South Sudan – the Spear Master

He is a spiritual guide and has the ability to mediate between God, totems and men. He is aware of the importance of education. Without hesitating he gave the land of his ancestors, with plenty of mango and tamarind trees and monkeys for the building of a school, and he moved elsewhere.

Guricdit Marialjual lives at the Gel river bank on a small plot of land devoted to raising livestock, where there are a dozen tukules (traditional circular huts) made from mud with thatched roofs and very high trees. He is probably the oldest person in the village. Hence the suffix “dit”, which means “elder” in the Dinka language, attached to his name, Guric. However, like most of the inhabitants of the area, he does not know his age.
Guric moves around on foot holding a long stick. He sometimes carries a spear also, which he uses for animal sacrifices to Nhialic (God). These sacrifices are performed to heal illnesses, social disharmony and difficulties of people. He, as a spear master and spiritual guide, has the ability to mediate between God, totems and men.

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Guric cannot read or write: he never attended school, but when, eight years ago, a missionary suggested building a school in the village of Bahrgel, he did not hesitate a moment, and offered the land of his ancestors, with plenty of mango and tamarind trees and monkeys, and moved to Marialjual.
Guric likes resting in the shade of the trees during the hottest hours of the South Sudanese dry season, but he also collaborates with the construction of several structures to improve the conditions of the camp where he lives, such as the building of a larger tukul, and an enclosure to protect goats from voracious hyenas, or a new mortar to grind the sorghum grain and corn.


Some afternoons, he puts his striped hat on, gets his walking stick and crosses the small area of savannah that separates Marialjual from Bahrgel where the school is located which, to date, hosts sixty students and employs twenty people: workers and local teachers. Every time he arrives at the school, they offer him some tea or coffee without asking him what he prefers, because it would sound offensive, since a spear master in the Dinka society never asks anything, and simply accepts what people offer him.
Every time he visits the school he wants to make sure that pupils keep on being committed to their studies, and that the community and chiefs of Bahgel, besides being engaged in keeping peace between the several clans and tribes, continue to support the activities and the good management of the centre. After his usual walk around the school Guric reaches, a few meters further, a group of women who have been attending some courses at the school for six months to learn new agricultural techniques. The one hundred and twenty women participating in the project chose Martha, Guric’s daughter, as leader.

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Martha, who works as a cook at the school, has inherited some of her father’s revolutionary spirit. When her husband died she refused to marry his brother (levirate marriage), and last year she enrolled her daughter Kana in high school despite that her relatives wanted the girl to get married. Guric has always respected Martha’s choices, even when they were contrary to the Dinka tradition, of which he is the principal guarantor.
It is sunset now, one can hear the singing of cicadas. Dozens of women and girls from Bahrgel cross the savannah eights carrying large yellow cans, they are headed to the well of the school to get some water. They carry cans, which contain twenty liters of water, on their head, and can still walk nimbly. Guric is going in the opposite direction, headed home. He walks slowly holding his walking stick, and little by little, he disappears into the high dry grasses.(G.P.)


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