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The Avukaya are found in Maridi and Yei districts in the tropical rain forest belt of western Equatoria, with small patches of the nationality also found in Democratice Republic of Congo (DRC). The Avukaya on the Sudanese side of the border number about 50,000, domiciling in small villages or solitary settlements.
The Avukaya land is tropical rain forest that enjoys high annual rainfall. This has rendered it a very high agricultural potential area, making the Avukaya sedentary agrarians as dictated by their environment. They engage in subsistence - due long distances from markets - production of food crops mainly maize, cassava, telebun, yams, fruits: mangoes, citrus, pineapples, palm trees (from which they extract palm oil – ombiro, coffee, etc. Such exotic and economically important hard wood trees as mahogany, teak, cinderella are found in Maridi area. Their other economic and social activities include hunting (using traps, nets, and heavy spears) and fishing (in streams).
There exists no sensational or emotional notion about the origin of the Avukaya people. A general myth among the Avukaya is that a dead person returns to life incarnated in the form of some animal, which are mostly lion - for the biggest chiefs of the royal clan, leopard, python, snake, wart-hog, rat and lightning. Like the Azande, the Avukaya believe that the death of the animal is therefore the end of all things. Men will not therefore kill the animal they believe they will turn into, except in self defence.
The Avukaya speak a language very close to the Azande language. Being a Bantu group their language bears a lot of similarities to the other Bantu languages.
The Avukaya society live in solitary settlements i.e. a household consisting of the man and his wife (vies), nevertheless they ascribe to certain social norms and practices. The Avukaya have no special ceremonies connected with marriage. There is a dowry for every marriage and this consists of money, a few domestic implements and spears. In the early days a man may begin to pay dowry for a prospective bride when she is still an infant – a kind of pawning.
Birth is considered the beginning of life and tradition therefore proscribes pregnant women from certain behaviours and foods to prevent a miscarriage. There is no special ceremony at the birth of a child except after the 4th day when a fire of green leaves is lit in the threshold of the house ostensibly to scare off evil spirits or to make the child strong. The remains of the fire are not thrown away but carefully placed on one of the paths leading to the village to prevent ill health to the child.
Like the Azande, the Avukaya have a tradition of circumcising only their boys, performed when the boy has reached the age of about 19. There is no special occasion attached and this tradition of circumcision of the boys has no relation with Islamic practice.
There is nothing such as a natural death among the Avukaya. No matter the cause, a person is supposed to have been bewitched. There are no outward signs of mourning except for widows, who are expected to tear off or remove their clothes and ornaments and to remains so until his burial. She cuts and keeps her hair short for about a year during which time she is not allowed to eat certain foods. Death of a man may cause desertion of his village and none of his wives may enter it. All his personal domestic articles are broken up. Immediately over the body, a roof of wood and grass is placed and the grave then filled in, a pile of stones being placed on the top.
The Avukaya concept of state and thus, political organisation is rudimentary if it has ever existed. Witchcraft, charm, oracles, play a dominant role in the lives of the Avukaya; particularly in the administration of justice. The chiefs appointed by the state wield power among their people.
Like the Azande, the Avukaya demonstrate a high degree of superstition and are prone to witchcraft and charm. On death, a person is believed to return to life in another form suggesting that existence of spirits of the departed, who are able to communicate with the living. The Avukaya believe in the existence of the super being (God).
The Avukaya culture and art is rich and expressed in songs, music and dance in self-praise. There is an intricate system of oracles and folklore which remained largely oral. The Avukaya dance is performed predominantly at night during full moon. They dance to the sound of the drums and sing topical songs, more often rather obscene. Different songs require different ways of beating the drums and all have a chorus in which everyone joins. The Avukaya produce excellent bark-cloth, baskets woven from barks and leaves of palm, different types and varieties of wooden craft, tables and chairs, bow and arrows and special iron knives and swords.
The Avukaya neighbour the Moro, Mundu and the Pöjulu. They seem to enjoy cordial relationship with their neighbours unlike the Azande.
The war especially the heavy fighting around Maridi in early 1990s affected the Avukaya, leading to displacements and migration.
Due to war the Avukaya migrated toDemocratice Republic of Congo (DRC) and few have gone to Uganda.
E. E. Evans-Pritchard, ‘Witchcraft, oracles and Magic among the Avukaya.’ Oxford, Claredon Press, 1937.
E. E. Evans- Pritchard, ‘The Non-Dinka peoples of Amadi and Rumbek Districts.’ SNR Vol. XX. Part I. pp 156 -158.
P. M. Larken, ‘Impressions of the Azande.’ SNR Vol. XIII Part I, 1930 pp 99 – 115.
Seligman C. G. & B Z Seligman, ‘Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan.’ Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. London, 1932 (re-issued 1965).