Introduction to the Legacy

ANUAK Project: FIELD NOTES – June 10, 1972


Up at 5:30 and leave for Bole Airport by 6:30. Check in and leave by C47 at 7:45. Touch down at Gambela at about 9:45. Met by Niles Reimer of American Mission (Presbyterian). After details taken care of at Airport – show ID cards – where teaching, etc. leave for Gambela. Stop to arrange for boat transport for McLaughlin’s. To bank, money changed into $1.00 and .10 cents, the only exchange used here. To store, limited supplies expensive but available – sugar flour, spaghetti, canned fruit, etc. Find that the proprietor (Greek) will be leaving in 2 weeks therefore, the store will temporarily close. Then travel along river to Pokwo by Land Rover: swamp land, and land that is planted with corn right after first rains and before river floods the lowlands. Arrive in Pokwo Presbyterian mission station by 2:00 p.m. Dinner with Templin’s. Afternoon: rest and supper.

The people are dark, tall and quite friendly. Children do not wear clothes; no one wears covering on upper part of body because of the heat of the area at 1600’ (approx.). There are very obvious physical differences between the Anuak and the Amhara. Diet based on corn. The basic food is a corn mush of which large quantities are consumed. Food is quite bland and tasteless contrasted to Amharic injera & wat which is highly spiced.

The Amhara government officials, police etc. are Amhara. The Amhara were previously quite brutal in governing. The military felt free to enter villages and take what they wanted. Now not so. But still, government officials lord it over the Anuak and Nuer. Anuak now are becoming more aware of the central Ethiopian government. There are increased education possibilities and the influx of transistor radios. Radio Ethiopia is listened to but more so is a station from across the Sudan border which broadcasts 2 times a week in Anuak in language and music. Comment made that the station is greatly respected because of the broadcast in Anuak. A lesson for radio Ethiopia.

There are approximately 40,000 Anuak in the area living on both sides of the Eth-Sudan border. The most live in Ethiopia. The language is to an extent tonal, mostly on inflections of sentence endings. The Nuer living next to them are a contrast. Anuak are primarily farmers, raising corn and some other crops but little evidence seen of cattle or goats. The Nuer are primarily cattle people in contrast. The society among Anuak not highly developed in communities. Not strong religious ties to Orthodox Church. Witch doctors are usually women who are involved to cure barrenness and other female problems. If a strong witch doctor is wanted, they go to a Nuer. Dealing between the two tribes is not always friendly nor peaceful.

With refugee relief, monies are available from the UN for resettlement of Nuers. A situation of dependence has emerged. A great deal of money poured into area with individuals getting about $50 a month contrasted to the prevailing laborers wage of $15 To $25 In Gambela.

Discussion with Niles Reimer brings up the following suggestions for the next few days and weeks. I will speak with Pat Templin regarding housekeeping stores and supplies. Local villages to be visited:

Tellia: has a mission influence 10-minute walk.

Pokomo: 10 minutes’ walk down river.

Nickqua: Across river with less Christian influence.

Ebago: Down river 2 miles.

Aleah: quite accessible. Chief is Christian.

These villages are different types. Even on mission compound, singing will be heard. There have been and probably will be many village dances with use of drums. Would be wise to hang around villages for a while to have people get used to seeing us and then ask their permission for work with tape and camera.

Informants; 2 good ones in Addis who may be of use there as well as possible availability in Pokwo; Paul Abulla; Agwa Alemo (Samuel) Will be in school till mid-July at Prince Makonnen Scholl in Piazza. Ask Dave Philips where they live. Also, will be of great help to talk with Joan Yilek and Breez’e about life and home conditions and practice; Mary Akala is also here and is a prolific composer of Anuak hymns. Perhaps there are 60-80 of these. Some written material is also available.

Reliable DC3 with canvas seats along the really a C47 got us to Gambela and back to Addis.

ANUAK Project: FIELD NOTES – June 13, 1972



Tuesday dawned rainy after an evening of rain but cleared up as the early morning progressed. After breakfast, Mark Reimer and an Anuak fellow and myself got into the motor boat and drove for half an hour downstream to the large village if illea. This village is situated away from the bank of the river and about a five-minute walk to higher ground. Earlier this village was on the river and would flood every year making the rainy season quite miserable for everyone. Then the village burnt to the ground and so the village finally resettled on higher ground out of reach of the river.

We walked through rather high grown grass land. Some corn was in evidence. The major crop of this area is peanuts. I did not notice peanuts growing in the area we walked. We entered the village area around 10:00 a.m. and stopped first at the evangelist’s compound. Not finding him home (he was in his fields) we left a note written by Niles Reimer stating the purpose of our initial and subsequent visits and then walked on briefly coming to a fairly large open area with a four-foot stump in the middle for holding the drums. This being the dancing floor. Directly beyond was the chief’s compound. We sat first under a large tree on skins of antelope(?) and then were invited in after about 15 minutes. We entered through a new very neat fence of upright grass bound together tightly and neatly cut on top onto a clean courtyard swept clean. The hut was round, grass thatch, new. We stepped up over a decorated mud threshold into the hut. The interior was entered through a lattice type interior wall and then down into the main area where we met the chief. The room was bare except for animal skins making flat piles in two places of the room over which was rolled mosquito netting. The chief was sitting on one pile of skins having awakened from a nap.

