A Dinka man herding cattle
|about 4.5 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Christianity, Islam, African Traditional Religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Nuer, other Nilotic peoples|
The Dinka people (Dinka: Ji) are a community, composed of many ethnic groups, inhabiting the East and West Banks of River Nile, from Mangalla to Renk, regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile (former two of three Southern Provinces in Sudan) and Abyei Area of the Angok Dinka in South Khordofan of Sudan. The Dinka community is a domesticated community[clarification needed], which mainly lives on traditional agriculture and pastoralism, relying on cattle husbandry as a cultural pride, not for commercial profit or for meat, but cultural demonstrations, rituals, marriages' dowries and milk feedings for all ages. The Dinka cultivate food crops and cash crops. The food crops are grains (dura/sarghum and millet.) The cash crops are groundnuts, semsemi and more varieties like gum-Arabi etc. Cattle are confined to riverside and sudd and grass areas during the dry season, but are amounted to high grounds in order to avoid floods and water during the rainy season.
They number around 4.5 million people according to the 2008 Sudan census, constituting about 18% of the population of the entire country, and the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan. Dinka, or as they refer to themselves, Muonyjang (singular) and jieng (plural), one of the branches of the River Lake Nilotes (mainly sedentary agripastoral peoples of the Nile Valley and African Great Lakes region who speak Nilotic languages, including the Nuer and Luo). Dinka are sometimes noted for their height. With the Tutsi of Rwanda, they are believed to be the tallest people in Africa. Roberts and Bainbridge reported the average height of 182.6 cm (5 ft 11.9 in) in a sample of 52 Dinka Ageir and 181.3 cm (5 ft 11.4 in) in 227 Dinka Ruweng measured in 1953-1954. However, it seems the stature of today's Dinka males is lower, possibly as a consequence of undernutrition and conflicts. An anthropometric survey of Dinka men, war refugees in Ethiopia, published in 1995 found a mean height of 176.4 cm (5 ft 9.4 in). Other studies of comparative historical height data and nutrition place the Dinka as the tallest people in the world.
The Dinka people have no centralised political authority, instead comprising many independent but interlinked clans. Certain of those clans traditionally provide ritual chiefs, known as the "masters of the fishing spear" or beny bith, who provide leadership for the entire people and appear to be at least in part hereditary.
Their language, called Dinka or "Thujä?" (Tho? ë Mu?nyjä?), is one of the Nilotic languages of the eastern Sudanic language family. The name means "people" in the Dinka language. It is written using the Latin alphabet with a few additions.
The Dinka (Jieeng) people has fifty six subdivisions: Rek of Wau (Dinka Marial Baai), Palieupiny Malual, Pajook Malual (Malual Gieernyaang/ Malual Buoth Anyaar), Paliet Malual, Abiem Malual, Twic Mayaardit, Kuac Ayok, Awan Chan, Awan Mou, Wan Parek, Aguok Kuei, Apuk Giir, Apuk Padooc, Apuk Jurwiir, Konggoor, Abiem Mayaar, Lou Ariik, Lou Paheer, Luac (Luanyjang), Luac (Luanykoth), Akook, Thiik, Jalwau, Nyang Akoc, Abuook, Atok, Noi, Leer, Muok, Yaar Ayiei Cikom, Thony, Gok, Kuei (Agaar), Rup (Agaar), Pakam (Agaar), Parial (Agaar), Yak (Agaar), Atuot, Ciec, Aliap, Bor, Twi (Twic of Jonglei), Nyarweng, Hol, Luac Akok(Luac of Khorfulus), Rut, Thoi, Ruweng Paweny, Ngok Lual Yak (Ngok of Malakal), Dongjol, Nyiel, Ageer, Abialaang, Ruweng Paanaruu, Ruweng Aloor and Ngok Jok (Ngok of Abyei). Noted that the Rek, Padaang, Malual and Agaar are groups which are composed of independent sub-divisions, each with known borders and a customary authority which managed the affairs of the section alongside governmental structures. In other word, there is no such thing as "Rek paramount Chief, but Rek paramount chiefs."
