Introduction / History
Most of the Murle (also called Murele) live in the Pibor district of South Sudan, where they are known as the lowland Murle. They are primarily shepherds. Some of the Murle also live near the Boma Plateau, which lies to the southeast of Pibor. These "highland Murle" make their living as farmers. There are still others who have been drawn westward toward the plentiful watering and grazing grounds provided by the Nile. A small number live in Ethiopia.
In spite of their geographic spread, the Murle remain unified. They speak a common language and maintain close ties. They are a part of the larger people group known as the Surma, who originated in Ethiopia. The Surma gradually moved north, mixing with various peoples along the way. In time, they settled in the place where they live today.
What are their lives like?
The primary difference between the highland Murle and lowland Murle is their means of livelihood. The lowland Murle, which make up the majority, herd cattle and other animals, since shepherding is considered the ideal way of life to the Murle. The highland Murle, however, have either lost their cattle or forsaken shepherding and now live as farmers.
Cattle cannot survive on the Boma Plateau because of the tsetse flies living in the forests of the area. However, the region is quite fertile and suitable for agriculture because of its volcanic soil. The plains where the lowland Murle live, on the other hand, are not suitable for agriculture, but ideal for herding. Although 90 miles of uninhabited land exists between the lowland and highland Murle, they visit each other frequently, and intermarriage is common and accepted. They feel they need to depend on their fellow Murle during times of war, drought, and economic crisis.
The home is the center of the Murle way of life. Their settlements are made of a series of huts arranged into a circle. The huts are linked together by thorn hedges, which keep the cattle inside and protect them from harm. The highland Murle also have gardens near their huts.
The huts are usually built by the women. They are beehive-shaped and are made of thatched bundles of grass. The center of social activity for a settlement is "the club," a large shady tree where the elders sit, smoke, and discuss village matters. There is also a dancing floor beside this tree.
Children receive practical education from their parents at a very early age. A boy is taught to respect his elders, to be polite, not to insult, and to be always be honest. By the time a girl is in her early teens, she is good-natured, a hard worker, and a good cook.
What are their beliefs?
The Murle are animists (believe that non-living objects have spirits), following the ethnic religious practices of their ancestors. They believe the earth is flat and that their home in South Sudan is at the center. The word for "sky" and the word for "God" are one and the same: Tammu. They believe that Tammu created the universe and that rain is a gift from him. They also believe that Tammu is everywhere, all-knowing, the supreme judge and ruler, and greater than all things.
Unfortunately, the Murle also believe that some spirits dwell in animals, and that the spirits of their ancestors are still present. The Murle regularly solicit the help of healers and diviners, who they believe are able to ward off evil spirits and curses. They believe visits to these diviners can keep the good spirits on their side, as well as keep evil spirits away from them.
What are their needs?
More than anything, the Murle need prayer, so that the Holy Spirit will plant within their hearts a desire to know the one true God. They have the New Testament in their language. Perhaps the Murle's belief in a supreme god will provide a starting point for missionaries to share the Gospel with them.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into South Sudan to preach the Gospel to the Murle.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to begin breaking up the spiritual soil of South Sudan through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to speed the completion of additional evangelistic materials into the Murle language.
* Pray for a just and lasting peace for the tribe.
* Ask the Lord to strengthen the local churches among the Murle.