He is a young man, perhaps thirty, a Christian, very youthful looking. We presented the note prepared by Niles Reimer to him; he read it slowly asking questions of our native accompanier and of Mark Reimer who speaks Anuak quite well. He seemed satisfied with our answers and with the general idea and so we settled down to talk with him about general things…school (the Anuak accompanier was a school mate of his in the mission school before the people requested that this fellow be made chief.) He had a 6th grade education being more than anyone else. He later asked more questions of me while there. And we made the point of asking permission to be in the area frequently this summer and to be able to bring in tape recorders and cameras. To these he gave permission. After a brief time, he went into another hut and put on a shirt and then led us on a tour of the village.

The village is neatly laid out quite expansive. Not tightly clustered with the familiar huts, thin wall construction, open clean floor within the compound, with several smaller buildings for storage of grain and/or keeping of chickens. Several places had decorated mud built-up walls. Wavy finger type designs rather than descriptive drawings. After the brief tour of the village we returned to the Chiefs house where we sat down to wait for the return of the evangelist.

We waited until about 12:30 spending the time sitting and talking, and listening to the chief’s transistor portable. The evangelist finally arrived and so we went with him. He said that it would be difficult for us to hear any music this day or to hear any drumming. It seems that the people may become disturbed hearing drumming without any special occasion to warrant it. We were then invited to stay for lunch to which we said we would. We then returned to the chief’s house to await lunch. As we waited the time passed and after about 2 hours of waiting and sitting and some napping, we were finally invited down to take our meal. We were brought to the cook house, a shelter enclosed on three sides with the top blackened and seared with the smoke of numerous fires from the cooking fire in the mud floor. The mother and wife were sitting there with a child at the breast and pleasantly placed a pot of brown sandy colored and texture corn concoction laced with leaves of wild spinach. The utensils were shells which worked very well as spoons. We dipped from the common pot and tasted a very dry and tasteless concoction badly I need of salt. It was hard to try to decide whether to chew or swallow as soon as possible. The others drank river water out of gourds, we drank from our canteen. After a noble attempt of eating and finishing a good deal of the mixture, we took our leave, retrieved our stuff from the chief’s house and walked back to the boat. As we returned to Pokwo we sighted four crocodiles sunning themselves on the sand bars along the side of the wide and deep river.

Tangible gains from this visit were the permission granted to visit and bring tape recorders and cameras. Also, the fact that we did visit and therefore made our faces known will make it easier the next time we come.

Only the Chief gets to wear shoes and sit on a chair!


(Based on Interview of Missionary Contacts)


This discussion will touch on a portion of the major thrust of my study. My major purpose was to record and analyze the music of these people and place it in the context of the social matrix. This is by no means a complete report. It is a report and study in progress and some of the views stated here will be subject to refinement as I continue to transcribe the interviews collected. But generally speaking, what is reported here is accurate to the best of my knowledge and is new information of a tribe that had been hitherto unstudied and unreported in any anthropological depth.

During the many hours sitting in the sun and listening to the recordings of numerous songs, various themes kept reoccurring. These themes deal with what is important to the Anuak. They deal with things that make the Anuak what he is. It is my belief that the music of the Anuak contains much of what is socially vital of the society. It contains much if not all of the history of the tribe. The music of the Anuak, I contend is one of the major sources of education for the youth of the tribe. By studying the music of the tribe, we can discover attitudes concerning many things. We can discover attitudes towards others, other clans, the other sex, the rich. We can discover what things are important to the Anuak: food, pride, fulfilling a pledge, status in a status less society. We can discover the Anuaks attitude toward God as they have come to know Him by the types of songs, they sing to him, the way the language is couched. We can discover the history of the various villages through their war songs, who was brave who was foolish, why they fought, and who was victorious. We can discover the attitude of the people toward the authorities by what is said in the songs. It is said that the Anuak will sing the truth though they might not tell the truth. If you really want to know what really happened, listen to their songs.

I will present the words of several songs and trace their implications as discovered by my interviewing and observations.


The Anuak are one of the few tribes, and to my knowledge the only tribe who have adapted their traditional music to admit words and music that is suitable for worship and praise. The overriding general rule has been that a missionary would forbid the signing of the traditional music and the playing of the traditional instruments and instead give the natives something "better" to sing which was to frequently the music of the West. Ignoring the fact that a particular tribe might sing with a completely different scale and that the words inherent in the songs may not apply at all to the experiences of the people, one finds these songs still relevant among the tribes of Africa. The tunes are generally bent out of all recognition; the words are frequently totally unsuitable (witness the singing of the Amhara young people who have been converted from the Orthodox faith, singing “Give me that old time religion” the very religion they have been turned from.

But the Anuak under the encouragement of the enlightened missionaries in the area have developed and continue to develop a hymnody based on Anuak idioms and sung to the accompaniment of not a reed organ but rather two or three drums which is the common experience of the people in village life. These drum hymns generally take two forms. One type is the Obero. An Obero is generally sung for the chief of a village. It is a song of praise to a chief either alive or dead. In the song, the singer will tell the difficulties of the person, his poorness and his need. The chief will be praised. His kindness, goodness and greatness will be expounded. Likewise, the Obero as used in worship follows similar patterns. But in this case, the Chief is not the chief if the village but God. The other commonly found style of singing in church is the Agwaga. These are often war songs and speak of the bravery of the chief in the fighting and of the ones in fighting. The Agwaga is frequently used to request something from the chief as well.

