Demography and Geography
The Toposa people number about 700,00 to 750,000. They are found in Kapoeta County, east bank Equatoria. Their most important settlements and villages are Kapoeta, Riwoto, Narus, Kauto, Naita, Mogos, Lamurnyang and Karukomuge.
Environment, Economy and Natural Resources
Toposa land has rugged topography with hills and ridges cut by shallow plains and seasonal streams. It is arid with very little vegetation of shrubs and short grass. This environment has greatly influenced Toposa’s mode of social production plasticizing transhumance. The economy and social life centres around livestock mainly cattle, camels, donkeys, goats and sheep. They pan gold and other precious minerals in stream beds. The area has high potential in minerals resources.
Mythology and History
The Toposa are part of a larger group known as the Ateker cluster, which in the Sudan include the Toposa, Nyangatom and Jiye; The Turkana across the borders in Kenya; the Jie, Dodoth and Karamojong in Uganda. The Toposa people believe that they originated and moved away from the Losolia Mountains in Uganda due to severe drought that had killed both people and animals.
Toposa tradition has it that they are descendants of Lopita or the Paring’a who shared common ancestry with the Murle, Turkana and Karamojong. According to the Toposa the story runs as such: They were moving in waves. The first people to arrive Losolia cheated the other groups who arrived late and found that the first group had taken the meat leaving only soup. This precipitated the split and separation.
The Toposa speak ‘Toposa’ language very similar to the Jiye and Nyangatom languages also related to Turkana, Dodoth and Karamojong.
Society, Social Events, Attitudes, Customs and Traditions
The Toposa society is organised into agnatic lineages of which the family form the small unit. The Toposa social values and customs are passed onto the children as early as possible . It has to do with accumulation and keeping large herds of cattle.
The boys are organised as age-sets learn from their fathers and taught how to herd their livestock. Their first task is to take care of the goats and sheep but as they become of age, they graduate to a higher task of looking after the cattle. They then can travel distances looking for greener pasture and water. The girls on the other hand are taught to look after the home, the farms and to care for the elderly and children.
The Toposa abhor the practice of circumcision and indeed despise any circumcised person. They also do not accept and frown upon the idea of head count of humans and animals.
The social events which bring the Toposa together in happiness and sorrow include dances, marriage celebrations, funerals and cattle raids. They share certain totems and body marks.
They Toposa adults attend meetings, gatherings and functions in which important decisions concerning the clan or whole community are made. Women and children are kept at a distance while the men discuss the people’s affairs.
Tradition has it that important matters are discussed and decision made in the early hours of the morning before sun rise. Respect for elders is mandatory for the younger generations.
Socio-Political Organisation, Traditional Authority
The Toposa society has no clear political organisation. Indeed the chiefs, sub-chiefs, elders, fortune-tellers, medicine men, witch-doctors wield administrative and spiritual powers.
Spirituality, Beliefs and Customs
The Toposa do not have an elaborate religious belief. They however believe in the existence of a Supreme Being and the spirits of the departed ancestors. They pray and make sacrifices for these spirits as they communicate with them through a medium. This is done in case of serious disaster e.g. droughts, epizootics affecting their animals, etc. The Toposa believe that the chiefs, particularly the paramount chiefs are nearer to God by virtue of their wisdom.
Culture: Arts, Music, Literature, Handicraft
The Toposa culture is orally transmitted through songs, dance, music, poems and folklore. Being pastoralists, they have perfected their art of war and cattle raiding. They are able to spy and gather information about the enemy, water, pastures, etc. with precision. The young men take great care and beauty of their hair.
Neighbours and Foreign Relations and Co-operation
The Toposa neighbour their kins – the Nyangatom – to the east, – Jiye, Murle, and Kachipo – to the north, – Pari, Boya and Didinga – to the west and south west and – the Turkana – to the south. Cattle rustling and competition over the scarce resources of water and pasture has determined the relations between the Toposa and their neighbours. The Toposa cooperate with the government in Kapoeta only when that cooperation addresses and satisfies their interest and concern for security.
The successive governments in Khartoum and Juba have marginalised and kept the Toposa people at arm’s length. At some point they cooperated with the government for the recapture of Kapoeta but later changed sides.
Social services in health, veterinary, water wells, and education have been extended to the Toposa that they have access to medical care, clean water and many of their children are now attending schools in Narus and Natinga. War and modernity is fast eroding the traditional social fabric.
The introduction and easy availability of light weapons and small arms have a great impact on the life of the Toposa. The catholic Diocese of Torit is trying against odds to proselytise among the Toposa.
In spite of the harsh social and environment condition under which they live very few Toposa have left home. There is very little information regarding Toposa Diaspora in any part of the world.