Introduction / History The Kuku are a tribe from South Sudan. They belong to the Bari-speaking group which includes Bari (Proper), Mundari, Pojulu Tribe, Kakwa, Nyangwara and Nyepo.
The Kuku people were part of a larger group known as Bari. There was a good deal of in-fighting amongst the larger group and so they decided to spread out into places where each group felt more comfortable. The Kuku was the group that decided to move south and settle. There are rain makers which are very famous in the tribe. After the first Sudanese civil war in 1972, there was an agreement amongst groups in the south, and prominent members of the Kuku joined South Sudan's leadership.
Where are they located? They inhabit the agricultural lands of Kajo Keji County in Central Equatoria State. Kajo-Keji lies in the southernmost part of the South Sudan near the Uganda border district of Moyo.
What are their lives like? They are chiefly a farming people relying on mixed farming. During the rainy season they grow substantial food crops, mainly sorghum, (also known in South Sudan as dura) maize, millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, and beans (loputu). In the dry season they manage a small scale of cattle, goats and sheep herding. The Kuku are good beekeepers. They also practice collective hunting during dry season. They go hunting with arrows and bows. They also carry nets with them. The nets are very long and they make a semicircle when the animals are inside. They close in fast sending the animal to the net. The animal gets trapped and other hunters waiting will stab the animal and it dies.
There are different types of dances performed by the Kuku tribe. Young members of the tribe often do a rain dance when there is a drought. There are also dances of mourning during funerals. Family members of the deceased abstain from dancing to show their grief. After a bountiful harvest, the whole community gathers and dances to show their happiness and thanks to the Spirits & God.
They make baskets from reeds and different long grasses that they obtain from the landscape around them. They rarely use color for decoration in their tribe. Other handicrafts include making containers from gourds or other big fruits and from animal skin.
The Kuku are very fond of songs. They create songs for all kinds of subjects. Each and every song expresses a certain intense feeling. Most of the songs are based on true stories. For them, anything can be made into a song. While story-telling, the Kuku largely use animals as characters in their stories. Elders are often the ones who tell these stories to the children.
For housing, they get bamboo from the mountains for their roofing and thatch it with reeds. The walls are made from Nile soil. To help keep the temperature cool inside. For clothing today, they use modern Western clothing. Previously, they used fiber from trees that is flattened out and then wrapped around their bodies. They also used animal skin as clothing. They only used to cover the necessary parts of the body, like their mid-section. They walked around barefoot all day. During special occasions, some of them wear a cow tail on their wrists for style. Sometimes, they wear feathers on their heads. The feathers come from a variety of birds, and the type or quantity worn shows status. Earrings for women are made using excess pieces of scrap metal.
For body art, men have a choice to burn a scar onto their body in a design they desire. Scarification is a personal choice and not an obligation. It is used as body decoration for others to admire. Only men are allowed to do this practice.
The Kuku play a game that is very similar to baseball. It is called wuri. It involves hitting a hard fruit with a stick and running. The rules are exactly the same as baseball.
Elders play a game that they play on the ground. They make many indents and then use rocks as characters in their games. The game is called 'soroo.'
Children stay away from elders as a sign of respect. They are not supposed to talk with them at all. During some occasions, parents/adults will invite elders to come to their home for dinner.
After or during good rains, the whole community comes together to celebrate. The same can be said for harvests.
There are not strict working hours in Kuku society. People can take a break when they desire and at anytime of the day.
The Kuku have a special drink called yawanatakbe. It is an alcoholic drink made from sorghum. They eat foods like beans and meat everyday. Their first meal is usually at 7 in the morning. There is no lunch, and then dinner is at 7 in the evening.
When a child is born, the community comes together and celebrates the new addition.
After a person has died, the people are always gloomy, especially the family. They bury the deceased and then have a community meeting to bless the person and give him or her a good life with the spirits and God. They bury after two or three days normally. This ceremony lasts for about a week.
