Toposa ( Sudan ) Proverb
Toposa woman with her baby South Sudan
The Toposa are part of an ethnic cluster called Ateker or Karimojong cluster, comprising of the Karimojong, the Jie, the Dodos, the Turkana, the Toposa, the Jiye, and the Nyangatom, who all lead a similar way of life, only modified by their political and ecological situation.
Toposa warrior chieftain
The Turkana, for example, living in a much more arid environment, practise only little agriculture and have to a great extent substituted their cattle by camels. In fact, it is not only the Ateker sharing a similar way of life, but many neighbouring peoples in the area like the Didinga, Longarim, Oromo, Samburu, Rendille, Hamar, Dassanetch, Murle, and Konso, just to mention a few.
Toposa girl,South Sudan
They have traditionally lived by herding cattle, sheep and goats, and in the past were involved in the ivory trade. They have a tradition of constant low-level warfare, usually cattle raids, against their neighbors.
During the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) the Toposa helped the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) at times, and at other times helped the Government of Sudan. After the war, sporadic clashes with neighboring tribes still remain a problem. The Toposa way of life is slowly being modernized, at the cost of eroding the traditional social organization.
Locataion and environment
The Toposa people live in Greater Kapoeta, beside the Singaita and Lokalyen rivers, and have a ritual center at Loyooro River. For seasonal grazing they migrate to Moruangipi and sometimes east into the Ilemi Triangle.
Toposa woman from Ethiopia
Toposa people also live in the southeast of Jonglei State. Their main settlements include Kapoeta, Riwoto and Narus. The land is semi-arid and rugged, with hills and ridges separated by shallow plains and seasonal streams. Vegetation is limited to shrubs and short grass.
The Toposa mainly rely on cattle, sheep and goats, from which they obtain milk, blood, meat and leather. During the wet season the animals graze near the villages. When the rains end, the men take the herds to dry season pasturage then slowly bring them back, grazing along the way, to arrive in the village when the next rainy season starts. Some areas of good pasturage cannot be used because of lack of drinking water.
The women also engage in limited agriculture in the river valleys. The main crop is sorghum, grown on fertile clay soils. Depending on conditions there may be severe shortages or large surpluses. The Toposa country has low, unpredictable rainfall. The streams are torrential, flowing only in the rainy season.
Toposa people speaks a language known as Toposa. Toposa (also Akara, Kare, Kumi, Taposa, Topotha) is a Nilo-Saharan language (Eastern Sudanic, Nilotic) spoken in South Sudan by the Toposa people.
Mutually intelligible language varieties include Jiye of South Sudan, Nyangatom of Ethiopia, Karimojong, Jie and Dodos of Uganda and Turkana of Kenya. Teso (spoken in both Kenya and Uganda) is lexically more distant.
The Toposa belong to what has been called the "Karamojong cluster", which includes the Karamojong people of Uganda, the Dongiro people and Jiye people in south eastern South Sudan and south western Ethiopia, and the Turkana people of Kenya. They all moved from Abyssinia to settle in Uganda in Karamoja Mountain.
Some hundred years ago, the Toposa split away from the Karimojong,precisely in the Losolia Mountains in what is now called Karamoja in Uganda as a result of a severe drought that killed both people and animals. A mortal quarrel between the Lwo and Tap (ancestors of the Taposa) people was thought to have upset the harmony of all life in northern Uganda, causing a great famine in 1587–1623. People were forced to move away for great distances. After leaving the heartland of the original group the ancestors of the Toposa settled at Losilang for a while, then drifted north in search of grazing. It is also remembered that they have migrated in two main wings. At Loyoro one group, the Nyangatom or Dongiro, went east (the Toposa of the East or Ngitoposa kalo kide), while the Mosingo and Kor sections of the Toposa, under pressure from the Turkana, moved the west (Toposa of the West or Ngitoposa kalo to) and migrated to their present habitats in Kapoeta by 1830.
Toposa people came to meet Lotuho people whom they defeated and took their land. The Lotuho have a tradition that their glorious kingdom of Imatari was destroyed by the Toposa some time around the start of the nineteenth century. An exiled king of the Lotuho had taken refuge in Toposaland, alone apart from his dog. He returned with a band of Toposa who encircled the city. When the people took refuge in the king's palace, which had strong walls, the Toposa pushed over the walls. After the battle the Lotuhu dispersed to villages in their current territory.
