|Thilɛ dit tuɔ̱ŋ. (Nuer)
Hakuna pembe kubwa, zote ni pembe. (Swahili)
Il n’y a pas une grande corne, elles les sont toutes. (French)
There are not big horns, they are all horns. (English)
Background, Meaning And Everyday Use
The Nuer people are a Nilotic ethnic group primarily inhabiting the Nile Valley. They are concentrated in South Sudan, and some in southwestern Ethiopia. They speak Nuer, which is an Eastern Sudanic language of the Nilo-Saharan language family. The Nuer refer to themselves as Naadh/Naath, meaning “human beings.” The Nuer language is similar to that of the neighboring Dinka and Atuot. They border other ethnic groups namely the Dinka, Anyuak, Atwot and Shilluk.
They occupy mainly the Jonglei State, north of Jonglei–Pibor, Unity State, south of Bentin town; Upper Nile State, Baliet, Ulang, and Lukapin/Nasir counties; the border areas in Lakes, Warab, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal states. The Nuer territory lies approximately 500 miles (800 kilometers) south of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. It has been suggested that the Nuer, along with other Nilotic groups, settled in the region around the 14th century. While there they acquired techniques for animal domestication. When other groups migrated southward in search of more elevated terrain to avoid floods, the Nuer stayed where they were in the swampy areas because of the grazing lands. Oral traditions indicate that the Nuer moved east of the Nile River during the last 200 years. They began an especially active migration about the mid 1800s.
The Nuer myth of origin states that they believed in the coming of God through rain, lightning and thunder, and that the rainbow is the necklace of God. The sun and the moon as well as other material entities are also manifestations or signs of God, who after all is a spirit.
Cattle play an important role in rituals. Nuer institutions, customs, and social behavior are directly related to cattle. They are always talking about their animals, and cattle are involved in their folklore, marriage practices, religious ceremonies, and relations with neighbors. Cattle are the Nuer’s most cherished possession, an essential food supply as well as the most important social asset. Cattle represent the Nuer’s social, cultural, and economic security. Almost every Nuer cultural practice and social activity relates to livestock. Their movement is dictated by tot and mai, the two seasons, which are characterized by rain and drought, respectively. The grazing plains of the Upper Nile have been a major cause of conflict between the Nuer, the Dinka and other different sub-groups of Nuer. The conflict has been based on a cycle of war and reconciliation because of cattle rustling or theft.
Culture dictates that after the male initiation ceremony, a young man takes on the full privileges and obligations of manhood in work, war and play. Courtship and cattle become a young man’s major interests. When a Nuer man is ready to marry, he identifies his intended bride. Once the family has reached an agreement, the elders visit the woman’s family to announce their intention and discuss the number of cattle to be paid in bridewealth. The marriage is brought about by the payment of cattle, and every phase of the ritual is marked by the transfer or slaughter of cattle.
Proverbs, wise sayings, folklore and songs convey important messages and are often used when members of the community settle disputes, receive advice, and in different events such as wedding ceremonies, mourning the death of their love ones and during naming ceremonies.
Equality, inclusiveness and fairness are important values which the Nuer embrace in their community. All cows are of equal value among the Nuer, whether they have big or small horns. As a result of this viewpoint, the community created this proverb. Whether they are the Dinka cows they may have raided, or their own Nuer cows, they value them all. Naturally a cow with big horns is viewed as being strong and tough, and one with small horns as being weak. But the Nuer value all cows regardless of the sizes of their horns. Horns are horns.
This proverb teaches us not to discriminate or judge anyone or anything from its appearance. The abilities of a person may not be judged by physical appearance or status. The value of a person should be judged by their character, attitude, and behavior. Everyone should be treated fairly and given equal consideration in the community, regardless of their status, age, ethnicity, race, abilities or other factors. Every person has equal value in the community.
Acts 10:34: “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”
1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Romans 12:6-8: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Contemporary Use And Religious Application
Women and men alike should enjoy the same status and conditions. They should have equal opportunity to realize their potential to contribute to the political, economic, social and cultural development of their communities. They should benefit equally from the results of such developments.
Over time, Christianity has progressively succeeded in promoting every individual in our churches. We should value and respect the individual as a unique person who has the right of choice and control over their needs, wishes and preferences regardless of age, gender, faith, race or ethnicity. In a community we should recognize, promote and value diversity including differences in culture, beliefs, relationships and gender. Policies that promote equality, inclusiveness, and fairness can help boost social cohesion and reduce conflict.
In the world today, equality is viewed as a worthy goal because of its moral implications and its link with fairness, social justice and human rights. We are challenged to promote equality among the different ethnic groups in South Sudan especially in relation to the present political situation.
We should be sensitive to, and supportive of, causes such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) that is an organized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality against African American people. A Global Network builds power to bring justice, healing, and freedom to Black people across the globe.
NOTE: This proverb is No. 87 in A Collection of 100 Nuer Proverbs by Margaret Wambere in collaboration with the African Proverbs Working Group, Nairobi, Kenya.
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Bcz Mabuto, Ed.
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