In this modern day and age it is difficult to think about people living off the land without technology, electricity or even running water. Yet, the Mundari Tribe is doing just that! Their lives revolve around their prized possessions – their cows! Learn about these extraordinary people and how we came to spend 2 marvelous days with them.
The extraordinary Mundari Tribe is one of the 64 different and mostly warring tribes which make up South Sudan. However, the Mundari people are one of the friendliest and the most peaceful of the lot.
Each group of the tribe consists of about 200 people. Overall there are 70,000 to 100,000 members of the Mundari Tribe.
Where are the Mundari?
The Mundari’s main homeland is in the Nile Valley approximately 75 kilometres north of Juba, the capital of South Sudan. South Sudan gained it’s independence in 2011, after 2 decades of violent civil war. It is considered the youngest country in the world.
The group does move every month or so to provide better grazing opportunities for their cattle. They always keep the White Nile to their east.
Most Pampered and "Holy Cows"
The Mundari Tribe’s lives revolve around their cows. These magnificent beings are not your typical cows. They are the ancient Ankole Watusi breed of cattle. These regal animals can easily trace their ancestry back more than 6,000 years and have often been referred to as the “cattle of kings.”
At 8 feet tall with long large-diameter horns it is easy to see how these stunning animals are at the center of the Mundari world. They are very rarely eaten. Instead the staple diet for these people is the milk and yogurt made from the cow’s milk.
The Mundari awake at dawn to get their cows ready for a day of grazing. Each cow is massaged and covered in dust to protect it from insects.
The kids gather the dung that was created overnight. They place it in neat piles and flatten it to be burned in the afternoon. By the time that the clean up is completed the camp is spotless.
The kids do some final milking – which they drink and provide to some of their puppies. Others make the coffee which is a delicious blend of ginger, some spices and a bit of sugar.
Once the cows are released, the men play games which look like dominoes and practice wrestling. They are very serious about their wrestling!
In the afternoon the piles of dung are burned creating a very mystical look to the camp. The smoke protects the people and the returning cows from insects. The ash that is produced from the burned dung is then used to massage the cows to protect them from insects.
In addition, the Mundari cover their faces and hair with the dust.
Once the cows return, they are yet again massaged and cleaned with the dust (which was created from their own dung). Each cow is place back on their peg and left to rest.
Taking a "Shower"
Without running water how do you take a shower? Well, the Mundari men take a shower by waiting for one of their cows to urinate. They quickly stick their heads under the stream and take the proverbial rinse. Thus over time, making their hair an orangy-yellow color.
Cow urine is considered to have an antiseptic quality as it is thought to fight infection.
A visitor to the tribe who has the gumption to take the “shower” is remembered and renowned for a very long time!
Mundari At Risk
As I mentioned earlier, the Mundari Tribe are a very peaceful people. Yet, I was surprised to find a machine gun hanging from one of the camp poles. Our guide, Donald explained that there are rustlers who try to take the cows from the tribe.
With the difficult economic situation in South Sudan such cow thieves are unfortunately common. The Mundari will do everything possible to guard their prized cows. They value each cow at approximately $500 USD – which is a huge sum of money in South Sudan. Each man has their favorite bovine and they sleep right beside it every night.
Furthermore, there are abandoned land mines all around South Sudan. When the tribe moves to find better grazing ground for their animals, they take a big risk with every new step.
Getting to the Mundari
There are a few tour operators who work in this region. Getting to the Mundari Tribe is an expensive and risky undertaking. In addition, it was very important for us to find an outfit and guide who care about the tribe and provided a tour ethically and thoughtfully. Therefore it is important to find the right tour operator, if you so choose.
We used Laba Africa for helping us with getting the visa for South Sudan and arranging all the specifics of the trip. Donald Champion was our guide.
As always, we never profit from our recommendations – as our goal is to share our experiences and help others see this magical world.
We had the distinct pleasure of spending 2 days with the Mundari people, learning about their practices, values and their challenges. It was one of the most incredible trips of our lives. Although South Sudan is considered to be a dangerous destination, we felt safe throughout our journey there.
If you are in Africa to see the Mundari Tribe and want another incredible experience check out our trip to Uganda to spend time with the Mountain Gorillas.
In addition, if you are transitioning through Bahrain or Addis Ababa make sure to check out the free hotels that may be available to you in the airport!
Please do let us know if you have any questions about our trip as we would love to help in your planning if you are considering such a trip!