The rhythmic aspects of these two forms of music are found in the music of the church as well. The Obero beat and the Agwaga beat are easily recognizable in the drums and they are similar in the same kind of beat used in the village for secular purposes. In our discussion thus far, we have found that the implications of the form of the music the Obero and the Agwaga, stipulates songs of praise to a chief of some type. These songs of praise discuss the greatness of the chief and discount and criticize his enemies. Likewise, these songs are frequently songs of request mentioning the poorness of the individual making the rust using the words, “I [m begging you…”

Further implications of these hymns can be found by a study of the words.

Tape 15A, Place: Pokwo, Date of the recording, July 15, 1972. Performers: Pokwo church congregation, date of transcript: September 16, 1972.

#4 092 Anuak hymnbook #85. Obero type, by Mary Akela.

Text: All people, let us ask God, confess to him that we have done. Jesus the son of God is the chief of heaven. But the Devil is a thief. He has no home or kingdom at all. You are the king of heaven as well as our helper. When the time will come, we will hear trumpets and odolla (a drum beat for a king). Because we were in darkness, we want you to take us into the light. You men and you girls pray to God for there you find happiness.

1A Pokwo, July 2, 1972. Transcript May 25, 1973, Obero.

14:260 Jesus is a sympathetic person and the son of God. He is the precious treasure in heaven. He is the chief all of all things and I’m begging him still, God unties all villages in the name of Jesus. When Jesus carried the cross, he carried the cross for our sins. I continue to beg you Jesus who is our father and mother at the same time.

1A 20 370 Agwaga. God who blesses, why don’t you clear away the sins so we can be clean and good? Any person who believes in Satan will be destroyed. Satan is the snake who cheats us. When the drum is beaten while we are praying, we are praising God who is the teacher. He gives us faith. All people must believe in him strongly. The devil is teasing those who are making beer for them. Refuse to believe the gods of the earth. Because you will suffer in the fire and painful death. The savior who is the father is in heaven. I will like to beg him 15A 6 190 (same as above) Agwaga. These two songs are the same but were translated by different informants at different ties. Note similarities and differences: God, why don’t you destroy sins. Then we will become healthy or good. Satan, then you will be destroyed. A snake, the animal of the forest has deceived us. We have eaten the fruit. Still the people make beer and sing. When the drum is beaten, we sing to God. All of us, let us believe in him, and trust him. He’s going to return sometime. The Devil is a thief, He’s deceiving you. You are making beer for him. You love the worldly idols. You will find death pain, etc. but the savior is still in heaven. I will ask him, when he comes, he will wash our sins.

As was mentioned before, the statement of let’s ask God or beg God is very common in this culture. It is noted that begging is found in both the Agwaga and Obero type of song. There is little distinction between the types in the themes, with the form and the drum beat, begging the overriding distinction rather than the content of the songs which seem to be quite similar.

The begging of the chief is a characteristic of the Anuak. The Anuak by their very name are the people who share. It is considered very immoral to be selfish. Everything the Anuak has is held in common and no man can say that this is mine. Because the system is one of egalitarianism at the lowest level of equality, the system destroys initiative. If one man is ambitious and may grow more than he can eat, he can’t claim that grain without the permission of the rest of the clan. In the meantime, the lazy can claim the grain.

The relationships between individuals are that of reciprocity. A person does something in order to make the person indebted because they can then be used. Individuals who are poor in the village will begin to hang around the chief’s compound seeking to make themselves useful to the chief in hopes that he may reward them. Likewise, a songwriter will prepare a song, teach it to the village and inform the chief that he is ready to sing it to him in which he praises the chief and begs him for his needs and for the needs of others. The chief then is obligated to reward the song maker and many of the village with a cow or gift of money or bride price. The chief is often the source of pride price for a poor man or the source of food and drink for the villagers.

"Then the time will come we will hear trumpets and Odolla." Not all villages have trumpets. That is Italian bugles left over from the war. But those that do have them take great pride in them and use them chiefly not as musical instruments but more as to create a blaring expression of happiness or attention. Whenever the chief walks he is preceded by fellows carrying drums beating them in a stately fashion in time to the stately walk of the king. In addition, the bugle will be blared to announce the arrival of the king or the chief. Each village has a chief and there is not much difference between the connotation of the chief or king except that in the Gilo river area it is more common to call the men in power kings and in the Baro river area to call them chiefs. The Christian application of the return of Christ preceded by the blaring of trumpets with addition of the beating of the Anuaks drums is quite fitting.

"God unites all villages in the name of Jesus." The unit of government in the Anuak area is the village. Each village has its own chief and hierarchy of leaders. Each chief determines that with the advice and consent of those who advise him, the rules for his village and mete out the justice for that village. In the past one clan would dominate a village with another village close by being dominated by another clan and would have little to do with each other. Fighting is very common in the area. Not so much now though as recently as 6 months ago, the missionary heard reports of serious fighting between villages with several deaths resulting. The killing of one will result in revenge and frequently the killing of two with a spiral of harm done over a long period of time. It is a very real need for God to unite all villages.

“…who is our father and mother at the same time.” This seems to be a common statement in Ethiopia. My servants considered me as such. The Anuaks consider the chief as such. There is no sexual implication simply the matter or caring for and feeding the individual which often is the duty of the chief.

"Satan is the snake who cheats us." He is a thief. Satan is usually pictured this way. The people have close contact with the cobra and other land creatures. This type is common in this humid and high grass area. These animals are feared and for good reason. The system of justice in this area is quite thorough and quick. The chief with his advisors acts quickly and a thief is severely punished by having to pay a cow or goat, or by beating or by ostracism from the village. Because the people have a little and because they are expected to share, what they have, thievery is especially condemned. (Though we found it to be quite endemic against the white missionary.)