Men normally go hunting and farming during the day. Women spend most of the day working at farming and other chores. The women come home one hour earlier than men to start the fire for the food.
In the village, the highest respect goes to the elders, then male adults, followed by adult women, and lastly, the children.
A person is viewed highly if he has a wealth of money or animals, or if he has many children or wives. Others respect him because having a large family means that you have enough wealth to care for a large number of people. The importance of a person in a community is normally attributed to their wealth, how they have helped the community, or their age.
For a spouse to be chosen it takes a very long time and there are a lot of procedures. First, the groom's family goes to another community and finds a girl with a good background and personality. If the groom has a bad reputation, he goes very far to find a bride. Then the bride's family usually decides to go to the groom's village and find out information about the groom's family, to learn about their status in the community. If the family of the bride agrees, they are officially married. The girl would normally say yes to show respect. In the old days, the girl does not have a say in who she wants to marry. If the guy was rich, he could have any girl he wanted. If she resists, she is kidnapped by the husband. Now, there has to be a yes on both sides for marriage.
A family unit in the tribe normally consisted of a husband and two wives with children. Extended families live in separate housing. The average number of children is seven. Wives could be as many as the husband desired, but it was limited by his ability to care for them and provide the dowry. Since the arrival of Christianity, marriage has become monogamous. The father is always the leader of the family, and if he is gone, the first wife is then in charge of the family.
In the community, most decisions are made by the elders, and solutions depend on the situation. If another group comes and raids or attacks their group, they will fight back to get back what was lost. In some situations, all the elders will come together and discuss on an appropriate solution. If a law is broken, the person that commits the crime must pay an amount of animals to the family or tribe that was offended. If a person has commit murder he must pay seven cows, four goats and five sheep. This will be given to the family of the deceased.
The economy is almost entirely agricultural. Most live on farms in the village, but some become artisans like blacksmiths or potters. Wealth is largely measured in the number of animals. Other products that are made are spears, knives, gourds, drums, flutes & guitars.
Crops consist of maize, rice, millet and other grains. Most other items are normally gathered from the bush. They also care for cattle, sheep, and goats. The people is also trade in communities, but it usually done through barter.
What are their beliefs? The Kuku agricultural lifestyle is reflected in their religious belief and practices. They strongly believe that there is only one God and he lives somewhere above. In practice, they believe that all happenings to a family, a clan or the whole tribe take place as a result of their deeds. God, who is merciful and kind, speaks and acts to the people through their ancestors. The word for God in Kuku language is Ngun and for man is Nguto analyzed as Ngutu or separated into two words as Ngu tu. The word TU in Kuku means Exact. Ngutu then gives the meaning of Exact image of God. Ngun is invisible and therefore speaks and acts to the people in spirit. The Kuku people believe that Ngun sends strong messages to the people through the spirits of their ancestors. The word for Spirit in Kuku language is Mulokotyo. There are two types of spirits, Good spirits and Bad spirits. Good spirits are called Muloko Lo'but and bad spirits are called Muloko Lorok.
Mulökö Lo'but speak and act to the people (grand children) by good messages of blessings like saving members of the family, clan or the tribe from disastrous moments. They bring sufficient rain at the right time of sowing food crops. Muloko Lorok do the opposite. They speak and act with bad messages of punishment to the grand children, like bringing sickness or even death to a family, clan or the tribe. They stop rain at the time of sowing food crops. Under this influence Kuku have maintained a strong family tree to keep them as close to Ngun (God). In Kuku belief, you can only receive the Grace of God through your ancestral line, and that's if you have been doing good and follow their teachings.
With the penetration of Christianity missionary activity into South Sudan, the Kuku traditional belief and religious lifestyle have been replaced with many Western Christian traditions.
At first, the people of Kuku beliefs were pantheistic and often worshiped the Nile or a big tree in their village. People would go to these places whenever there was a need and they prayed to the rain God to give them water. Religion was not formal or important because they wanted to believe in something that would help them. As time has passed, most Kuku are Christians and now pray on a daily basis.