Resulting from this migration, the Toposa still have a strong feeling of unity. Even today, when asked what makes a Toposa, they would often answer that it is those people who have migrated together. The exact time of this migration is not quite clear, and estimates vary, but the fact as such is still a source of corporate identity. This corporate identity even has a symbol, a sacred stone located at a place called Kalok on the bank of the river Loyoro. The Nyamóru ka Nyetál, i.e. Stone of Tradition, has been brought along on their migration from Karamoja, and it is a ritual centre until today. There are other ritual groves where stones play a role, e.g. the three ritual cooking stones at Longeleyang south of Kapoeta.
The Toposa became involved in the ivory trade in the late 19th and early 20th century. When Muhammad Ahmad established the Mahdiyya in 1881 the effect was to almost stop trade in ivory through Sudan to the north. Instead, exports began flowing through Ethiopia. As the British established a presence in Sudan and East Africa in the 1890s, they imposed regulations preventing export through their territory of immature or female ivory. In response, the Toposa turned increasingly to Maji in Ethiopia as a market for their ivory. Before the 1914–1918 war, Ethiopian influence stretched westward to the Kidepo River and beyond, and the ivory trade in this area was unaffected before 1927.
Toposa traditional attire
The Toposa developed close relations with Swahili traders, and intermarriage was common. The Toposa language became a lingua franca to the west of Lake Rudolf and throughout most of Eastern Equatoria. The trade route between Mbale in what is now Uganda and Maji ran through Toposa territory, not because it was the shortest route, but because it had dependable year-round water and donkeys could be readily obtained to carry ivory. Another route ran from Maji by way of Obawok, North Lafit, Lafon and the Badigeru swamp to the Nile. The ivory trade brought arms and ammunition from Ethiopia into Toposa territory, and these were used in joint cattle raids with the Swahili on neighbouring people.
The government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan "pacified" the Toposa territory in 1926/1927. Around the same time, the British East African government established posts in northern Turkanaland to the south. With steadily tightening restrictions, by the early 1930s the Toposa were the main remaining traders in ivory in the southern Sudanese lowlands. The Toposa country remained part of Sudan when that country became independent in 1956. The First Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1955 until 1972, had some impact on the Toposa. The Second Sudanese Civil War, breaking out in 1983, had a massive impact.
Riwoto, Sudan: A woman from the Toposa tribe of southern Sudan.
The relations of the Toposa with their immediate neighbours are ones of latent hostility, with the exception of the Nyangatom who are deemed to be relatives of the Toposa. All the people in the area keep cattle, and all of them try to increase their herds by means of cattle raiding from their neighbours, if there are no temporary peace agreements like presently between the Toposa and the Turkana. The issue of cattle raiding as such has been extensively discussed (cf. Bollig 1990, Gray et al. 2003, Almagor 1979, Frank 2002, Hendrickson et al. 1996, Roba 2008). It exemplifies quite well the complex relations between old family heads and young men. Almagor (1979) has shown this for the Dassanetch, and it is quite similar among the Toposa.
It is the young men who go raiding. In principle, raiding and being a fierce warrior is highly esteemed by the entire Toposa society, also by the elders who recall the time when they were the fierce young men and the pride of their people. Elders insult the young men why for not going out on a raid but sitting at home. On the other hand, it is the older herd owners who suffer from counter raids and punitive actions when the government confiscates cattle as compensation.
Thus, on the one hand, all the members of the Toposa society, including the elders, encourage the young men to go raiding, but the elders, on the other hand, are unhappy when raiding becomes excessive or politically problematic, because then all Toposa and especially the elders suffer. In 1983, for example, young Toposa went west to the Nile, and from the area around Mongala about 200 km away, they raided a herd of Dinka cattle. The Dinka, however, are the largest group in the Southern Sudan, and it must have dawned to the Toposa elders that this action meant asking for trouble. Part of the cattle in Kapoeta in a provisional kraal, attracted the young men. The cows looked magnificent with their enormous horns, in comparison to the small-horned Toposa cattle. And it was of course an act of bravery to bring back the animals all the way through enemy country. But, despite all the bravery, the exploit actually turned out to be more than problematic as it provoked counter-action by the Dinka. Armed forces of what the Toposa called “Dinka-Police” came for revenge but were annihilated in an ambush. Somehow, the elders managed to settle the matter, but the incident has strained the Dinka-Toposa relations up to today when the new government is dominated by these very Dinka.
Economy, Division of Labour and Culture
They practice a mixed agriculture: sorghum cropping and animal husbandry with cattle, camels, donkeys, goats, and sheep. The Toposa also pan for gold and other precious minerals in the stream beds. The animals, especially cattle, are more prestigious than the crops, and almost every social fact and activity is connected to them. Boys are first given care of goats and sheep, then graduate to looking after cattle when they come of age.
