Country: South SudanLev says: We left Juba under the watchful eye of our SPLA escort and headed up along the dust track that parallels the Nile.
It’s a barren land with the odd police check point. We met a woman who told us a harrowing story about a rebel force entering her village and killing all the foreigners and soldiers back in December.
This area is now safe, thanks in large part to the tribe that lay 150 kilometres north of Juba in Terekeka: The Mundari.
The Mundari are cattle herders and agriculturalists who inhabit the banks and islands of the Nile. Their reputation for being peace loving people is matched by their reputation for being some of the fiercest warriors in South Sudan. Luckily for me and Boston this meant that the rebels were nowhere to be seen – too afraid to come near the Mundari for fear of being killed themselves. We walked into Terekeka in searing heat and found ourselves the nearest store with life-giving fizzy drinks. Having recalibrated our blood sugar levels we were well enough to strike up a conversation with the locals and discovered that if we wanted to see real Mundari cattle herders we needed to head off to one of the nearest islands. A twenty minute boat ride later and we were entering another world: a cattle camp, at dusk, with smoke from cow-dung bonfires silhouetting bulls horns and languid figures – the Mundari themselves.
These charming, smiling, statuesque figures could not have been more welcoming. They value generosity highly and it’s thought that if you’re grumpy it can even make you sick. We immediately had help carrying our bags, putting up our tents (with varying degrees of success) and a barrel of fresh milk brought to us. Despite their friendly demeanour I couldn’t help but keep a watchful eye on the men around me. Not because I was suspicious. Far from it. It was because I knew what was around the corner. Like the Dinka Bor, Ciec, Aliap and Atuot tribes the Mundari are famous for wrestling. Traditionally it was a way of resolving conflict. These days it’s practiced for fame and pride. I knew that I couldn’t stay here without being asked to enter the ring so these gentle, helpful figures were in fact the enemy.
The Mundari look like they live off a diet entirely made of steroids. Truth is they drink just milk and eat the odd fish. They wouldn’t look out of place on an NBA Basketball court, rugby team or super heavy weight boxing ring. Having spent the morning getting to know my new friends, covering their cows in ash from the dung fires to keep off the flies and having had my hair drenched in cow urine to dye it red (you need to do it for a week for it to have an effect so I’m still in possession of my dark locks), a crowd gathered and started warming up for the big moment. That’s right. It was time to get ready to rumble.
I was adorned with a leopard skin around my waist to hoots of laughter from the locals. I’m fairly certain that it inhibited my movement but it seemed like an honour to wear it so I wasn’t about to insult the giant that I was now facing. He appeared to be about 7ft 5 although I’m told he wasn’t that much taller than me. Either way the next 30 seconds were a whirlwind of dust, pain and, well, embarrassment. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said I was lifted up and spun around like a Barbie doll and placed carefully on the ground so as not to hurt me. I had lost. Badly. But I wasn’t stopping there. No way. I had pride to retain. I acted fast. At the back of the crowd there was a lad who looked about my size, probably because he was fourteen years old. That didn’t matter. Fourteen or not he was my only chance at rehabilitating my tattered reputation. The match was called, I stared him out, managed to get my arms around his neck and leg behind his and ‘bam!’. He was on the floor. I had won. My pride (somewhat) restored. Terekeka 1 Stoke 1.