AskDefine | Define Dinka

Dictionary Definition

Dinka n : a Nilotic language

Extensive Definition

The Dinka are a group of tribes of south Sudan, inhabiting the swamplands of the Bahr el Ghazal region of the Nile basin, Jonglei and parts of southern Kordufan and Upper Nile regions. They are mainly agro-pastoral people, relying on cattle herding at riverside camps in the dry season and growing millet (Awuou) and other varieties of grains (rap) in fixed settlements during the rainy season. They number around 1.5 million people, constituting about 4% of the population of the entire country, and constitute the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan. Dinka, or as they refer to themselves, Muonyjang (singular) and Mounyjieng (plural), are one of the branches of the River Lake Nilotes (mainly sedentary agri-pastoral peoples of East Africa who speak Nilotic languages, including the Nuer and Maasai) (Seligman 1965). They are dark African people, differing markedly from the Arabic speaking ethnic groups inhabiting northern Sudan. Dinka are sometimes noted for their height. The Dinka 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" Lienhardt 1965), who provide leadership for the entire people and appear to be at least in part hereditary.
Their language called Dinka as well as "thuɔŋjäŋ (thuongjang)" is one of the Nilotic family of languages, belonging to the Chari-Nile branch of the Nilo-Saharan family. The name means "people" in the Dinka language. It is written using the Latin alphabet with a few additions.

Pastoral Strategies

  • Southern Sudan has been described as “a large basin gently sloping northward (Roth 2003),” through which flow the Bahr el Jebel River, the (White Nile), the Bahr el Ghazal (Nam) River and its tributaries, and the Sobat, all merging into a vast barrier swamp
  • Vast Sudanese oil areas to the south and east are part of the flood plain, a basin in the southern Sudan into which the rivers of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia drain off from an ironstone plateau that belts the regions of Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile
  • The terrain can be divided into four land classes:
    • Highlands—higher than the surrounding plains by only a few centimeters; are the sites for “permanent settlements.” Vegetation consists of open thorn woodland and/or open mixed woodland with grasses
    • Intermediate Lands—lie slightly below the highlands, commonly subject to flooding from heavy rainfall in the Ethiopian and East/Central African highlands; Vegetation is mostly open perennial grassland with some acacia woodland and other sparsely distributed trees
    • Toic—land seasonally inundated or saturated by the main rivers and inland water-courses, retaining enough moisture throughout the dry season to support cattle grazing
    • Sudd—permanent swampland below the level of the toic; covers a substantial part of the floodplain in which the Dinka reside; provides good fishing but is not available for livestock; historically it has been a physical barrier to outsiders’ penetration
  • Ecology of large basin is unique; until recently, wild animals and birds flourished, hunted rarely by the agro-pastoralists (Roth 2003).
the Dinka tribe (or Muonyjieng) has ten subdivisions: Atuot, Aliab,Bor, Chiej, Agar, Gok, Rek, Twij, Malual, and Ngok. and Malula 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 (luaak) and granaries. During dry season (beginning about December-January), everyone except the aged, ill, and nursing mothers migrate 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; allowed to graze on harvested stalks of the crops (Deng 1972).

Religious beliefs

The Dinka's pastoral lifestyle is also reflected in their religious beliefs and practices (which are not animist in character, contrary to what has been speculated and erroneously propagated in much of the international media). They have 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 the Dinka. 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.
Some of the Dinka practice Christianity, a faith introduced to the region by British missionaries in the 19th century.

War with the north and status as refugees

The Dinka's religions, beliefs and lifestyle have led to conflict with the Islamic 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 have also engaged in a separate civil war with the Nuer.
The experience of Dinka refugees from the war was portrayed in the documentary movies Lost Boys of Sudan by Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk and God Grew Tired Of Us. Their story was also chronicled in a book by Joan Hecht called The Journey of the Lost Boys. A fictionalized autobiography of one Dinka refugee is Dave Eggers' novel 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, and They Poured Fire On Us From The Sky by Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak. In 2004 the first volume of the graphic novel 'Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan' [Media: was released in Dallas, Texas, United States, chronicling in art and dialogue four lost boys' escapes from the destruction of their hometowns in Southern Sudan.
Sizable groups of Dinka refugees may be found in distant lands, including Jacksonville, Florida and Clarkston, a working-class suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