Toposa youths panning for gold
They may travel considerable distances seeking water and pasturage. Possession of cattle, along with possession of a loaded gun, are the main measures of status and wealth. The Toposa have always competed for water and pasturage with their neighbors, and have always engaged in cattle rustling. The traditional Toposa weapon was a long throwing spear, used in raids in conjunction with a shield. The attacker would run forward zigzagging to dodge missiles, hurl his spear and then retreat, ready to ambush a pursuing enemy.
The Toposa share the habit of constant low-level warfare, mainly to capture cattle, with their neighbors. According to P.H. Gulliver, writing in 1952, "Turkana made war on all their neighbours with the exception of the Jie, with whom they occasionally allied themselves against the Karamajong and the Dodoth. Karamajong similarly made war on all their neighbors with the exception of the Dudoth, with whom they occasionally allied themselves against the Jie. Jie claim friendship with the Toposa, but since they have no common boundaries this would have been of little importance. Toposa and Donyiro did not fight each other, and are known to have formed an alliance against the Turkana. Toposa and Jiye were enemies
It is the men who are responsible for the animals and for the defence, and it is the women who take care of the family, the children, the food, and the crops. The women also take care of the elderly.
The marriage pattern of the Toposa is polygynous. Toposa have stable settlements, i.e. homesteads of extended families called ngiereá (sg. nyeré), sometimes set isolated and sometimes in loose clusters. In the wet season, most animals are kept close to the ngiereá, and some cattle are at distant cattle camps called ngawiyéi (sg. nyawí) where grazing and water is always available. In the dry season, only some goats remain with the ngiereá, while all the cattle and the sheep go to the cattle camps. They are tended by the young men, and their girlfriends and young wives follow them while the elderly and most children remain at home.
When a visitor comes to a Toposa settlement during the daytime, he or she would rarely find men in the village as they would all be under their shade trees. There would be different and spatially separated trees, one for each generation-set of the closer vicinity. When asking who those men were, the stranger would be informed that, for example, the men under the first tree were all of the group of Ngikaléso (Ostriches), and under the next tree the men would be called Ngingoletyáng (Gazelles), and that the Ngingoletyáng are the sons of the Ngikaléso. There may even be a third shade tree where the Ngikurukwá (Crows) sit, the sons of the Ngingoletyáng. It would be mostly the elders, who are not active any more, to sit or to lie under the tree, but when the younger men are not in the cattle camps or busy otherwise, they would also come to their tree.
Also, when there is any social, political, or ritual event, men would gather in groups according to their generation-set affiliation. Whenever men meet, may it be only for drinking beer made from sorghum, or at marriage ceremonies, or at nyakidamadám, the traditional war dance and mock attack, or on other occasions, they always come from the wider area and some even from far away, and they would take the opportunity to discuss matters of common interest. In these gatherings, everybody may speak, but there are always certain men who are known for their wisdom and integrity, and they would hold long and elaborate speeches bringing forward their different arguments.
Every generation-set has its elders, as we shall see below, and Toposa elders are quite conservative.Thus, the main argument how to deal with certain issues and to settle matters is often nyetál, which can be translated with tradition, or common sense, or adequate behaviour. If people act against nyetál or in general impose their will on others, the elders threaten the wrongdoer with their curse.
The older a man and the higher his rank in the generation-set system the more effective is his curse,
and normally curses seem to work, either factually or in the minds of the people.
Toposa girl showing her tribal beautification marks
One has to take into consideration that among these people it is not so much the physical but the social fatherhood that counts. There are no orphans in Toposa society because every child whose father is dead or not known is adopted by somebody. If a girl becomes pregnant before she marries, the child is incorporated into the girl’s family and adopted by either her mother or another co-wife of her father, and the girl’s father becomes also the (social) father of the child. If a man dies and his brothers take his wives into levirate, the children born are deemed to be the offspring of the deceased man. The latter explains the surprising fact that old men of 80 years should still procreate. Socially they can.
Among the Toposa, girls form age-sets of their own. When a woman marries, her age-set celebrates with
her and gets an oxen slaughtered by the future husband. The married woman then becomes attached to the generation-set of her husband, and her age-set loses importance.
The Toposa Generation-Set System
Below, the layout of the Toposa generation-set system is shown in a graphic way. For reasons of
convenience, the time axis has been changed from horizontal (as in figure 3) to vertical.
