The Song Oxen: A Bite Into A South Sudanese Dinka Culture

"Maleng-toong's style was creatively unique. While holding a shield and spears in left hand and one spear in a throwing-position in the right hand, he leaped up high, and then he launched the spear in midair before landing."

By Willy Mayom Maker

I still remember young fellows from our area, who were very famous because their personnel oxen and bulls, as well as their songs. This was in 1980s.

(Now, if you are not a Dinka, you may not enjoy this piece because it’s loaded with cultural references, metaphors and terms, which are left untranslated. If you are a Dinka, but not from Lakes State, you may have trouble understanding some phrases because of the dialect variations.

Even if you are from Agar, and you are a city-dweller, you may not enjoy this piece either because you are nothing but an “abuot-bai” – a confused “home-living individual” who knows nothing about cows.

The only people who may enjoy this writing are the “apooc” (selectors) and “ajat-mhoor” (movers of oxen or bulls): these are top warriors who ‘select’ their best lactating cows, as well as their finest bulls and oxen, and ‘migrate’ to secluded camps, away from women, children or elderly persons, where they would drink milk and express themselves freely.

To any abuot-bai (home-stayer) who has never been to a cattle camp, the apooc and ajat-mhoor are equivalent to celebrities and super stars in your towns and cities. Get it?)

Every young man (aparapuol) must own an ox with exotic coloring. Even though every color is desirable, the highly valued color pattern is a combination of black and white, forming marial, maker, majok, makur , mangar or makuei.

To make it exceptionally desirable, the ox must have additional attributes. For example, its horns must be long, massive, and white. This kind of ox is known as “matung-bhoor” – meaning white-horned.

Also, the ox’s muzzle must be reddish or pinkish. This is called “mawum-lual” or simply the red-nosed.

When a bull calf with such beauty is born, the young owner would be thrilled so much that he would kill (gut) a relative’s cow in celebration. Even though he will eventually compensate the owner of the cow he had killed with up to 5 cows, the killing is worth it, because he’s not only marking the occasion, but also welcoming and blessing his newly acquired song ox (muorcien).

The first step in raising the bull calf is castration. This is done to reduce aggression and increase physical growth of the ox. When the horns grow to certain lengths, a special horn designer is called to carve the horns (ngat-nhom) of the ox. The carving is a delicate task, which requires attention to details. Using a spearhead, the designer must cut a smaller amount of the inner core of the living bone than just the outer cover of the horn.

Cutting too much of the inner core of the living bone may cause excessive bleeding, which may lead to infection or even death. Cutting too much or too little of the outer cover may also lead to a wrong design. The cutting must be perfect, which is why it’s important to find a renowned designer with proven skills. After cutting, the horns are allowed to grow in the intended fashion: asymmetrically.
The final stage is piercing of the horns. The tips of the horns are pierced with a hot knife. This is where tassels are suspended on the tip of the horns for decoration purposes. The ox also uses the tassels to swat flies way from its eyes.
Additional beautification accessories, including dhor-anyar, puon-amal, loth, ajaac, and cot are added.

Remember, every step deserves poetic boasting phrases: “Ca muor ngat-nhom!” I have carved the ox’s horns! “Ca tung puou ku ruop nhom dhor anyar!” I have piece the horns and adorn them with buffalo tassels! These phrases are coined into songs.

One of the young warriors I still remember from our area was Mapiu Maghak Ater Rual. He owned a personnel ox (muor-cien), Makuei. The ox was very distinctive in appearance with a mostly black body and a white head. It had a strong neck and a prominent dewlap. Its horns were massive and extraordinary white – the matung-bhoor or white-horned. As a finishing touch, the ox velvety muzzle was exceptionally reddish – the mawum-lual. Mapiu had composed many songs, which I still remember up to now, but I can't add them here because they are too long.

And who didn’t admire Majok Agook with his ox marial? The ox had a striking color pattern: black with a bright white patch running on each side. The ox was patched on both sides with black colors, with the lines trailing on both sides of beast almost to its neck.

Because of such unique pattern, the owner seized the opportunity and oxen-named himself, “Muor-ci-mang” – literally meaning the ox is “slapped” or “patched” with exotic colors. Majok Agok sang the following song:
“The ox is slapped or patched [with exotic colors]! And slapped on this side. Then the color goes all the way to the outside [infinitely].”
People laughed their heads off when Majok Agook with his crew first sang this song in Pachong in early 1980s.

Majok, who had never been to school and didn’t even know Arabic, picked up a few Arabic vocabularies and incorporated them in his lyrics. It was the most hilarious song I had ever heard when aparapuol sang it in a broken Arabic. Here are the original lyrics: “Muor ci mang! Ku mɛng laang. Kujol rooj… Amci, amci bara.”

Then, there were young fellows from Panyar sections, including Pinyakum Papuor and Akuoc Makueng Rok, who were very famous too. This was before Panyar migrated to Yek.

Pinyakum was a trouble-maker who, when things didn’t go his way, would always say, “We must test our muscles!” And with that, the cracking of the fighting sticks ensued.

Pinyakum owned an ox maker, and one of his friends owned marial. I forgot his real name, but his oxen name was Saluk.

To distinguish himself, his boasting phrase was, “Yes, my name is Saluk, but I’m not a criminal who steals; it is just that my ox is doing the unthinkable deeds at the cattle camps!"

At one point, Pinyakum Mapuor and five of his friends, including Akuoc Makueng, all owned oxen with the similar colors: muokeer (plural of maker), almost blue-black with white lines down their backs. The roan coloring on their sides varied from almost black to nearly white, with either red or black noses.

All of the variants were stunning, especially against a background of green grass of Aramweer or Majak-ajok cattle camps, where they often kept their cattle. Pinyakum and his crew sang the following song:
“I migrate my majok, I migrate mangar. We are the soldiers of Makuen-thiang who never get tired of the war chant. [My ox] has left the salty soil of Majak Rual and the salty ground of Adet; the bull rushes to Akam [Cattle Camp]. Maker Ater Dier is rushing the cows to the river… These are cattle camps of makers: my Maker, Kuet-Toong Makueng Rok’s maker; Meen Modok’s maker and Magual’s maker.

Then, there is the ox of Pinyakum, called maker of Pinyakum. The ox rushes to Akam, Maker Ater Dier is rushing the cows to the marshland… My majok has seen inside the Nuer’s Savannah…”
Last but not least, there was a young fellow in Bar Aguoc area, from Kook section. I forgot his real name, but he was famously known by his oxen name: Maleng-Toong. Apparently, he owned an ox which was malek in color – a magnificent beast with a deep chest and high, curving hump. He claimed to have acquired the ox from Nuer, using spears, earning him the named Maleng-toong.

The ox was unique because of its color patterns, size and even behavior. With long and large horns, the ox was massive in size and elegant in appearance: dark red spots dominated the white skin.

When performing a mock fight (gor), Maleng-toong's style was creatively unique. While holding a shield and spears in left hand and one spear in a throwing-position in the right hand, he leaped up high, and then he launched the spear in midair before landing. He did this in one swift move mind you. He was the only one who had mastered that style, which he claimed he had learned it from the Nuer.

 

Posted in: Home, Culture
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21/07/2019, 5:55 PM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
A story well told with enthusiasm it deserves.
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