In my travel to South Sudan I spent three days in Tochmanga, a Mundari cattle camp not far from Juba, the capital. When we arrived, my reaction was sort of disappointment: the camp was practically empty, there were only children and some adults.
There was no trace of the cows, the so-called “Ankole Watusi”, it turns out that they were grazing and the time to return to the camp had not yet arrived. And it was when that moment came that that magic and emotion that surrounds the Mundari cattle camps began, and that it is difficult for me to explain with words.
The children go naked or with a completely threadbare T-shirt, and they are dedicated to picking up and piling up the cow droppings. Women, even adults, also do this type of work. Later, they give them fire, and seeing the camp covered with small volcanoes expelling a great smoke is really impressive. With the resulting ashes they smear their bodies to protect themselves from mosquitoes. They also use these ashes to massage the cows: but these massages are so thorough that it is hard to believe it if you do not see them. This indicates the relationship or symbiosis that the mundaris have with their cattle. It could be said that they are nothing without their cows.
Possibly what impressed me the most was seeing how the younger ones put their mouths into the sex of the cows to stimulate them and thus increase milk production. Despite the fact that I had seen some images related to this activity, seeing it live left me shocked: sometimes you can see them gagging, as well as wiping their faces because the cow was shitting, and so on. It is also easy to see them washing their heads with the urine of the cows, which seems to help them prevent infections. Children are marked with a “V” on their foreheads as a sign that they are no longer children and can do adult work.
It turned out that one of the days was Sunday and a large number of them gathered under a huge tree to attend a Christian religious ceremony. They did it by singing and playing instruments that encouraged people to keep up with the rhythm.
One thing that caught my attention was that many of the weapons they had, the kalasnikows AK47, were with their chargers on, and some of them joked about pointing them at us. At one point I heard a shot, and then a burst of three shots: despite this, I felt completely safe among them. It seems that they use weapons to defend themselves against cattle rustling. The experiences lived in the cattle camp were very intense and have remained marked on me for the rest of my life.