5 Ngimór Nguwaná
(Stones) (Natural horns)
6 Ngidongó Ngikaléso
7 Ngimór Ngingoletyáng
8 Ngitaamó Ngikurukwá
(Guinea Fowls) (Crows)
Figure 4: Toposa generation-sets (bold: generation-sets in existence)
Portrait of toposa man, South Sudan
Figure 4 shows at the top extinct generation-sets as they are remembered by informants and those
generation-sets presently existing. Ngibokorá are the fathers of Ngitukoí, Ngitukoí are the fathers of Ngipyéi, and so on. There is one striking feature in the diagram: The sons of Ngibokói are split, and this schism continues into the next generations, causing what we may call two generation-set lines. It is exactly this splitting-up of a generation, which will be at the focus of our interest.
Male Toposa are born into the generation-set below their fathers, and each generation-set consists of a number of consecutive age-sets. I shall use the English terminology, as in the Toposa language there are no analytic terms for either “generation-set” or “age-set”. The only generally accepted term is nyanakét (pl. nganaketá), which can be translated as “suckling group”, i.e. boys who have suckled their mothers’ breasts during the same time (on average three years). Some Toposa use words like nyadír (a line in the nyakirikét, the ritual meat feast), nyakión (the “table” made of leaves in the nyakirikét) for generation-sets, nyetwál (division) or nyasepíc (group) for age-sets, but none of these terms are accepted all over the area. Nyanakét is sometimes also used for age-sets. Several (around five) consecutive nganaketá are put together into one age-set. All nganaketá, age-sets, and generation-sets have distinctive names, generally derived from wild animals, from cattle colours, or the shapes of their horns. The name of a generation-set is normally equal to the one of its first and oldest age-set, or it is the name the generation-set has acquired at nyasapán.
Nyasapán is a succession ceremony where entire generation-sets are initiated and promoted to the highest rank in the Toposa society. At any one time, only one generation-set can be in this position. When they retire, their sons will be promoted and have nyasapán, and so on. Formerly, i.e. in the early times of the generation-set system when the overlap in age between the generations was not as marked as it is now, nyasapán meant being promoted into the status of grown-up men, being allowed to marry and having all the ritual, social, and political power. There was, however, already some age overlap, and nyasapán was eagerly awaited by those men of the successor generation who were already old – some of them even had died already before achieving the highest status, and they would exert pressure in order to make nyasapán happen for them, thus being allowed to marry and set up families. As the few remaining men of the “outgoing” generation did not want to lose their privileges, there was strife for quite a while until the remaining members of the older generation became too few and too weak to defend their position, retired, and gave nyasapán to
Some time ago, with the growing age overlap and the increased number of “overaged”, i.e. older men in a lower generation-set, the Toposa have disengaged a man’s personal standing from his membership in the generation-set system. He may marry and have a family regardless of his set membership. Today, all existing generation-sets (bold in figure 4) have their elders. But still, being an elder of the highest generation-set gives extra prestige, and the most venerated men and having the highest ritual standing today are the oldest men of the initiated Ngidongo20 and Ngikaléso.
When nyasapán takes place, all members of this generation are initiated, be it old men or just
newly-born babies. Everyone has either to be present or at least be represented by a symbol, normally
a stone – stones play a prominent role in Toposa belief, as already mentioned above. Nyasapán
is obtained from the fathers’ generation-set. In practice, representatives of the generation-set
in question go to the river Loyoro, to the area where the Ngikor live, one of the Toposa local sections
who are said to have brought the sacred stone and the nyasapán from Karamoja. Bulls are
speared in favour of the elders, and the initiands, among other ceremonies, are smeared by the elders
with nyakujít, the cleansing content of the bulls’ stomachs. Then they all go home and extend
the nyasapán they have received to their brothers who had not been present in the ceremony at the
When a generation is initiated, i.e. receives nyasapán, no members of the “outgoing” generation can be initiated any more. But because of the age overlap between generations, there are still children born belonging to this older generation. These would then be “downgraded” one generation and be initiated together with their succeeding generation.
In most societies, there is a conflictual relation between fathers and sons, and an emotionally close relation between grandfathers and grandsons. Among the Toposa (and most of their neighbours), this is institutionalised in the form of two alternations. Toposa generation-sets are alternately and additionally called Ngimór (Stones) or Ngirisáe (Leopards). Generation-set names of one alternation should (theoretically) be of similar animals. In some instances, a generation-set is only known by the name of its alternation – see the generation-set list on the left. Ngimór are “right” and Ngirisáe are “left”, that is, in their traditional meat feast nyakirikét where people sit in a half-circle, they sit according to their alternation, with the oldest man at the right or left end, respectively, and the others in descending order of their age. In daily life, alternations do not have much relevance, whereas generation-sets and age-sets are omni-present and important features.
