Demography and Geography
The Nyangwara number about 25,000 to 30,000. They live divided between Terekeka and Juba Districts. Their main town is Rokon, which lies about 75 miles west of Juba.
Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
Nyangwara land enjoys tropical to rich savannah type of climate. It is endowed with deep fertile soil and is dissected by a number of perennial streams that drain into the river Nile. It receives rains between March and November enough to sustain extensive agricultural activities in the area.
The Nyangwara keep few cattle, sheep and goats. The economy is agricultural based. The main crops are: sorghum, millet, groundnuts, simsim, beans and cassava. These crops were sometimes produced in commercial quantity which has made the Nyangwara the principal suppliers of food to Juba.
Mythology and History
Tradition has it that the Nyangwara like all the other Nilo-Hamite groups migrated to their present location from the area near Lake Turkana. The name Nyangwara is the distortion of the word ”Yangwara” which simply means ”horns”. They must have been ferocious fighters that they managed to push the Pöjulu and the Moro to the south and west respectively.
The Nyangwara speak a dialect of the Bari language.
Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions
The Nyangwara society is predominantly agrarian. The society is organised into agnatic lineages of which the clans are the smallest unit. Most of Nyangwara social events take place within the families and clans. The Nyangwara have no special initiation ceremonies whatsoever. However, certain norms are universally observed among the Nyangwara under the guidance of the chiefs and elders.
Marriage among the Nyangwara used to be arranged between parents. A girl was betrothed at an early age but this has now died out due to rebellion by women. Due to this, the elders have now ruled against this practice, giving the girls the choice to select their prospective husbands. The parents play an advisory role in the affairs of their daughters only in cases of whether or not the suitor has sufficient assets for the dowry. A number of goats and money is paid as dowry.
Naming of the new born differs from one clan to the other but is performed after 3 days for a girl and 4 days for a boy. In most cases children carry the ancestor’s name. Nyangwara have names that signify such occasions as death, hunting, disaster, war, drought, famine. A stranger passing next to the house during a child birth labour may be requested to name the child.
Death among the Nyangwara is respected and the deceased is mourned for 3 or 4 days during which several rituals are performed. The close relatives of the deceased slaughter a billy-goat for the funeral rite (karama). A widower may marry after a prescribed period of mourning. However, a widow is given an opportunity to choose a relative of deceased to take care of her and the children.
Socio-Political Organisation Traditional Authority
Nyangwara society is structured along clan lineages. There is a clan leader whose role is to see that there is harmony and peace in the clan. The clan leader settles petty disputes but if that becomes complicated the case is referred to the sub-chief who administers a number of clans. The Sultan is the highest authority of the village. He is assisted by the sub-chiefs and the elders.
The rainmakers, like spiritual leaders, wield authority respect among the Nyangwara. The Nyangwara chieftainship combines spirituality and royalty. Should a Sultan die, a senior sub-chief takes over immediately for a period of 2 to 3 months during which the royal family puts up a name of one of his children of the late chief for endorsement by the council of elders. The socio-political organisation of the Nyangwara was a important factor in their recruitment by the colonial authorities as administrative chiefs, police, prison warders, not only over the Nyangwara but also over other neighbouring recalcitrant ethnic communities.
Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs
Like the other Bari-speaking peoples, the Nyangwara are highly superstitious and they explain all kinds of misfortunes and disasters to spirits of the departed relatives. They offer sacrifices in the form of goats or cocks to the spirits for healing the sick. They also perform witchcraft through a medium (kujur).
Culture: Arts, Music, Literature and Handicraft
The Nyangwara share much in terms of social values and customs with the Pöjulu, Bari and Mundari. These are expressed and transmitted orally in songs, music, dance, poetry, folklore and stories. The Nyangwara literature like that of the other non-literate communities is oral.
Among the Nyangwara, the men have perfected the arts of making bee-hives, bow, arrows, spears, granaries of different size and shapes; snares and nets for trapping game. The women on the other hand have engaged in the art of pottery, windowing pan, baskets and food trays.
The Nyangwara love singing and a good song composer attracts the most beautiful girls in the community. This sometimes triggers conflicts as the songs may depict somebody in an ugly light.
Neighbours and Foreign Relations, Co-operation
The Nyangwara neighbour the Bari to the east and southeast; Mundari and Moro Kodo to north and northeast; the Moro to the northwest; the Pöjulu and the Kakwa to the south and southwest. The Nyangwara expect reciprocal respect for their social norms from foreigners. They intermarry freely with other nationalities. Indeed, many groups have settled without difficulty in the Nyangwara land.
The Nyangwara like many other communities in central Equatoria were affected by the war. Many were displaced and their social and economic activities disrupted. Nyangwara County based in Kitegere has been carved out of Juba County. This gives the Nyangwara a separate administration and an opportunity to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Many Nyangwara people converted to Christianity and there is now an Episcopal Church of Sudan Diocese of Rokon.
There are many Nyangwara who have settled in the Moro land, many have migrated to Juba and few others have made it to America, Canada and Australia.
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.
Regib Yunis, ‘Notes on the Kuku and other minor tribes inhabiting Kajo-Keji District, Mongalla province.’ SNR VII (1) 1936 pp 1- 41.