In preparation for next week’s African Religion and Ritual lecture I read chapters one and four of Godfrey Lienhardt’s “Divinity and Experience”. The chapters focus on the Dinka people, some 900,000 individuals, who reside in the Sudan. The Dinka are spread over a large area though they are very much one community though their dialects may vary from area to area. In the first chapter, Lienhardt describes the Dinka culture and how it relates to the properties of the land they live on, though I had a lot of trouble understanding the chapter on divinity as their beliefs and rules are very complex with many layers.
The Dinka place huge amounts of importance on cattle and they play an integral role in their day-to-day lives. Although, nowadays the Dinka tend to import metal and beads these items don’t tend to outlast a generation and the only recognised wealth that can be inherited is cattle/livestock. Cattle provides a range of products for the Dinka – aside from the obvious milk and eventual beef, when the cows die either naturally or from being sacrificed their skin can be used as hides to sleep under and as rope. Cattle urine can be used to disinfect milk and dried cow dung is used to repel insects.
Cattle are also central to the Dinka’s religion as they are used for sacrifices, though the importance of cattle in the Dinka’s lives is really emphasised by the fact that the names give to cattle depending on the “colouring and shading” of the cow can be used as personal names for both men and women. The cattle thought of so highly in the Dinka community that those who kill cattle purely just for meat are looked down upon and it is believed that the the cow will haunt whoever slaughtered it, though in order to appease the ghost of the beast one may call their next child the beast’s name.
In conclusion, it was interesting to see the vats importance that the Dinka place on cattle in their society though I found it very difficult to keep up with Lienhardt when it came to chapter 4 on the divinity of the Dinka.