Whenever males gather, may it be for entertainment, ceremonies, discussions, meat-eating, cattleraiding, war, or defence, they would do this within their group, and, depending on the occasion, it would be their age- and generation-sets ordering and grading and also uniting them. It has to be mentioned that often in practice, and sometimes confusing for the outsider, age-set and generationset names would be used interchangeably. Men tend to aggregate in their age-set, if enough members of this age-set are around, but it would still be in the minds of the people that a certain age-set is part of its generation-set, and, thus, if only one age-set is present, it can be referred to with its age-set or generation-set name.
Women from a local tribe sit in an open market in Kapoeta in Budy county, eastern Equatoria State, south Sudan, April 4, 2010. (REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)
If we assume that a nyanakét (“suckling group”) has an age span of around three years, and an age-set is composed of five nganaketá, then an age-set would have an age span of around 15 years.
If a generation-set had six age-sets, it would cover an age span of 90 years. This, however, is only an approximation, as the Toposa do not operate their system with fixed numbers or have it governed by certain time intervals as other ethnic groups do – in its most intricate form the Borana with their Gada (cf. Legesse 1973) system.
The Toposa generation-set system is not governed by a set of fixed rules but reflects the social relations
within the Toposa society, and these are never just simple, as anywhere else. There is harmony but also strife and stress, especially between older and younger men, as has been mentioned above, and a few more examples will be given below. Tension exists between members of different generation-sets but also within the same generation-set or even age-set, and my argument is that these tensions shape the very layout of the Toposa generation-set system – and at the same time the conflicts between old and young are channelled and neutralised by the “system”. To illustrate this, we should look into how new generation-sets and age-sets emerge.
When the sons of a certain generation “A” are born, they are, as long as they are young, referred to as “sons of A”. When the sons of A become numerous enough and the oldest of them are youngsters, the elders will decide to give a name to this generation, and henceforth they will be known as the generation “B”. Thus, a new generation-set has emerged.
For an extended period of time, the new generation B would not be sub-divided into age-sets, there would be just this young generation called B. However, as Tornay (1981: 164, 1995, 2001) has already pointed out, there is always strife in such a group as the older ones would try to control the younger ones and also harass them, boss them around, and if the group is becoming too big, the youngest would even not get their share of meat in the meat feast nyakirikét. The young ones would then try to break away, forming a group of their own with their own name. If they are not strong enough in numbers, they may not succeed immediately. But after some time of turmoil and stress, when they have grown in number and become stronger, their fathers would also be keen to settle the situation, and they would be allowed to form their own age-set with its own name. And, of course, this process of fission would continue throughout the generation, as long as members of this generation are born.
In the Riwoto section of the Toposa. Here, inside the Ngingoletyáng generation a group calling themselves Ngikosowá tried to break away from their older brothers but were forced to return. Some years later they tried it again using a different name, Ngikunikó, and this time they succeeded. In other parts of the country, both Ngikosowá and Ngikunikó exist, Ngikuniko being a split-off from Ngikosowá.
The above explains why the name of a generation-set and its first age-set is equal, and at the same time it shows how new age-sets come into existence: by fission caused by strife and conflict. New age-sets are not created after a certain fixed time span, but they come into being as the result of conflict situations within the society. .
Contrary to age-sets, new generation-sets do not emerge through conflict. Every male Toposa simply belongs to the generation-set following the one of his father. But we have already seen that the generation of sons of Ngibokói and the following generations are split into two; not just the usual division into age-sets but a split of the generation.
The explanations for this split brought forward by the Toposa themselves were differing. They claim that there was quarreling at nyakirikét about the meat. This seems to be a standard explanation (cf. Lamphear 1976: 29) for such stress. Another explanation brought up was a not specified problem between the Ngibokói and their older Ngimór sons. And finally, the most frequent reason given was that the young Ngimór (Later called Nguwaná.) were not reasonable, did not want to go to the cattle camps, preferred to dance, and abducted the girls whom their older brothers wanted to marry. The older Ngimór fought
and chased away their younger brothers, and when their fathers wanted to settle the fight and expressed
their sympathy for the younger ones, the older brothers even quarreled and fought with their fathers, leaving a deep rift between the two groups. Ngibokói decided never to give nyasapán, the initiation into the leading status, to their older sons Ngimór.
The Toposa do not have an elaborate religious belief. They however believe in the existence of a Supreme Being and the spirits of the departed ancestors. The Toposa Supreme Being is "Nakwuge." Nakwuge is a creator God who lives in the sky and is indifferent to man though he is ”believed to determine the length of a man’s life.
