Toposa Tribe is one of the most indegenous tribal group in South Sudan, living in Kapoeta region in the Eastern Equatorial State. Toposa tribe has traditionally lived by small scale farming of maize and millet, herding cattle, sheep and goats and very also practice trade with neighboring communities. They have a tradition of constant low-level warfare, usually cattle raids, against their neighbors. The Toposa way of life is slowly being modernized and traditional social organization is unfortunately starting to disappear.
The Toposa Tribe belong to the called the “Karamojong cluster”, which includes the Karamojong people of North Eastern Uganda, Jiye people also known as Jie in south eastern South Sudan and south western Ethiopia and Uganda’s North East, and the Turkana people of Northern Kenya.
However Toposa Tribe of South Sudan say that they originated in the Zulia Mountains in Uganda’s Kidepo Valley National Park between 1587- 1623, moving to south Sudan due to severe drought, land conflicts and looking for fresh grass for their animals.
The Toposa culture is centred on songs, dance, music, poems and folklore. Being normadic pastrolists, they have mastered warfare tactics and cattle raiding from neighboring communities.
Toposa people are notorious in collecting information in terms of spying their enemies to obtain accurate information on their movements, amount of animals and plans.
Toposa tribe is famous for its strong social values and traditions that are strictly followed and passed on to the young generations as early as 3 years. Young boys are often seen taking care of large heards of cattle.Boys start by taking care of sheep and goats while on the other hand girls are trained to take care of home, babies and farmlands.
Toposa tribe scars / markings / scarifications aren’t just any scars: They’re an elaborate part of local culture and can mean everything everything from beauty to adulthood or even, in some cases, are simply a mark of belonging to a given clan/ tribe.
Scarification was a sign of strength, courage and bravery. This procedure is incredibly painful and takes long to heal, so going under it without howling was a brave thing, and crying would be embarrassing yourself and your family. The more scars one had the more respected one was in one’s culture.
While scarification is a culturally sanctioned measure to convey messages and signals to indicate cultural identity and to treat certain maladies, community members reluctant to go through and tolerate the painful and traumatic procedure of scarification were often excluded from community life and from important activities, and they were not considered equally ranking members of the collective.
The case of Toposa tribe and Surma tribe in the nearby Omo valley in Ethiopia. Without prior marking or painting of the intended scarification area, a small part of the skin to be treated is upraised by a wooden hook or an edged thorn to subsequently be sliced or removed with a razor blade. This is performed repeatedly for hours, regardless of continuous bleeding, to achieve a pattern of lesions which later will form the adornment.
Coagulated blood is occasionally removed with unsterile water, and the lesions are impregnated with ash and mud. Wound healing is purposely retarded by inserting unsterile materials, among others crocodile dung, into the lesions and by repeated removal of scabs; in fact, inflammatory processes are intended to occur and favour keloid formation for an extended period of time.
Tribal scars are common and may be observed in many tribal groups. In South Sudan, the Dinka and the Nuer as well as some other Nilotic groups are marked with tribal-specific scars on the foreheads and as far as in Uganda’s North.
Photo by Eric Laforge
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