Demography and Geography
Numbering about 70,000 to 100,000, the Mundari form a buffer between the largely pastoral Atuot and Aliab Dinka; the masses of the agricultural Moro in the west and northwest; and Bor Dinka in the east and north east.
In the south-west they are flanked by Bari-speaking Nyangwara and the Bari to the south and southeast.
The Mundari are divided into three sections namely:
The earlier indigenous population
The groups of immigrants into Mundari who have gradually succeeded in establishing powerful chiefdoms.
The main towns are Terekeka, Tombe and Tali.
Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
Mundari-land is wooded savannah lying on both sides of the River Nile. The western part is drained by numerous seasonal and perennial streams and becomes swampy during the rainy season. The Mundari are ago-pastoralist and the economy is centred on subsistence agriculture and herding of livestock.
The main crops are sorghum, maize, groundnuts, simsim. The Mundari raise a considerable number of cattle, goats and sheep that are essential as mediums: connecting human beings and this world with the world of gods.
Mythology and History
Mundari have a multiplicity of origins. The original clans whose origin can not be traced mixed with the Bora who are believed to have broken off from the other Bari-speaking groups.
The Mundari are a Bari-speaking community although there is a big variation in their dialect.
Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions
The Mundari society is organised into agnatic exogamous lineages. A landowning lineage – varying in size from about 15 to over 50 adult males – live in a chain of hamlets with each hamlet under a family head. A hamlet is occupied by an elder, his married sons with their dependants and as many maternal relatives who have settled with them.
The hamlets may or may not be situated contiguously to form the residential unit loosely called a village. Big Mundari villages have their own water supplies and grazing lands but small ones composed of minor lineages or small landowning clans, often share water and grazing.
The society is knit together by social events in the hamlets and in the cattle camps. While in daily tasks new ties of common residence result from mutual aid and entertainment of neighbours, the closest ties are still with the next of kin, left behind in the old hamlets (the people to whom an automatic appeal is made in time of need.)
Generosity is highly respected among the Mundari and there are sanctions that are applicable to the mean, greedy, and parsimonious who may figure in satirical songs; be teased or spurned in the girls’ courting-huts. It is believed that the grumbling and annoyance of mean people arouse will make them ill.
Unsociable behaviour in prominent elders such as habitually eating at home instead of sharing their food in the hamlet kraal, evokes criticism. The importance of sharing is emphasized in Mundari upbringing and the young learn to be generous by constantly exchanging pipes, necklaces, or bracelets, and passing on to others anything that is not immediately needed.
Political Organisation and Traditional Authority
Mundari country is divided into independent village-chiefdoms. The traditional boundaries of chiefdoms enclose important spheres of partisan loyalty, social activity and religious affiliation. Personalities whose forbearers represented the past autonomy of a group continue to wield influence even though they may lack political authority (administrative chiefs imposed by the government).
Traditionally, Mundari chief is hereditary – male line and is referred to as chief of the country (””Mar lo jur”” or ””Mar lo Bay””). There is also the chief of the meeting shade and council (””Mar lo toket””). The performers of rain rites and those for shea trees wield influence; so are the elders and cattle camp leaders.
Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs
The Mundari are highly religious. They believe God ””Ngun”” hears what men say and assesses people’s deeds. This belief helps shape one’s life and social behaviour. The Mundari conduct religious and rituals through mediums, landowning chiefs (Monyekak), who are responsible for the well-being of their chiefdoms, and the doctors (Buniton), who are also diviners and treat sicknesses.
Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft
The Mundari culture is oral transmitted orally in songs, many of which are satirical for correcting misdemeanour in society, dance, poems and other body expressions that reflect good, generosity, and other core values of the Mundari. They have developed physical arts that demonstrate Mundari cultural identity. They have perfected the arts of war implements and body decorations.
Neighbours and Foreign Relations, Co-operation
The Mundari neighbour;
The Bor Dinka and Aliab Dinka to the north and northwest
The Moro, Nyangwara to the west and southwest
The Bari to the south
The relationship with the Bor Dinka has not been very cordial due to competition over cattle. The Mundari have little problems with the Bari and with the Moro.
The war and particularly the incursion of the SPLA into Mundari land in early 1980s wrought havoc and caused much suffering to the Mundari prompting their alliance with the government. Most of the Mundari were forced to leave their villages and flock to the towns like Juba, Terekeka.
The Mundari are land – locked and their initial conflict with the SPLA never gave opportunity to have a Mundari Diaspora.
J. C. Buxton, ‘Chiefs and Strangers: A study of the Political assimilation among the Mundari.’ Oxford at the Clarendon Press. 1963
A. C. Beaton, ‘Bari: Clans and Age class system.’ SNR XIX, 1936 pp 107.