The people make beer and sing. One of the major problems in this area is the problem of drunkenness. The major crop is corn which is usually prepared as a mush as the staple food. In a time of plenty or relative plenty, the corn is rather prepared as home-brew beer. This is the common drink, and the accepted beverage for all dances and get togethers held by the chief. Frequently the great use of beer causes shortage of corn for food and a resultant period of famine once or twice a year before the next crop is ready. In addition, beer is frequently the base of much of the fighting that takes place in the village particularly between age sets. The Anuak considers the firing of a gun to hunt birds to be a waste of shells but he will freely fire it off to celebrate at a dance with a full supply of beer mixed in, the combination becomes dangerous as the clinic attests.

"Refuse to believe in the gods of the earth." The creation story of the Anuak as well as information we mentioned by my informants imply that their lesser deities are importations from the Nuer though they are probably a part of their basic culture. The say, “We just worshipped God till the Nuers came and bothered us and the Nuers say, “We just worshiped God till the Dinka’s came and bothered us.” Nevertheless, the normal day today religion is based on their concept of spiritual animism. Everything is animated with spirits. A table has a spirit. Because everything is animated with spirits, that is why no two things in the world are alike. It’s not difficult to prove that everything has a spirit because you can hear it. Just hit the table and you will hear the voice of the table. To appease the spirit of the chair, the Anuak will spit on the chair (his spirit goes to the spirit of the chair) so he won’t fall off the chair. He will sit on his spear and perhaps dip it in blood so that it will hit the target. After the spear has left his hand, what could possibly control it but the spirit of the spear? The Anuak has no concept about dynamics or motion or momentum.

Lets give some attention to Love Songs:

10B 3 073 Love Song (Dancing song). Mentions friends who when dances move very rhythmically and very pleasant to look at. Don’t’ compare yourself with Ningyoni. Asking her friend, where is your husband, she replies that my husband went to headquarters to fight with Arabs. We are going to get independence and remain in our land. (A song from the Sudan.)

10B 5 122 Love song. When I sleep, I dream about my boyfriend. (When a girl is given to a rich man, and she doesn’t like him, he will beat that girl till she is harmed, hand broken or something of this sort) When I see somebody who is not educated, I don’t like him. (Perhaps somebody who doesn’t know how to behave has bad manners.) This part included in all love songs: "If you refuse me, please tell me so that I can get a better one." (Same words and melody crop up all the time.)

19A 13 393 Dancing song. You can marry her without paying a dowry. People went to the meeting. She was taken to some rich people. What would I do with my body? What shall I do with my body? Richness does not matter. A girl with white eyes. I hoped that she would be my wife, but I will still be taking her from the parents every time and run away with her, through all these years. Till I will get tired of being brought to the court. When she pounds the pounds should like a large explosion. Till the people of my village will get tired of eating because she is a hard worker and provides much. My sisters, I’m going to take the wife of a rich man without paying any dowry.

19A 14 409 I would have gone; I would have gone to move to the Ethiopians land because of Abung his girlfriend. It is because of Abung that I can’t go to all these places. But we are still equal with the person, your husband. When slept by night, there was a sound in my chest. Abung has been broken, the kidneys the neck have been broken. Broken by an old man. That old man has paid dowry for the girl. She can be taken by the old man by force. The old man has paid the dowry. See this ignorant old man. He’s asking a hoe for a dowry to be paid as part of the dowry. When he takes the hoe, he seems as if he is going to hoe in his garden. But he’s beating the woman with the stick of the hoe. This man, therefore the reason for the song? (This song talks against the dowry, will cause anger among the husband, the dowry indicates it doesn’t have love between man and the girl. Forced marriage. Makes parents unhappy to hear this song.)

29B 6 Mentioning the name of the people. If you refuse or if my wife’s parents refuse there is no other way to get the money to pay except by going to the gold mines. I greet you my love forget you. To live with a rich man will give you worries and many difficulties. (The rich man can beat the girls and try to chase her away, they can be happy with the girl if their behavior is right. If she works very hard, if she misbehaves, he'll think she is thinking about her husband. Then she will be beaten and mistreated (Olieng produced this song, he married three times, because of his poorness the parents of his wives refused to let him marry their daughters. The last girl he married loved him very much. In this song, he was advising her not to refuse to live with a rich man.)

The love songs of the Anuak are fairly all known throughout the area. Unlike the war songs and the songs in praise of a chief which are sung only in the village involved. The love songs are quite melodious and are usually accompanied with some type of drum like instrument. The songs recorded were usually accompanied with a metal can, such as a 2-gallon gasoline container or larger when a crowd danced.

“…very pleasant to look at.” I seem that the concept of beauty among the Anuak is much like it is here. Fellows notice a well-shaped girl. Otherwise some scarification is practiced. The scarring of the forehead as practiced by the Nuers is not practiced among the Anuak men. They do practice the knocking out of the lower teeth however. The girls are often decorated by small scar marks in a design on the front of the body. Often the lower lip is pierced with a string of colorful beads hanging down.

“Don’t compare yourself with Ningyoni.” This song from the Sudan was sung by individuals from the Sudan who were war refugees. It is the practice to put the names of individuals in the songs particularly in the war songs. Ningyoni was such a hero to the people that this name appears several times. This is the same Ningyoni who was my informant and the singing of this song pleased him.

Discussion of the fight against the Arabs in the South Sudan is mentioned in this song. As has been stated before, the history of the people is recorded in their songs.