The Toposa believe that men originally lived with "Nakwuge" in the sky, but many slid down a rope to earth. The rope then broke, separating them from heaven. They pray and make sacrifices for these spirits as they communicate with them through a medium. This is done in case of serious disaster e.g. droughts, epidemics affecting their animals, etc. The Toposa believe that the chiefs, particularly the paramount chiefs are nearer to God by virtue of their wisdom.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Torit has been actively proselytizing among the Toposa, with some success.
Arts, Music, Literature, Handicraft
The Toposa culture is orally transmitted through songs, dance, music, poems and folklore. Being pastoralists, they have perfected their art of war and cattle raiding. They are able to spy and gather information about the enemy, water, pastures, etc. with precision. The young men take great care and beauty of their hair.
The Toposa Ethnogenesis and the Generation-Set System
The Toposa migrated in two main wings, one arriving more from the West and the other one more from the East. Still today, the Toposa perceive themselves as belonging to either the Toposa of the West (Ngitoposa kalo to) or the Toposa of the East (Ngitoposa kalo kide). It is said that the Toposa migration has started from the Karimojong cattle camps. Most probably all similar migrations among the neighbouring ethnic
groups have started in this way – the same is known of the Turkana, for example.
The traditional social system of the Toposa can rightly be called gerontocratic. The elders exercise the overall authority, and the young often feel oppressed and deprived. There was conflict and stress between the old and the young warriors. The elders retire and became Karamojong and the young warriors at the cattle camps would have run away with the cattle and their girls and would have founded a new community at a distant place, now being themselves at the top of the hierarchy.
There was a wide-spread drought in Karamoja, and in the cattle camp, young people, most probably of the Ngibokorá generation-set, did the unthinkable: they speared and ate a certain ox called Loyongolem (“with a big hump”) – at least that is the explanatory version recalled by some elders (Lopim 1996: 4). Whatever actually happened, there was strife between the elders and their sons, the elders cursed them, and the sons went off with part of the cattle and their women. It must have been a huge cattle camp with far more people than a group that could eat one ox. Historically, it seems to be clear that the to-be-Toposa took off in several streams and by different routes.
They must have migrated all around the area, coming as far as Mount Mogilla in what is now northern Kenya and also to the mountains in the very East of what is now south-eastern Sudan. This mountain range is generally referred to as Moruakipi, the ‘mountain of the water’, but it is also said that this is a distortion of Moruangipyéi, which means ‘the mountain of Ngipyéi’, i.e. the mountain formerly populated by the Ngipyéi generation-set. The process of migration must have taken three generations and thus around 150 years. Apparently it was only the sons of Ngipyéi, the Ngibokói, who finally settled in the present Toposa habitats.
Now when the young Ngibokorá broke away from the Karimojong, with only two generations being in existence, i.e. the Ngibokorá and their children, the demographic overlap was reset to zero. Thus, demographically the system must have run smoothly. But as the Ngibokorá were at odds with their fathers,
they had a problem of legitimacy.
When they had broken away from their people, they were cursed by their fathers and thus they were not likely to receive nyasapán from them, i.e. they were not initiated into the position of being the legitimate leaders of the Toposa. This continued for the next two generations, the Ngitukoí and the Ngipyéi. It was only the fourth generation, the Ngibokói, who were able to make peace with the Karimojong. It was some of the Ngikor territorial section and from the Ngiraanga clan who went there, received nyasapán, and they also brought the sacred stone to its present location.
Conflict, Drought, and Social System Engineering
As a matter of fact, the Toposa history started with conflict in the very beginning. The existence of the Toposa is a result of stress between Karimojong elders and their rebellious sons. There is only a fragile balance of power between elders and their grown-up sons. When the young men are in the cattle camps, they have all the means to start a new life independently from their autocratic fathers, and it is mainly the belief in the elders’ curse that keeps them connected to their group. Other factors, however, may override the power of the curse, and in the Toposa case this seems to have been a prolonged drought period.
Drought is the major stress factor for the Toposa and their neighbours. As a Turkana has put it:
"The drought is always, even long years ago. The livestock dies of drought, even people die
because of the drought. (...) During the drought we eat [wild fruits as] Edapal, Edung, Ebei,
Elamac, Ngitir [… and others]. That is the food of the Turkana. (...) A long drought comes,
and all of the livestock dies. Even before our fathers this happened. When it rains, it rains
heavily. (...) Long ago, some years, all livestock got finished. People went to Marille [Dass-
anetch], they went up to Dongiro [Nyangatom]. They ate their sleeping hides, they ate the
leather of the donkey carriers. Drought comes and passes.” (Icum in Lopuseki, 2.7.1987)
Toposa mother and child
Drought is part of the people’s lives, and they face it almost every other year. Once every seven to ten years it is a disaster, bringing life almost to an end. Normally, people are able to cope with it, but there are also centennial catastrophic droughts that override any coping strategy. It is these drought catastrophes that also have an impact on the generation-set system, in an indirect way.
