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Shilluk

Shilluk

ETHNONYM: Collo


Orientation

The Shilluk are the most northern Nilotic-speaking people in modern Africa. Shilluk country covers approximately 320 kilometers on the west bank of the White Nile, from 10° to 12° N and from 30° to 33° E. Shilluk oral traditions, however, indicate that at some time in the past their country reached to the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, the site of the modern city of Khartoum. At the time of the last official census (1956), the Shilluk were estimated to number 120,000 individuals. Most of Shilluk country is open savanna and free from the annual floods of the White Nile. The Shilluk language is most closely related to Anuak. Together, the two languages comprise a subfamily of the larger classification of Nilotic, which is spoken by different cultural groups throughout eastern Africa.


History and Cultural Relations

Considerable controversy surrounds the topic of the history and origins of the Shilluk. Indeed, the "origin" and history of all of the Nilotic peoples of the southern Sudan remains an enigma in the field of African prehistory. According to Shilluk oral traditions, the early descendants of these people began to migrate into their present country some three to four hundred years before the present. The quasi-mythical or epic leader of the first settlement is known as Nyikang, an individual with both divine and secular powers. At one time, Nyikang and his brother Gilo had a disagreement, and, as a result, Gilo and his supporters separated to migrate south and east. Like Nyikang for the Shilluk, Gilo is now cited as the culture hero and founder of the Anuak. Anthropologists posit that, before they arrived in their present country, the Shilluk practiced a nomadic form of pastoralism. As they eventually spread out and settled in more permanent communities, a horticultural mode of livelihood eventually replaced their primary dependence on cattle.

Settlements

The distribution of Shilluk communities has been likened to beads on a string, spread out on the banks of the White Nile, the one separated from the next by a distance of from 180 meters to 1.5 kilometers. Settlements range in size from hamlets made up of the mud and thatched-roof huts of a few families to villages of some one hundred families. At roughly the center of Shilluk country is the village of Pachoda, the residence of each succeeding Shilluk "king" (see "Sociopolitical Organization"). Population densities in Shilluk country exceed all others among the Nilotic-speaking peoples of the southern Sudan. Each hamlet is formed around a cluster of patrilineal kin who claim membership in a common clan. Individual clans are dispersed widely throughout Shilluk country. Postmarital residence is patrilocal, and each homestead within a hamlet consists of a hut for each adult man as well as a separate dwelling for each of his wives.

Economy

The Shilluk keep small herds of cattle, in addition to larger flocks of sheep and goats. Cattle are normally used for food only in the context of ritual and ceremonial occasions. In the evening, the cattle are tethered around dung fires in an effort to lessen the adverse effects of biting flies and insects. Shilluk aggressively and successfully exploit the rich resources of the White Nile and regularly catch many species of fish with fishing nets and spears. They also hunt hippopotamuses. Less frequently, small hunting parties are organized to pursue antelope, buffalo, and giraffes. Hamlets are surrounded by gardens of millet, maize, and sesame, as well as other species introduced during the twentieth century. The Shilluk also cultivate tobacco for personal use and for sale. Herding, hunting, and spearfishing are primarily male activities; women traditionally have manufactured cooking utensils, cultivated gardens, and prepared food.


Kinship

The Shilluk are divided into some one hundred patrilineal and exogamous clans. Clans are not localized and have no specific territorial referents. Instead, clans are scattered widely through different hamlets. Conversely, the lineages that comprise clans are conceived of as localized groups. As Wall (1976, 155) notes, the family homesteads (gol) or those of individual lineage members are grouped together to form hamlets of agnatically related kin. A hamlet of this type may include as many as fifty homesteads. Ultimately, these scattered hamlets may form a larger settlement with a clearly defined territory. In each hamlet there is an original or "owner" lineage, called a diel. The Shilluk, like the other Nilotic-speaking peoples of southern Sudan, have a system of relationship terminology that is commonly known as "descriptive." Legal marital unions are established by the exchange of bride-wealth cattle, which pass from the agnatic kin of the groom to the adult members of the bride's family. A man is commonly 25 years old before his first marriage, whereas it is customary for a young woman marry before she reaches the end of her teen years. A wedding feast in the bride's father's homestead follows the exchange of bride-wealth cattle. At the end of these festivities, the bride and groom return to establish their own homestead in the hamlet of the groom's father. It is reported that a mock battle is enacted between the groom's and the bride's kin, once the last of the promised bride-wealth cattle are given. The ideal number of bride-wealth cattle should amount to at least ten animals, including cows, oxen, and a bull. In addition, the bride's family expects to receive diek nom, a number of sheep, as well as jam nom, gifts of spears and other goods. The latter gifts belong to the parents of the bride, but the sheep are distributed among the bride's agnatic kin. When a wife is pregnant for the first time, it is customary for her to return to her natal village to give birth.


