The Dinka people are the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. They live mostly in the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Nile basin, Jonglei and parts of southern Kordufan and Upper Nile regions. They are mainly agri-pastoral people. The conflict-reconciliation resolution is an important event in Dinka society.
The conflict-reconciliation cycle has four components: separation (tir), arbitration (luk), compensation (apuk) and reconciliation (acuil).
The first one is called Tir which means blood feud, an unparalleled violence between two groups or clans with revenge involved for decades. Once a conflict has erupted, mediators will try to stop the fight. Usually they are elders who will be respected and obeyed. Procedures towards peace making will not start immediately but time will be given for the wounds of those affected to heal. The purpose of it is double: on one side to give time for people to cool down, and on the other side to estimate the extent of the injuries in order to fix the fine. If the person is dead and therefore the conflict is considerable, both communities/groups will avoid any type of relationship until a cleansing ceremony is performed. The elders will take the initiative towards a sound resolution of the conflict. They will consult among themselves and will send a messenger to the opposite group to ask for reconciliation. When there is a positive response, the two sides will come together to negotiate peace (door). The need for reconciliation also arises from a spiritual perspective. Conflict is not the normal state of life, but peace and harmony.
The second cycle is luk. The word ‘luk’ has two meanings: as a verb it means to persuade; as a noun it means ‘court’ or ‘trial’. The court is chaired by a chief or judge (beny luk) who is supposed to emphasize persuasion rather than coercion.
The third one is Apuk. It is the payment of a fine in form of cattle to the relatives of the victim as compensation for the loss. The main reason of ‘Apuk’ is to make people happy as far as possible. But it has also an important role within the spiritual world, to appease God’s anger for the shedding of blood and thus avoid punishment. When a final settlement is agreed upon in cases of murder, a ceremony of reconciliation (acuil) follows. That means that the case is fully resolved and harmony restored.
Finally this fourth cycle is called ‘Acuil’. An important characteristic of the ‘Acuil’ is the sacrifice of a white bull. Water is also an important element as symbol of purification. Each group will come along with two bulls, Mabor (white) and Malual (red) symbolizing peace and blood. The elders strongly summon the people not to fight again. Then both groups make a firm resolution to abide by the peace-agreement. The four bulls are slaughtered from head to tail and split equally. These eight pieces of meat are exchanged between the two groups in dispute.s The meat of the red bull is roasted and eaten where the ceremony is taking place, while the meat of the white bull will be taken back to the community, symbolizing, in this way, that peace goes home. “The people are put together as a bull is put together”, said a Dinka chief.
Reconciliation as community event
Reconciliation rituals are not friendly pacts to make peace. Truly, they are transforming events. What is recreated in the ritual affects the whole cosmos: the living, the living dead, the not-yet born, the ancestors, nature and the spiritual world. But rituals become operative only to those who share a common (same) world view. In other words an outsider will probably not understand nor be influenced by the ritual because the perception of the experienced reality differs. Dinka rituals are performances: they connect the physical with the spiritual world; they canalize strong human feelings (anger, fear, etc). Dinka reconciliation is first and foremost a community event, as conflict is also understood as a communal affair.
The positive moral element is the fact that the Dinka feels responsible for what a member of the family does. When the reconciliation becomes a community event there is time for introspection. The social dimension of reconciliation is also seen in the effort towards the re-insertion of the offender.
In Dinka society the search for truth is not absolute, but is at the service of harmony. Therefore, it is acceptable to distort the truth for the sake of harmony (role of fairness in trials, nature of wrong doing, to admit the fault even after evidence, the sense of guilt is diminished).
It seems that the Dinka have a different concept of guilt, that is spiritualized, and thus somehow irrelevant. Guilt can be a very healthy feeling when it encourages the person to seek conversion through reconciliation. The acknowledgment of sinfulness is an opportunity to accept others’ sinfulness. It is surprising that through the different rituals of reconciliation we may note that the idea of forgiveness is not apparent.
Forgiveness has a personal dimension that is not always catered for during the reconciliation rites. Forgiveness is not something one can acquire through the payment of compensation, it goes far beyond. In clear contrast with forgiveness is revenge. For the Dinka revenge is not just an event, but an institution sanctioned by deep cultural traditions. Revenge is often wanted by the spirit of the deceased. It is a command that can hardly be silenced under the fear of punishment or curse. (P.G.)