During a catastrophic drought, most of the people’s animals would die. Thus, when there are no animals available, no animal bride wealth can be raised by young men, which is, however, essential for an orderly marriage among the Toposa and their neighbours.
But young people would not stop making love and begetting children, and the non-existence of bride wealth animals would maybe even encourage promiscuity – there would be no other way anyway. This would continue for many years until the herds would be rebuilt and bride wealth could be given again, resulting in proper marriages. In the meanwhile, the children born out of wedlock would be deemed to be the offspring of the girls’ fathers, as explained above.
A young man would normally have sex with a girl of his own generation, i.e. her father would be a generation above him. If the girl would now have a boy, this boy would become a member of the generation-set below his social father but not below his procreator, i.e. the boy’s generation-set would be the same as the one of his physical father. This has consequences for the generation-set system. In the Toposa case, I found that one of these catastrophic droughts occurred at the time when the Ngibokói were young, and for quite some years their physical sons were paradoxically, in generation-set terms, again Ngibokói instead of Ngimór. Ngibokói had produced Ngibokói.
Figure 5: Toposa and Turkana generation-sets
Ngimór - Nguwaná Ngimór
Ngidongó - Ngikaléso Ngirisáe
Ngimór - Ngingoletyáng Ngimór
Ngitaamó - Ngikurukwá Ngirisáe
Sudan Civil war
During the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) the Toposa helped the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) at times, and at other times helped the Government of Sudan. The Toposa took a pragmatic approach, ostensibly siding with whoever gave them the most food and weapons. The SPLA alternated between violence and a more conciliatory approach to the Toposa. In 1985–1986 the SPLA attacked the civilian population of the Toposa, which it deemed "hostile". From 1987 the SPLA began an attempt to improve relations with the civilians. By 1988 some of the SPLA fighters were Toposa.
The Sudan Armed Forces sought to exploit traditional tensions between the Toposa and the Dinka people, to whom many of the SPLA leaders belonged, by supplying arms and ammunition to the Toposa. The firearms were used both to protect and increase wealth in animals, and became a symbol of wealth in themselves. During the 1990s the government of Sudan issued at least 50,000 small arms to the Toposa. In 1992 an AK-47 supplied by the government could be traded for ten cows, or the SPLA would provide G3 rifles in exchange for the AK-47s. Raids by the now well-armed Toposa on their neighbors, such as the Suri people of Ethiopia, increased drastically. Internally Displaced People (IDPs) moving through Toposa territory were subject to harassment by Toposa militia or bandits.
Kapoeta, a town in Toposa country, had been captured by the SPLA on 25 February 1988. The government armed the Toposa so they could fight the SPLA and also fight their traditional rivals the Lotuko people. In March 1992, Toposa militia staged attacks on relief columns attempting to bring supplies into Kapoeta. Refugees escaping from Pochalla, which had fallen to the Sudanese government, were attacked by Toposa militia as they made their way to Kapoeta. On 28 May 1992, the government regained Kapoeta in a surprise attack. The Toposa militia, with their knowledge of the terrain, played a central role. The evacuated civilians from Kapeota moved south to Narus, and from there over 20,000 went on to Lokichokio in Kenya, including 12,500 unaccompanied minors.
According to Amnesty International, the SPLA started a policy of "deliberate and arbitrary killing of civilians of Toposa ethnicity around Kapoeta ... in retaliation for the involvement of Toposa pro-government militia in the capture of Kapoeta and subsequent attacks on refugees fleeing the town". By the late 1990s, serious efforts were being made to reduce ethnic tensions.
The Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources sponsored harmonization workshops and meetings to resolve and prevent conflicts among pastorialist communities such as the Toposa and their neighbors. The participants in a Didinga-Turkana-Toposa-Nyangatom women's workshop in February 2000 undertook responsibility for discouraging further livestock rustling and raiding between the communities. The role of women, willing to cross the boundaries and unilaterally initiate peace talks, is without precedent and has been crucial. The Catholic Diocese of Torit was active in resolving conflicts among the Toposa, and conflicts between the Toposa, Didinga and Boya, and the Toposa Development Authority had been established to promote development and peacebuilding among the Toposa.
