“The dead are just to drink from”: recycling ideas of revenge amongst the western Dinka, South Sudan

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Governments in South Sudan have long built their authority on their ability to fashion changing regimes of revenge and compensation, war and peace. Governments’ capture of these regimes has resulted in the secularisation of compensation despite the ongoing spiritual consequences of lethal violence. This article explores these issues by focusing on the western Dinka of Greater Gogrial. In recent years, they have been closely linked to the highest levels of government through familial networks and comradeship. Violent revenge amongst the western Dinka is best understood not as revealing the absence of institutions of government, but as a consequence of the projection of governments’ powers over the details of local, normative codes and sanctions. In this age of post-state violence with automatic weapons, oil- wealthy elites and ambiguous rights, government authority and intention has often been erratic. As government authority now backsup these regimes of compensation and revenge, governments’ shifting nature has reshaped their meaning.
In the last decade, the declining political space for peace and the disruption of the cattle economy has undermined the current value of compensation and its ability to appease the spiritual and moral demands for revenge. It has even distorted regimes to the extent that children become legitimate targets for revenge. The article is informed by archival sources and based on ethnographic research amongst the western Dinka (South Sudan) between 2010 and 2013, and further research in South Sudan until 2015.

Naomi Pendle

Naomi R. Pendle is a research fellow at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at the London School of Economics. Over the last, decade she has carried
out various ethnographic and qualitative research on violent conflict, law, displacement and authority in South Sudan.

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