“I dream about my boyfriend.” This plaint is heard over and over again. The marriage practices of the Anuak produces great unhappiness. The girl has little to say. The father and the brothers or some member of the clan will determine who she will marry. In numerous cases, the girl will be married off to some old man who has lots of cattle and lots of wealth as one of his wife’s. For marriage to be possible a high bride price is demanded. The boy must pay about 3 cows, about 100 spears, demoui beads (a special type of wedding bead) 30-40 sheep. If the boy does not have these goods he cannot marry. One way of obtaining such stuff is to wait until a sister is married off. Often the fellow does not want to wait and will have her married off in her early teens to a rich old man. That is one who is over 30 and who has bride price to give.

“If you refuse me please tell me so that I can get a better one.” This phrase continually is heard in all love songs. There are perhaps implications …later required.

“I will still be taking her from the parents every time and running with her…” The frustration of youth is always heard in the love songs. The complaint of the rich man and the comments of poorness are always present. If a fellow does not want to enter into the normal course of events, he may attempt to take the girl. He does this at his own risk for he is sure to be severely beaten. The normal procedure would be for the boy to appoint a negotiator who would go to the girl’s family or clan with a marriage spear. He presents the spear and names his friend and the name of the girl. If the clan of the girl is willing to talk business, they will take the spear; otherwise they will refuse the spear. When the fellow pays the first bull of the bride price, he is considered betrothed. He then probably pays nothing more till she becomes pregnant. If she cannot become pregnant, then she will probably be returned to the clan. When the fellow pays more than half of the bride price, she belongs more to him and not to the clan. He may not pay the rest on his wife till his first daughter is married. Then he will get stuff from this marriage. Then it becomes mandatory that the first thing that he gets from this marriage of his own daughter has to go to pay for the mother.

“When she pounds, the pounds sound like a large explosion.” This again is a common phrase in the love songs or dancing songs. The ability of a woman to work hard is highly valued. No one works as had as a wife in the Anuak village. The preparation of the corn requires a process of pounding with a heavy pole into a pestle placed in the ground. The corn is not considered ready to prepare into mush until it has been pounded several times over several days period into a fine white meal. The work demanded causes the women to look much older than they are. They actually work themselves old. This song implies that this girl is a hard worker indeed.

“I would have gone to move to the Ethiopians land…” the Anuaks make a distinction between themselves and the rest of Ethiopia. The ones that they have dealing with representing the government of Ethiopia are usually the police who are sent down to keep order or to collect taxes. The area of Gambela is considered a punishment area for the police who have gotten into trouble in other places though I have met some fine men among the force. But the usually contact with the Amhara and the Galla tribes have been negative as far as the Anuak are concerned. The Anuaks consider themselves superior to the highlands people and they call them Ethiopians. They do not call themselves Ethiopians and have no concept of a nation or national unity in any sense.

“But he’s beating the woman…” The Anuak is a male dominated community with the man definitely in charge. The husband s relation with one of his wives is most often not one of love but rather of a master-servant status. The marriage price relationship with its inequities and uncertainties allows for little love to be involved in the family relationship. In this particular song, the singer was trying to bring his girlfriend away from the rich man and the song was written because of this.

“…except by going to the gold mines.” If a young man has no resources to getting marriage price. If his parents are dead or he has no sisters, he will try to find some other means of finding bride wealth. He may hire himself out to the chief hoping for some favors or marriage beads or he may indenture himself to the rich ma. He may journey out of the Anuak area to work in the gold mines not far distant. Some fellows work for years before they have enough to buy a bride.

“I greet you my love, I greet you.” One of my frequent soloists Olieng wrote this song and it is soundly based on fact. Olieng married three times. Perhaps it should be said that he lived with a different girl three times without being able to pay the marriage price. Because of his poorness the parents of his wives refused to let him marry their daughters. My informant stated that the last girl he lived with loved him very much. But he lost her as well and, in this song, he advises her not to refuse to live with a rich man. Of such is the content of the love songs of this area. They are based on fact, and the facts are based on a system that is cruel but very real as a problem in a very small corner and in a very small tribe.

This paper has touched on but two types of songs used by the Anuak. Yet the implications of the culture are wrapped up in these songs. One could go much further in analysis by looking at other love songs and other hymns. But the major features have been discussed. One could also go into an extensive discussion of the war songs and the songs in praise to the chiefs and make more comments about the history of the various villages recorded in the songs. It is a vital feature of these songs that they speak to the problems and every day evens of the tribe. They possess a vitality and immediacy because of this. Perhaps they are not too removed after all from our modern-day expressions of love, lost love and faith.


Listening to play- back of the sounds of the singer and the Anuak Thom.

ANUAK Project: FIELD NOTES – December 27, 1972

Interview with Agwa Alemo


Learning of individual songs on the part of children.

For children there are fun songs that are not used for dancing. Used in the village for the very young. By watching the older children, the younger learn how to play, simply by watching. (8, 9, or 10)

Drum: first time will play on a tin or piece of tree, then go beat a small drum with the stick, when there is dancing, he will watch and when the people are resting, he will go and beat when there is dancing but when they are resting, people will let him do that. He can practice when the drums are present. When there is a dance, on that day before the people come, they are all allowed to beat the drum just for practice. They make the sound with their mouths as well. If doing the dancing if he doesn’t do well, he will change with another drummer. Practice with two sticks. It is difficult to learn it. He needs a time to watch very carefully to hear the notes. He watches the good drummer and imitates the sounds. Learns the Awawa type of drumming first and Achenya because they are allowed to beat the drums at those times. Only a few people know how to beat the Agwaga not a majority simply because they don’t get a chance to practice. They are not allowed to practice when the chief is there or when the men have returned from a battle. The Agwaga beat is the same for all Agwagas as it doesn’t change. The basic beats are the same. The drummer’s ingenuity and originality will be heard. All the men can practice the Agwaga with a tin somewhere else.