There has been a long history of conflict between the Toposa of Namorunyang and the Didinga of Budi County. In the dry season the Toposa would drive their cattle to the Didinga Hills for water and pasture until the rains began in Toposa land. In the past, this practice was carried out by agreement between the two communities, with a gift being made in exchange for the right to access the pasturage.
Toposa girl, South Sudan
With the proliferation of guns and breakdown of order during the civil war, the traditional protocols were ignored and violence became common. In May 2007 Toposa tribesmen of Namorunyang raided the Ngauro Payam of Budi County, attacked a group that were resting after working in a collectively-owned field, and took 300 head of cattle and 400 goats or sheep. 49 women, 4 children and 5 men were killed, while others were wounded.
Toposa woman carrying her baby
Nadapal, just across the border in Kenya, is a fertile area in which many Toposa took refuge during the civil war. With the end of the conflict, some Kenyans wanted the Toposa of the Nadapal area to return to South Sudan. The Toposa resisted, perhaps in part because they felt that tribes such as the Dinka and Nuer resented the Toposa backing of the Government of Sudan during the civil war, and they would therefore be treated as an unwelcome minority in Eastern Equatoria. There were ongoing clashes between the Toposa and Turkana in this area. A May 2010 report said the fighting between Toposa and Turkana had claimed over 40 lives and about 4,000 livestock had been stolen.It also said that George Echom, Deputy Governor of Eastern Equatorial State, had claimed that Nadapal belonged to South Sudan.
Toposa woman and a man
A 1982 report said there were 105,000 speakers of the Toposa language, including 95000 along both sides of the Zingietta and Lokalyen rivers, and 10,000 in Ethiopia. More recent reports give a much higher population. In recent times, improvements have been made in health care, water supply and veterinary services. Many of the Toposa children now attend school in Narus and Natinga. These changes are profoundly affecting the traditional social organization. Women are starting to take a more prominent role in resolving disputes. The Governor of Eastern Equatoria, who took office in May 2010, is former Brigadier General Louis Lobong Lojore. He is a Toposa from Kapoeta East County.
Toposa woman bearing Toposa tribal marks
Kitacakari nyakook ewonit ngibaren. (Toposa)
An empty stomach can make a person lose his or her cattle; that is, when the stomach is empty the legs become weak and you can't run after your animals. (English) Toposa ( Sudan ) Proverb
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Toposa community lives in Southern Sudan, Eastern Equatorial, Kapwota County and is a community that herds animals. In their traditional customs, the Toposa showed friendship between people by giving each other a bull or goat or spear or cowbell, i.e. a person may go to his friend and ask for these things. Before giving these things, the friend must also feed the person who is asking for these things.
Here is a story: One time a man went to his friend who gave him 10 goats, but did not feed him before he drove the goats away. On the way home, the man who was driving the 10 goats got hungry. He saw vultures dropping from the sky and sitting on the trees. The man thought there is a dead animal in the area and hoped to get some food. He ran to where the vultures were, but could not find any meat. When he returned, he found that his animals had disappeared.
Ejok nyitoan ewok nyakung. (Toposa)
The person who has a light knee can survive longer. (English)
Background, Explanation, Meaning and Everyday Use
Years ago during a traditional battle the Toposa warrior would hold his shield in his left hand and his spear in his right hand. He would kneel on his right or left knee to steady himself to hurl his spear and to get leverage to push off from his back foot. This crouching position also made him a smaller target. It was unwise to stay too long in this half kneeling position since it gave the enemy time to advance and possibly kill the Toposa warrior who remained in this defensive and vulnerable pose.
So the Toposa proverb: The person who has a light knee can survive longer. By getting up quickly from his half kneeling position the warrior could make a strategic retreat, that is, withdraw for the time being. Another Toposa proverb says: The person who fights and runs away will live to fight another battle. There are times and reasons not to fight. So too the universal proverb in English: Discretion is the better part of valor.
Toposa people at their farm
By getting up quickly the warrior could also move into another fighting strategy: advancing forward, dodging from side to side, leaping about, etc. He had to be quick on his feet. A "heavy knee" was a sign of being slow and not adaptable. But a "light knee" gave him more flexibility and creative fighting options. Also the standing and moving warrior could more easily dodge an enemy's spear. See the universal saying in English: It is hard to hit a moving target.
These Toposa proverbs were used by the elders to advise the warriors on how to use different tactics and strategies to fight against other ethnic groups such as the Turkana people who liked to steal the cattle of the Toposa. Also the people in Southern Sudan who wanted to migrate to another geographical area used these proverbs.
Toposa woman cleaning sorghum
Toposa woman smoking pipe
Two Toposa women in their finery
Toposa woman,narus,South Sudan