The people call themselves Pari (Paeri) or Jo-Pari (people of Pari). The Anyuak refer to them as Ojwan-Boii.
Demography and Geography
The Pari live in the former Torit District of Equatoria Province, now Lafon County. Until February 1993 they used to live at the foot of the Lipul Hill (Jebel Lafon) in 6 huge villages: Wiatuo, Bura, Puchwa, Pugeri, Kor and Angulumere.
When all the villages were burnt down in the war, people scattered and now live in various settlements along the Hoss ‘Atondi’ river to the east and the Hinyetti ‘Chol’ river to the east. The 1982 census put the total population as some 11,000. Currently, the exact population is not known but it seems that their number has been increasing irrespective of the fact that many have died in the war.
Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
Pari land is wooded savannah and annually receives some 800mm of rainfall. Many places become swampy during the rainy season. The economy is mixed between subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting and fishing.
The Pari cultivate sorghum extensively and in usually have surplus for trade. Other major crops are cowpeas, greengrams, pumpkin, okra, sesame and tobacco. They raise a considerable number of cattle, goats and sheep. Domestic animals are essential as a medium; connecting human beings, and this world and the world of gods, and as commodities. In the dry season, they are actively engaged in hunting and fishing, which supply protein to their diet.
Pari land used to be one of the last resorts of wild animals in Africa. A great number of elephants, buffaloes, various antelopes and gazelles inhabited there. Their populations radically decreased during the war. The two rivers, Hoss and Hinyetti, provide a good quantity of fish of various kinds. Dried and smoked fish is an important trade item. Gathering of wild edible plants is also an important means of food supply, in particular during the hunger.
The Pari are a Luo speaking people of the Nilotic language group. Their language (Dhi-Pari, the mouth of Pari) is very similar to Anywaa (Anyuak). The two languages are mutually intelligible. In terms of linguistic affinity, next to Anywaa, come Luo of Bahr al Ghazal, and Shilluk. However, the Acholi language, although it belongs to the Luo group and geographically closest to the Pari among other Luo groups, is a bit distant.
Mythology and History
The Pari clearly recognize their Luo origin. Oral tradition has it that all Luo used to live together at ‘Wi-Pach’ somewhere in eastern Bahr el Ghazal. They then dispersed because of the quarrel among the three brothers: Nyikango, Dimo and Giilo. There is another story of fight among two brothers, Uthienho and Giilo. The latter was killed by the former because of jealousy. It seems that this story refers to an event of more ancient times.
The first Luo group that settled at the Lipul Hill was led by Dimo, who became the founders of Pugeri village. They came from the area near Terekeka on the bank of White Nile, and through Lulubo-land and Lokoya-land. Then a second Luo group migrated from the north, leaving Anywaa behind. Some settled at the Hill, and others proceeded southwards. It seems that those who moved further south later formed different Luo communities in Uganda, Kenya and beyond. Those new settlers at the Lipul Hill eventually formed Bura, Puchwa, Wiatuo and Angulumere villages. The last Luo group came from the north and became the founders of Kor village.
It is remarkable that, although dhi-Pari is a Luo language and the bulk of Pari ancestors who came to settle at the Lipul were of Luo origin, the Pari are quite multi-ethnic in their origin. People acknowledge that when the first Luo group reached the Lipul, it had already been occupied by the non-Luo speaking people, and that there are a few clans of external origin (Lopit and Bor Dinka), and many individuals and families from neighbouring ethnic groups such as the Lopit, Lokoya, Lotuka and Bari came to settle and absorbed to the Pari community. This sort of inter-ethnic ties become mutually activated during the period of disasters for their own survival.
Society, Socio-Political Organisation and Traditional Authority
There are two traditional political systems among the Pari: chieftainship and mojomiji, a graded age-set system. A village is a political and territorial unit and each has its own hereditary chief (rwath). But the chief of Wiatuo, the largest village, is recognized as the chief for the entire Pari. He is the ‘rain-chief’ (rwadhi-koth) whose main role is to bring enough rain for the whole community. Apart from him, there is a ‘bird-chief’ (rwadhi-winyo) whose job is rather specific: to get rid of weaver birds that may destroy sorghum. He is from Puchwa village, but is responsible for the Pari as a whole.
Next to the rain-chief of Wiatuo, the chief of Kor village has political significance. This is because Kor, as the last settlers at the Hill, have remained as semi-independent. Both Wiatuo and Kor chiefs may work as peace-makers (likweri) to settle cases of homicide. The chief of Pugeri, who is the direct descendant of Dimo, is the priest of Lipul (‘father or owner of Lipul’), the most important jwok (god, spirit or deity).
Lipul is the name of the Hill as well as the jwok. He is the one who offers to Lipul the first sorghum beer made of the first harvest, and the first wild animal hunted at the beginning of a new year. The latter ceremony is called nyalam, which annually takes place in early December when the ‘star of nyalam’ appears on the horizon. Men of the six villages go to the bush and hunt.