Song: Very little child taught by his mother or older brother. Anuak would sing a new song at night when everyone is not busy. By that time the children and not allowed to go there because it is too late and they would be sleeping. So, when mother and older brother and sister learn the song they will come and teach the child. When they come back from singing, they will be practicing at home. When they work or are walking around will be singing. So, children will simply imitate the parents. Generally sing the whole song and when they finish it, they repeat it again. The singer himself, in teaching the song he will sing a part of the song over several times so the people will get it and then jump to the next part and repeat the process. Take about a week for the people to learn a new song. The when everyone knows the song, he will be a dance for the new song. Then everyone will try it to see if it fits with the drum beat. First of all, they learn the song without the drum. Then people get tired, they will sing the old songs with a drum to relax everybody. This is while they are learning the new song. (without the drums) Long songs will take a week but the short songs 3 or 4 days. Everybody in the village come to learn the songs except the old ladies and the old men. They say we are old this is for the young or generation. We can learn it from you later on. After the supper, 8:30 or 9:00 would gather in the Burra and beat a drum to call the people. They will come to learn the new song. Everyone is expected to be there. Those that are still busy will not be but will remain. Everyone wants to go. If the song fits the drum, they will sing the new song during the dancing time. Will practice a song for the chief in the same way. The chief may or may not be there. Will be a big dance. The chief will dance in the dancing place.

Agwaga is a bit different, they will learn in the way they learned the dancing song. When the chief of the village makes beer, the Agwagas song will be sung while they are drinking beer. Will not practice in dancing but practice with drinking the beer. Will sing it in a special dance for the chief. At that time, he will give something to the singer. He doesn’t give to all but to the ones he is supposed to help. If you want something from the chief you show politeness to him. Perhaps for one week being with him helping him, serving him. When during the dancing time, the chief will realize this and he will give you something.

Professional musicians: Learn the old song from others. A fellow will learn the old songs. Learning of the old songs comes from grandparents and the life of the old people would be to led by the grandparents. When you get old would tell the story in your song and this will continue. When the older generation realizes that you are old enough to understand something then they will teach you. About age 9 or 10 children will come in small groups of 2 or 3 or the old men will tell them which is very interesting. The children will come every day to have the story repeated. He will tell them his story and sing the songs.

Now the younger generation has no time to learn the old songs because they are in school. In school they do not learn these songs at all. They are being forgotten. Everything is changing now because of the school. Old men are unhappy about this. This is the biggest change in the culture of the people. When Italians left grades 1-4 in Gambela. In 1952 the mission came, they started school for 1-4, the one in Gambela was not boarding. The one in Pokwo was boarding. We could use only English at first. When Amharic was introduced later, 1960, children very unhappy with this. Many gave up because of the difficulty. All must take Amharic, still find it very difficult. Only one class in English when reaching 4th grade. Continues up through 6th grade. From grade 7 no period for Amharic and the test in English. If you don’t pass the 6th grade exam, you are not allowed to continue. The necessity of knowing Amharic makes this very difficult.

When walking around I look for groups of old ladies and see if they are singing or not. Also ask if there are new songs in the village. Study how they are being taught to the people.

The Anuak People:

Living along the Baro and the Gilo rivers, the majority living in Ethiopia and some in Sudan.

About 50 000 people more or less.

The term Anuak means to share: equalitarian society: shoes, chairs, to the lowest level of equality.

Unit of government the village. Ruled by the chief and his elders. In the Gilo river area, the king is the ruler, not much difference but some.

My approach to the research:

Past summer 5-6 weeks in the area. Traveled extensively and tapes extensively.

Informant: Paul Ningyoni: leader of the Anyanya, highly intelligent and understood the purposes of the work.

Would enter a town without equipment and then ask permission, when return with the permission of the chief and the elders and the people would perform.

It was understood that if they performed well, they would be paid. If they did not perform, no pay.

If the whole village took part, we would meet with the chief before the performance was over and agree on a price and then give the money to the chief and the elders after the dance. There was always such discussion about tis but they never changed the amount or tried to up it.

With individual singers, were paid after they performed. Always on the recommendation of my informant.

Areas of work: up and down the Baro River. 6-8 locations. Most of the work centered in Tierlul, Pokwomo, and Pokwo, a crossroads of the Anuaks, many refugees, many present for work at the clinic... We were able to get a cross section of individuals from all over the Anuak area including the Sudan side. The tapes we took and the songs gathered, believe are highly representative of the activities of the entire tribe.

Children in an improvised dance.

ANUAK Project: FIELD NOTES – Jan 16, 1973 Tuesday


INTERVIEW: Paul Ningyoni.

Dancing: Made by a girl for a young man. She made beer for young man then she informed him and he chose other young men to enjoy it with him. She would tell him or the mothers of the girl would tell him.

Dancing will increase as river gets lower. Because of dead person, visit from village across river not exchanged.

A few words in the language are different where Paul lives. King rules until he dies no matter how bad. Not the same Agwaga as Gilo and Akobo. Gilo: Kings and chiefs there, systems of Agwaga the same all people sit in circle. Here they stand in circle. In dancing, here people jump from the girl lines to the girls. But they do not come back quickly. There it is turn by turn. Here they go forward but do not come back quickly.

