Reference Entry

Dinka Largest ethnic group in southern Sudan.

Robert Baum

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Dinka Largest ethnic group in southern Sudan.

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The Dinka people, who number approximately 1.5 million (though estimates vary), are divided into twenty-five subgroups, each of which has its own name. Each once occupied a distinct territory. Each group is further subdivided into a number of lineages based on patrilineal descent (descent through the father’s line). The groups were led politically by a chief from a dominant lineage within the group, but his authority depended on general consensus and the cooperation of individuals. The religious authority of each group’s spear master (chosen from a second prominent lineage) complemented the primarily secular power of the chiefs. The spear master represented the power of tradition and the authority of the ancestors. Like their Nuer neighbors, the Dinka derived their livelihood mainly from cattle raising, though the cultivation of millet, fishing, and hunting were important supplemental activities.During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Dinka expanded their control over southern Sudan. The Dinka expansion displaced some Nuer, but the Nuer retreated into the Sudd, a swampy area along the White Nile and its tributaries. The actions of Sudanese and Egyptian slave raiders seriously weakened the various Dinka chieftaincies, but they nevertheless tenaciously resisted both Turco-Egyptian control in the nineteenth century and the British in the twentieth.A mutiny of southern Sudanese troops in 1955 on the eve of Sudanese independence initiated the Sudanese Civil War. Since the beginning of this conflict, Dinka such as John Garang de Mabior have played a leading role in the civilian and military organizations pressing for greater autonomy or independence for the southern Sudan. The Sudanese Civil War has caused massive population relocations and much suffering among the Dinka, who have endured heavy casualties and famine and have had to seek refuge in the cities of northern Sudan. A treaty to end the fighting was at last signed in 2005, though many Dinka remain scattered throughout Africa and other regions of the world.See also Sudan.

Reference Entry.  326 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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