The murder of a person from another clan would bring war between clans and the murdered person was not mourned until sufficient revenge had been effected. The Kakwa would not avenge the killing of one’s clan’s person. However, the murderer would be required pay a compensation of 1 or 2 cows.


Latest Developments

Yei River District had the highest literacy rate in the Sudan at independence. The first war devastated the area and many people were forced to refuge in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. In the course of refuge they acquired new skills in agriculture and commerce. Most Kakwa have converted to Christianity and have therefore abandoned the traditional ways.

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