Notable Dinka

Among well-known Dinka are:
  • William Deng Nhial (Dengdit), Founder of Sudan African National Union (SANU), Leading figure during the 1st liberation war against the Khartoum government. Assassinated by elements of the Khartoum regime in 1968 allegedly with the help of Bona Malual and Arab politicians who seen him as threat to the peace between Southern Rebels and government of Sudan. William Deng Nhial was told not to go to Southern Sudan but refused to do so which resulted in his death.
  • Dr. John Garang de Mabior, PhD Iowa State, Former First Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan, Commander in Chief of Sudan People's Liberation Army and Chairman of Sudan People's Liberation Movement. He died on 30 July 2005 in an air crash which the subsequent investigation blamed on bad weather, but about which conspiracy theories continue to circulate.
  • Abel Aliern Sudanese vice president in the government of the republic of the Sudan in the seventies and eighties. He has a masters degree in law. Served under Numeiri and Sadiq el Mahdi. Helped negotiate the infamous Addis Ababa Agreement which was dishonored by Nimeiri and as a consequent, southern Sudanese officers led by Kuanyin Bol staged a rebellion in Bor, killing Brig. Abdallah Khamis and five senior officers before taking to the bush after five days of fighting, hence, giving birth to SPLM/A.
  • Lt. General Salva Kiir Mayardit, Dr. Garang's successor as First Vice President of Sudan and President of South Sudan, Commander in Chief of Sudan People's Liberation Army and Chairman of Sudan People's Liberation Movement. Lt. General Salva Kiir was in Nairobi when the crash that killed Dr. John Garang occurred. Lt. General Salva Kiir was elected to replace Dr. John Garang after his death. Lt. General Salva Kiir had been a long supporter of Dr. John Garang and he is still loyal to Dr. John Garang's vision. Shockingly, he is presently maintaining close ties with Bona Malual.
  • Victoria Yar Arol, (- 1980)- Politician, Member of Parliament, Woman Activist and the 1st Southern Sudanese woman to graduate from University. Died in 1980 after a brief illness
  • Jok Madut Jok, Professor of East African History, Loyola Marymount University. Student Activist turned Political Refugee of Second Sudanese Civil War. Expert on Sudanese history and Politics.
  • Alek Wek, a notable fashion supermodel
  • Manute Bol, Former NBA player. one of the two tallest players in the league's history
  • Luol Deng, current NBA player
  • Francis Bok, abolitionist and former slave
  • Lueth Yak, one of the contribtors in Universities and Moral responsibity: "Respecting Humanity at Home and Abroad" Syracuse University
  • Mawut Achiecque Mach de Guarak A former child soldier in Sudan. He is also an active advocate for the independence of Southern Sudan.
  • Emmanuel Jal is a Dinka-Nuer Artist/Rapper with number one singles in Kenya
  • Ageer Gum (Ageerdit), one of the few well known southern Sudanese women who joined the war of liberation in 1960s. Served as a commander in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) until she died of natural causes in the late 1990s.
  • Akut Maduot, is a youth leader, founder of South Sudan Next Generation Union organization.
  • Daniel Deng, Civil, Disability and Human Rights Activist and Advocate, Nonprofit Consultant, ICT Consultant, Web and Graphics Designer - Texas, USA
  • Ayak Ring Thiik, Singer
  • Akec Nyal (Modern Folk singer - Brisbane, Australia)
  • Nyankol (Modern Folk singer - Canada)
  • Dr. Francis Mading Deng, JSD Yale, author, SAIS Research Professor
  • John Bul Dau, one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan", author of God Grew Tired of Us, his autobiography, and subject of the documentary of the same title.
  • Awino Gam, Sudanese actor. appear in Tears of the sun and Voices of Africa, the Bruce Willis movie base on the Nigerian Biafra war.
  • Mr.Waar-Emmanual Akook is one of the new Southern Sudanese raggae musician.
  • George Kongor Arop, former Sudanese 2nd vice President and a retired Police General.
  • Valentino Achak Deng, a former Lost Boy and subject of What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a biographical novel written by Dave Eggers.


  • Chali D. (1995) 'Anthropometric measurements of the Nilotic tribes in a refugee camp', ''Ethiopian Medical Journal, 33, 4, 211-217.
  • Seligman, C.G. and Brenda Z. Seligman. Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1965.
  • Deng, Francis Mading. The Dinka of the Sudan. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, Inc., 1972.
  • G. Lienhardt, Divinity and Experience: the Religion of the Dinka. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961
  • Jok Madut Jok Published Material:
Dinka in Catalan: Dinka
Dinka in Danish: Dinka
Dinka in German: Dinka (Volk)
Dinka in Spanish: Dinka
Dinka in Esperanto: Dinkaoj
Dinka in French: Dinka
Dinka in Korean: 딩카족
Dinka in Latin: Dinkae
Dinka in Dutch: Dinka
Dinka in Norwegian: Dinka
Dinka in Polish: Dinkowie
Dinka in Russian: Динка
Dinka in Serbo-Croatian: Dinka (narod)
Dinka in Turkish: Dinkalar
Dinka in Venetian: Denka
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