Sociopolitical Organization

At the hamlet level, the primary political figures of traditional life were settlement "chiefs," who, ideally, were nominated from the diel, or founding lineage. The position of village "chief is subject to the approval of the reth, or "king," of the Shilluk. All Shilluk settlements collectively comprise a dual division of Shillukland, between Luak in the south and Ger in the north. The reth of the Shilluk is a living symbol of the unity of Shilluk history, culture, and polity, and each succeeding reth is thought to be possessed by the spirit of Nyikang, the Shilluk culture hero and first king. Nyikang is intimately associated with the spirit the Shilluk call "Juok," and, in consequence, each reth is though to be an incarnation of the past within the world of the present. Because of this association between a spiritual power and a mortal human being, the Shilluk reth has sometimes been referred to as a "divine king." The selection and the installation of a new reth are woven in a complex web of ritual and symbolism. Modern anthropologists still do not agree on the process through which a reth was selected in precolonial days. It is certain that the final candidate to become a new reth had to be approved by both northern and southern Shilluk. Civil war would erupt unless unanimous agreement was achieved. Evans-Pritchard (1948) suggested that the reth of the Shilluk reigned but did not rule. What he meant was that the reth was the incarnation of a sacred order of an ideal Shilluk society. His "kingly" status derived from sacred authority rather than secular power. The present reth of the Shilluk is the thirty-first in succession since the origin of Shilluk polity. His status and authority have been transformed in the twentieth century, first by British colonial policy in Sudan and second by the strictures created by the independent government of Sudan.

Religion

Shilluk religious concepts are drawn into relief by an emphasis on the creator-god or divinity known as Juok (a common Nilotic term for a spiritual power), the veneration of Nyikang through the persons who become kings, and the recognition of the ways in which the spirits of the deceased can affect those who survive them. Juok is a ubiquitous spirit, a phenomenon manifest in all places and at all times. Juok can be addressed through sacrifice of cattle, goats, and sheep. Juok is also strongly associated in Shilluk thought with the river spirit that first gave birth to Nyikang. Most Western depictions of Shilluk religion have been colored by nineteenth-century visions of "primitive religion." The Shilluk figured prominently in evolutionary schemes put forward to depict the course of religious evolution. Ironically, although the Shilluk have become well known in the anthropological literature, no prolonged research has been carried out by a trained observer in their settlements. Thus, much of what has been written about the Shilluk relies upon data that were collected in an inconsistent manner in the early twentieth century.


Bibliography

Arens, W. (1979). "The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk: A Contemporary Reevaluation." Ethnos 44:167-181.


Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1948). The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Lienhardt, R. G. (1954). "The Shilluk of the Upper Nile." In African Worlds, edited by D. Forde, 138-163. London: Oxford University Press.


Seligman, C. G., and B. Z. Seligman (1932). Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic Sudan. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Wall, L. (1976). "Anuak Politics, Ecology, and the Origins of Shilluk Kingship." Ethnobgy 15:151-162.


Westerman, D. (1912). The Shilluk People. Philadelphia: United Presbyterian Church.

JOHN W. BURTON

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Shilluk

SHILLUK

Non-Muslim Sudanese people.

The Shilluk are a linguistic group belonging to the Western Nilotic subgroup of the Eastern Sudanic branch of the Nilo-Saharan family. They are concentrated along the west bank of the White Nile in southern Sudan. Because Shilluk political organization is centered around the king (reth), the Shilluk have experienced greater unity than other tribes in the region. Enjoying access to good agricultural land along the Nile, the Shilluk are more settled than other tribes and rely more on cultivation and fishing than on cattle raising. The Shilluk numbered about 150,000 persons according to the 1983 census.


Bibliography

Voll, John Obert. Historical Dictionary of the Sudan. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978.

david waldner

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Shilluk

Shillukbetook, book, brook, Brooke, Chinook, chook, Coke, cook, Cooke, crook, forsook, Gluck, hook, look, mistook, nook, partook, rook, schnook, schtuck, Shilluk, shook, Tobruk, took, undercook, undertook •handbook •chapbook, scrapbook •cash book • passbook • sketchbook •chequebook • textbook •daybook, playbook •casebook • phrase book • dybbuk •pocketbook • copybook • storybook •guidebook • logbook • songbook •scorebook • hornbook • sourcebook •notebook • cookbook • yearbook •picture book • wordbook • workbook •caoutchouc • Windhoek • billhook •fishhook • skyhook • buttonhook •tenterhook • wet look • outlook •Inuk • inglenook • Sihanouk •Pembroke • Innsbruck • donnybrook •Uruk • Osnabrück • Beaverbrook •nainsook

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