Introduction / History
The Shilluk's traditional homeland is in South Sudan, in the Upper Nile Province and also extending on the west bank of the Nile along the Sobat River. They believe they probably originated in Uganda and their ancestors were led out by Nyikang after he had a disagreement with his older brother. On their migration people from other tribes joined them, or were subdued by them, including the Dinka, Luwo, Funj, Western Equatorians, and Arabs. Nyikang is believed to have been given special gifts by Jwok (God) and as the patriarch of the tribe has become the Shilluk national hero.
The Shilluk have a sophisticated hierarchical ruling structure. They are the only tribe in the country still to have a kingdom and a king. The King is the ultimate authority; the kingdom is divided into areas overseen by Chiefs, and each village is also overseen by a sub-chief and elders. This hierarchical structure is reflected in the manner in which the Shilluk approach God. Rather than approach him directly, they believe their dead people can act as mediators; mediation through a dead king will have more influence than approaching through a dead chief. Their main religion is still their traditional belief system, but more Shilluk are becoming open to Christianity. Very few are known to have converted to Islam.
The Shilluk are pastoralists first and foremost, keeping cattle, goats and sheep. But they are settlers and so also farm to supplement their livelihood. The possession of cattle is an important status symbol and a necessary means of providing income through bartering, and of participating fully in the culture. For example, traditionally it was impossible for a man to marry without first having acquired sufficient cows and goats to pay the bride price. Young men work hard to build up their cattle stocks. Shilluk are a proud and self-sufficient people and the older people regard their traditions and language highly.
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