The number of Dinka sub-divisions is hotly contested as the border or line between group, sub-division and sections is blurred and often difficult to determine. For example, one can divide the Atuot into Apak and Reel, Boor into Athooc and Gok, and Panaruu into Awet and Kuel and Ciec into Ador and Lou where Ador is sub-divided into Gok and Ajiek. Malual is the largest of those groups, numbering over a million people. The Dinka's migrations are determined by the local climate, their agro-pastoral lifestyle responding to the periodic flooding and dryness of the area in which they live. They begin moving around May-June at the onset of the rainy season to their "permanent settlements" of mud and thatch housing above flood level, where they plant their crops of millet and other grain products.
These rainy season settlements usually contain other permanent structures such as cattle byres (luak) and granaries. During dry season (beginning about December-January), everyone except the aged, ill, and nursing mothers migrates to semi-permanent dwellings in the toic for cattle grazing. The cultivation of sorghum, millet, and other crops begins in the highlands in the early rainy season and the harvest of crops begins when the rains are heavy in June-August. Cattle are driven to the toic in September and November when the rainfall drops off and allowed to graze on harvested stalks of the crops.
The Dinkas' pastoral lifestyle is also reflected in their religious beliefs and practices. Since the arrival of Abrahamic religions most revere one God, Nhialic, who speaks through spirits that take temporary possession of individuals in order to speak through them. The sacrificing of oxen by the "masters of the fishing spear" is a central component of Dinka religious practice. Age is an important factor in Dinka culture, with young men being inducted into adulthood through an initiation ordeal which includes marking the forehead with a sharp object. Also during this ceremony they acquire a second cow-colour name. The Dinka believe they derive religious power from nature and the world around them, rather than from a religious tome.
The Dinka's religions, beliefs and lifestyle have led to conflict with the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum. The Sudan People's Liberation Army, led by late Dr. John Garang De Mabior, a Dinka, took arms against the government in 1983. During the subsequent 21-year civil war, many thousands of Dinka, along with fellow non-Dinka southerners, were massacred by government forces. The Dinka, led by Salva Kiir Mayardit, have also engaged in a separate civil war with the Nuer and other groups who accuse them of monopolising power.
Sizable groups of Dinka refugees may be found in distant lands, including the United States (Jacksonville, Florida and Clarkston, a working-class suburb of Atlanta, Georgia and in the Midwest such as Omaha NE, Des Moines IA, Sioux Falls SD, and Kansas City MO), as well as Edmonton in Canada, and Melbourne and Sydney in Australia.
The experience of Dinka refugees was portrayed in the documentary movies Lost Boys of Sudan by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk and God Grew Tired Of Us, Joan Hechts' book The Journey of the Lost Boys and the fictionalized autobiography of a Dinka refugee, Dave Eggers' What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. Other books on and by the Lost Boys include The Lost Boys of Sudan by Mark Bixler, God Grew Tired of Us by John Bul Dau, They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky by Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak and, "A Long Walk to Water" by Linda Sue Park. In 2004 the first volume of the graphic novel 'Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan' was released in Dallas, Texas, United States, chronicling in art and dialogue four lost boys' escapes from the destruction of their hometowns in South Sudan.
On November 15, 1991 the event known as the "Dinkas Massacre" commenced in South Sudan. Forces led by the breakaway faction of Riek Machar deliberately killed an estimated 2,000 civilians in Dinkas of Hol, Nyarweng, Twic, Bor and others in villages and wounded several thousand more over the course of two months. It is estimated a 100,000 people left the area following the attack. Jieng People also killed in 1991 tribal massacre were people of Khorfulus and Ngok Lual Yak where about 500 people were killed, over 7000 herds of cattle taken, and thousand of houses burnt. The area however remained under the control of SPLA under the command of late General George Athor Deng who later defeated Riek Machar's forces in Panyagor when he reinforced Wuor Mabior of Duk.