Anuak population is growing in the Ethiopian side but being disturbed on Sudan side. Anuak will not agree for Nuer to resettle in this area. May happen in Etung. They are seeking for places. They are still fighting themselves. Some want to escape. Won’t be long before they fight the Anuak if they come to Etung.

Change among Anuak. Usually fight off learning new things. But dances of young men are not the natural dancing. Schools are making progress. Somali and James Brown influences. “I feel alright” can be heard in any village. Students when they have their holiday, do not go back to parents to help, they stay here and float, not good in Ethiopia. In Sudan they do go back and help.

Since the struggle, South Sudan all fighting between local villages cut down. Nuer still fighting. Nuer fighting taking places in Ethiopian side. Very few problems now, had old problems solved by the Anyanyas.

Higher Education on Sudan side? Southerners may claim their part, at that time there were few schools. Mission school, walked there and got education during British rule in Sudan. 1954, Sudan claimed for independence, the Arabs could not make school in South Sudan, primitive. One school in Akobo and the mission school. They taught Arabia Language. A way to destroy system of the mission School. People were against the Arab system. Tried to turn the Christians to Muslim. New schools were teaching in Islamic. They had plans to dismiss the missionaries so that school would function by itself. They succeeded to drive the missionaries out.

Anuak have higher education than those in Ethiopia. Amhara have very little time for Anuak. They want a way to turn them from being Anuaks. Want to bring Anuaks under the Amhara religion and language.

In Sudan, can be taught in their vernacular, in Anuak if that school is in an Anuak area. In Sudan elementary, intermediate, and secondary, if finish one level an exam is given. Are given 2 chances to pass each level. Difficult for those from Ethiopia because the standard there is very high. They are not well enough prepared from here. The refugees cheated themselves in Ethiopia. From 3rd grade in Akobo found in 7th grade here. Those who failed in Akobo some are here in 8th grade. In Akobo the mission school is not destroyed. Perhaps they will be calling for other Missions to revive their work in the South Sudan. A very great help. Most of official in South Sudan. Educated most were shot like dogs. Now difficult to get enough teachers.

In the morning at 6 everybody goes to field and works for 2 to 3 hours and returns at 10 or 11 for breakfast. April or May they stay till 3 before they go back to work if there is work to be done. When finished weeding they sit idle waiting for another time of work. Time of harvest starts work again, morning and afternoon.

When Tok came into the Burra, he could only come because of us and still he came with his shoes in his hands.

Paul Ningyoni, head of 25,000 Anyanya freedom fighters and my Informant through the summer.


Place of Recording: Addis Ababa

Date of Recording: June 16, 1973

Born when Amhara went down to Anuak area. About 19-20 years ago. So about 20. Mother took care of us. When became about 5 years old, my older brother took evangelist course in Pokwo and he had been in Pokwo for 3 years. When he came back home to Gok, the brother second in age to him to go to Pokwo. (Home in Pinyudo. One day walking to the Ethiopian Sudan border. On the Ethiopian side.) Lived there for 1 ½ years my elder brother became sick and died of ameba. Mother came to visit him. I Agwa remained with my twin sisters with my relative in Pinyudo.

Mother sent a message to come to Pokwo to join the school. I was prevented by my relatives not to go. Because mother was suffering a lot, no one would feed her, no one would make corn. Relatives kept me for about 2 years. After that I came to Pokwo. Because a student and worked washing dishes at Reimer's house. During the long vacation time would go to Pinyudo and back. A very difficult and terrible journey: elephants, buffalos and floods. When I reached second grade was caught by a common disease. During the long vacation was caught in the water. This angered relatives who said don’t go back to school any more. Agwa came back. By that time my brother was having ameba so did not want me to go back.

Completed 1 – 4th grade. When finished 4th grade among 5 students I was the one who was accepted to go on to 5th grade. The rest failed. Because of that Evangelist and missionary, they met to decide to send Agwa to Dembi Dolo or have a class for him there. Missionary decided that he was to wait for those in third grade to catch him, so he spent one year out. Then I repeated 4th grade and the next year they opened 5th grade in Pokwo. 6 months only. During April they sent us to teach in the village. When returned from the villages they decided if I would go to the villages to teach for one year to get money to go to Dembi Dolo. My brother refused so not to make a confusion. He was trying to send me to Gambela and let me live with someone there. At last the missionary sent me to Dembi for 5th grade. Finished 5th there. Next year opened 6th grade in Pokwo. Took it in Pokwo.

In 6th grade there are national exams. When I took exam, I stood first in the national exams in Illubabor province. The government wanted to take me and send me to Gore so I could go on to school with government scholarship. (When in 4th grade a Negro man came who was the head of the church in NY. He sent me a scholarship so that I could continue my education. Knowing that, I was out for one year. At this time there was some confusion between missionaries. Before were sending the first and second boy to Dembi. They sent me to Dembi with the scholarship from the Negro man. I worked for $1.50 a week after classes chopping wood. I completed 7thgrade there, earned my money by working. For 8th grade in Dembi they gave me full scholarship. Completed 8th grade and passed all national exams.

Then told to look after own way. Either go back to teach or look for own way. Went to teach for one-year 1970. When taught was getting a salary of $96. A month. Difficult to save money because brothers and sister and relatives were there. At this time there were students from Ethiopia who joined refugees’ program. At that time, I was confused and was planning to join Anyanya liberation. The students from the Ethiopian side wrote a letter to me not to join and I refused their ideas not to join at first. When I was about to go and join, Joseph OTEO came to me and told me not to go. (He was the head of all soldiers in South Sudan) 1971, September 2: Came to Addis and joined UN program. (Though I had no desire to join it.) This year completing 10th grade in Addis.