The first animal killed is brought to the top of Hill, at the entrance of a cave, where it is cooked and offered to Lipul by the chief/priest of Pugeri village. Thereafter, a dance and beer feast follows for a couple of days. It marks the beginning of a New Year and hunting season, and is the biggest festivity among the Pari. Although the Luo originally had chieftainship, and certainly the migrants to Lipul came with it, oral traditions say that the rain-chieftainship was borrowed from the neighbours: Lopit, Lotuka, Lokoya, and Bari who have rain-chiefs.
The mojomiji system is another example of cultural contacts. It is a graded age-set system, in which age-sets go up the ladder from the grade of youth (awope), then to the grade of fully grown up men (mojomiji), and finally to the grade of elders (chidonge). Although women do have their own age-sets, the mojomiji is predominantly a paternistic system. All men of the mojimiji grade, or the ‘ruling generation’, constitute a sort of collective government, and are bestowed with legislative and judiciary powers.
They are also responsible for defence. They own the village drums kept in the big drum house. It is located at the centre of the village facing the dancing ground. The fenced compound where the drum house is located is the place where mojomiji and elders sit together and discuss village affairs. The term mojomiji was borrowed from Lopit-Lotuho-Lokoya (monyomiji, ‘fathers of the village’), the Pari adopted the system as a result of cultural contact with other ethnic groups.
About every 10 years a new mojomiji takes over power and the old one retires to the elders’ grade. The last one took place in 1999. Displaced Pari communities in Khartoum, Juba can be found in internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugeescamps. They also held a ceremony for the new mojomiji to show solidarity with those at their ancestral home as this is the biggest ceremonial occasion among the Pari.
The two political systems coexist and cooperate, but sometimes conflict arises. This is particularly witnessed when the rain-chief cannot make enough rain or stop too much rain. Then the mojimiji may threaten and even punish the rain chief.
Spirituality, Belief and Customs
The Pari believe in jwok (pl. juu). There are many places of jwok, including Lipul, where offerings and sacrifices are made. They also say that Jwok is like the wind and is therefore, everywhere. This is both good and bad for human beings. There are traditional healers-diviners or witch doctors. They are both men and women and called ajwa (pl. ajuu). A dying person makes either a blessing (gweth) or curse (cien). The power of a curse is very much feared, as it may bring disasters not only to individuals but to the entire community.
Neighbours and Foreign Relations
The Pari were put under government administration in the 1910s. Before that, they were attacked by the Mahdist in 1898, but successfully repulsed them. In 1912 the government army attacked them killing many people and confiscating a lot of cattle. A Catholic church and a primary school were established in the late 1930s. But until 1972 the Pari had produced rather a small number of educated people compared to other ethnic groups in the region. This is partly because the villages were not destroyed during the first civil war and only a few sought refuge in Uganda.
When the last war started, the Pari became the first people in Equatoria to join the SPLM/SPLA en masse. Pari SPLA men made a large contribution liberation struggle resulting in a significant loss of Pari. As Pari land and the Lipul Hill (Jebel Lafon) occupies a strategic location connecting Eastern Equatoria and Upper Nile-Gambella, and connecting Pibor, Bor, Kapoeta, Torit, Mongalla and Juba towns, it became the battle ground at various times between the government army and the SPLA, and between factions of the SPLA.
Now, the original 6 villages at the foot of the Hill no longer exist and the entire population has dispersed apart from those who remained in scattered settlements; with others staying in Khartoum, Juba, in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) inside Equatoria, in refugee settlements in Uganda and Kakuma, Kenya. Moreover, some have settled in East Africa, Egypt, Europe and North America. They are also divided between Old Sudan and New Sudan.
Faced with this new situation, efforts have been made at networking and reconnecting with themselves. Recent remarkable examples were two peace and reconciliation workshops. The first one was held in Juba organized by Pari leaders living there and the second one was held in Pari land, facilitated by Pari living in Kenya and Uganda.
Another notable development was the creation of a new county that finally granted the Pari and Lopit separation from Torit County. This granted the wish of the people who hope that it will provide them better opportunities for reconstruction and development. The displacement in the war had a positive aspect; as it provided an opportunity for many young Pari men obtain and attain high level of education in North Sudan, East Africa and beyond.
Eisei Kurimoto, ‘Agriculture in multiple subsistence economy of the Pari.’ In Sakamoto, Keiichi (ed.) Agriculture and Land Utilisation in the Eastern Zaire and the Southern Sudan. Department of Agriculture and Forestry Economics, Faculty of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Kitashirakawa, Sakyo, Kyoto, 1984: 23-51
Eisei Kurimoto, Seligman, C. G., and Seligman, B. Z., ‘Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan.’ George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1932.