Divinity and experience

Lienhardt explains that the significance of cattle for the Dinka of South Sudan is embedded in their language, culture and belief structure. Cattle are a source of wealth and sustenance and a symbol of prestige. Their “obsession” with cattle can be identified through their extensive language of cattle markings, colours and shades (p.10). The Dinka incorporate colour terms into various aspects of daily life, from names taken by men once they are initiated from boyhood to the creation of poems for entertainment purposes. Thus, the semantics of cattle, for the Dinka, could relate to notions of intelligence, masculinity or the social environment.
Interestingly, whilst ideas of cattle are incorporated into notions of the self, they are also viewed as divine gifts which can also be linked to social relationships and the environment. Lienhardt exemplifies this with ‘DENG’, which is considered to be one of numerous divine “representations of reality” (p.147). ‘DENG’ is a masculine divinity representative of rain, cattle and reproduction. This is significant for the Dinka as rain is necessary for agriculture and the health of cattle. Thus, cultural hopes and fears of what has a direct bearing on collective health, livelihood and happiness are represented by the divine. Additionally, ‘DENG’ also connotes ‘ABUK’, a female divinity and also the mother of ‘DENG’. According to Lienhardt, this represents social relationships significant for Dinka labour and social structure. This is evident through the gendered division of labour – men herd the cattle whilst the women harvest food. Furthermore, ‘DENG’ (son) and ‘ABUK’ (mother) together with ‘GARANG’ (father) is centred around God and is the basic mythology of the Dinka. As with other religious belief structures, I believe this is a way that individuals not only make sense of the world, but they also relate to ways they deal with the uncertainties of the future.
It is also interesting to note the link between different religions. Personally, I think that notions of ‘DENG’, ‘ABUK’ and ‘GARANG’ are similar to other world religions with a holy trinity, e.g. Christianity/ Hinduism etc. It would be interesting to compare the trinities in different religions as ingrained in a particular culture. Are there ways that different religions relate to social structure which are universal?

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