When I have completed 10th grade, I will be going back to teach I Gilo River. It is better to teach and spend the time well than to go to school and be on strike all year. Though the people of Pokwo wanted Agwa to come and teach there, he decided to go to Gilo River because another man was prevented from going to Gilo because of a revenge. Therefore, this man will stay in Pokwo and Agwa will go to Gilo. I will be a supervisor for the teachers and the students. Will be teaching in 3rd grade al subjects, will have perhaps 40 students. My first plan was to complete my education when I was very young so that I can go back and work with my people can be a king in his own village if he goes back there and says he will accept it. But then the people will fear me. Perhaps when I become 40 or 50 years old, I will become a king. But not now. They would not let me be with the young boys but with the old men only.


Addis Ababa - June 9, 1973

Informant: Agwa Alemo

  1. Why is the song leader saying he is always poor?

Response: It is not the case of land. It is always a case of a wife. Though he has land or a home, without a wife, people consider him as a poor man. Song leaders often times do not have wives. To have a wife in our area, you must have sisters, then though your father is dead will not have any difficulty at all. If the father is alive and you are all boys your father can try his best to remember the money borrowed from him before saying this man has borrowed demoui from me, you will go and collect it. He can get money for his song to get married. Father had the son can agree and go to the forest, kill an elephant and sell it. If you have a father can work together and cooperate and get money for your wife. Sometimes the father will remain home to wait for the girl’s parents to come and talk to him and will send the son away to look for money. When the parents of the girl come, he will tell them that we are still looking for the money and when we get it, we will pay. If a boy doesn’t have father, all the problems will be on him and there will be no way to look for money. You need someone to protect you from all these problems.

  1. Causes of fighting in and between villages.

Response: In each village there will be a group of people who are known as fighters. In that village there will be warriors. If one man is beaten from that village without reason, they will beat somebody also instead of the man who was beaten. If that village saw the group of people from the other village, they will beat them and war will break out. Conflict starts when they are drinking. Mostly war breaks out because of the girls or revenge or adultery.

  1. Does the song maker make a song for someone else to beg the chief?

Response: No, they make the songs for themselves only. In Dudbul song not only the owner of the song will get a price but one who sings the song well will get something from the people. When he makes a song, it takes him a long time to correct it in his mind. Several months or a year. Will correct it by and for himself. When he has it clear he will teach it to his best friend. When his friend knows it, they will go into the village asking the people are you named by this animal only or is there another one you would rather be named after. Correcting it in that way. Will correct and think it over what form can we put in this person with his animal. When they sing it correctly then they will make it public and then teach it to the people. If short will take 2-4 days and if it is long perhaps a week and a half for them to learn. After people have learned it, they will call for the big dancing to try it to see if it fits in the dancing and with the drum. If not correct with the drumming they will fix the part with the people together. If the words do not fit, if your name is named in the song it is up to you to give the singer something.

  1. Role of Anyanya.

Response: Used to take things by force

  1. Begging Jesus.

Response: Fits right into the culture. Take Jesus as above the chief. When some people go for hunting, they will get an ivory and will praise God and say God gave me this because he knows that I am poor. All people will say, Oh, that man was helped by God. Whoever he goes people will congratulate him by what he is given by God because he knows that you are poor.

  1. Give chicken recently.

Response: Before our people were confused between God who blesses and god who curses. When a mistake is done to them, sometimes they abuse God who blesses or the god who curses. They will say, "If I had been created by a God who blesses, why did he do this to me?" For that reason, they will insult. Pray to Satan saying don’t lead me to death. They don’t know about the different kind of diseases when a person is shaken by fever or malaria, they will think that he is being shaken by Satan for that reason, they will take a chicken or goat, bleed the blood, and thereby chase the devil away. Means when God who cursed (in the song) goes outside he will be longing for a goat or a chicken to be given to him. (still a mix-up among many even Christians) (confusion caused by false doctors, even among Christians)

  1. Praising.

Response: When a person is mentioned in a song, the object is to make the person pleased. When they sing Agwaga song for the king or the chief, the idea is to please them. In Agwaga songs, when there is a person known in the war his name will be mentioned. They will mention his name; this is the man who did this to defeat the people. In Agwaga songs, the actual names of the people are mentioned but never in Dudbul. Their name may be mentioned once and then their names are praised after their animals.

  1. Formal speech; Speaking style

Response: If you were having conversation would you speak in this way. No. If I am speaking to a friend, I would not talk in this way. If I’m speaking to a chief or a king, I would use this kind of speech. A kind of polite form. Would speak this way to a chief. When we are singing a song for Jesus we sing in this way. Use the extension words when speaking to a king but not to a friend. This is formal speech. Normally sentences we use would be shorter. Mostly this kind of pattern is used for singing only though there are few people who use it for speech. Usually older people. Will use it when someone dies, old ladies will cry in this form. Also, a song sung for a chief, the one who is going to beg something from the chief will use it in this form. The extension words like ya and yo are used like rhyme. There is some rhyming. The leader will sometimes repeat the first line so the people get it and sing it clearly. He can repeat any line he wants to, he won’t jump back and forth but will repeat the line he is on or else will go back to the beginning. (In Agwagas, war songs they may repeat back to where the king is mentioned, an important part and they will start again from there rather than from the beginning.