4 Aug 2020

'Gurtong' Meaning

'Gurtong' is a phrase, not a word. It consists of two words: a verb 'gur' and a noun 'tong'.

'Gur' means 'to grind' or 'to blunt' and 'tong' means 'spear'. 'Gurtong' therefore means 'to blunt the spear' or simply 'blunt the spear' by grinding the sharp edges of the spear against something hard until it is blunt. The words and the phrase have their origins in most Nilotic languages: Acholi, Jieng, Nath, Chollo, Pari and Anyuak.

However, it’s symbolic meaning associated with peacemaking has been perfected and commonly applied by the Anyuak in settling serious disputes among members of the ethnic community and between themselves and others. 'Gur-tong' to them therefore means to perform a ritual in which a spear is unsharpened by moving its sharp edges against stone.


The occasion captured in the picture was that of reconciliation between an Anyuak clan with MedAir – a Swiss-based NGO operating in Pochalla and other parts of South Sudan. A MedAir vehicle had killed a child, who had slipped under it without the knowledge of the driver – a Kenyan Luo. The case was settled traditionally as above. It follows a code in which there is acceptance of guilt , cleansing, compensation , forgiveness and therefore reconciliation and hence the occasion 'gurtong'.

It involves a ceremony where two parties to a conflict settle a dispute, in which lives have been lost, through peaceful discussions. The unsharpening of a spear symbolizes forgiveness and reconciliation.


Last updated at 7/6/2020
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