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‘The dead are just to drink from’: recycling ideas of revenge among the western Dinka, South Sudan

  • Naomi R. Pendle

Governments in South Sudan have long built their authority on their ability to fashion changing regimes of revenge and compensation, war and peace. Governments’ capture of these regimes has resulted in the secularization of compensation despite the ongoing spiritual consequences of lethal violence. This article explores these issues by focusing on the western Dinka of Greater Gogrial. In recent years, they have been closely linked to the highest levels of government through familial networks and comradeship. Violent revenge among the western Dinka is best understood not as revealing the absence of institutions of government, but as a consequence of the projection of government power over the details of local, normative codes and sanctions. In this age of post-state violence with automatic weapons, oil-wealthy elites and ambiguous rights, government authority and intention have often been erratic. As government authority now backs up these regimes of compensation and revenge, governments’ shifting nature has reshaped their meaning. In the last decade, the declining political space for peace and the disruption of the cattle economy has undermined the current value of compensation and its ability to appease the spiritual and moral demands for revenge. It has even distorted regimes to the extent that children become legitimate targets for revenge. The article is informed by archival sources and based on ethnographic research among the western Dinka (South Sudan) between 2010 and 2013, and further research in South Sudan until 2015.

Au Soudan du Sud, les gouvernements assoient depuis longtemps leur autorité sur leur capacité à façonner des régimes changeants de revanche et de compensation, de guerre et de paix. En s'emparant de ces régimes, les gouvernements ont entraîné la sécularisation de la compensation malgré les conséquences spirituelles continues de la violence meurtrière. Cet article explore ces questions en se concentrant sur les Dinka occidentaux du Greater Gogrial. Ces dernières années, ils sont étroitement liés aux plus niveaux de l’État à travers des réseaux familiaux et des liens de camaraderie. Le meilleur moyen de comprendre la violence des revanches chez les Dinka occidentaux est non pas comme révélatrice de l'absence d'organes gouvernementaux, mais comme une conséquence de la projection du pouvoir de l’État sur les détails des codes locaux et normatifs et des sanctions. En cette période de violence post-étatique caractérisée par des armes automatiques, des élites qui se sont enrichies avec le pétrole et des droits ambigus, l'autorité et l'intention du gouvernement ont souvent été inconstantes. L'autorité du gouvernement soutenant désormais ces régimes de compensation et de revanche, la nature changeante des gouvernements a refaçonné leur sens. Au cours des dix dernières années, le déclin de l'espace politique pour la paix et la perturbation de l’économie du bétail ont sapé la valeur actuelle de compensation et sa capacité à apaiser les demandes spirituelles et morales de revanche. Les régimes s'en trouvent déformés au point de faire des enfants des cibles de revanche légitimes. L'article s'appuie sur des sources archivistiques et sur des recherches ethnographiques menées auprès des Dinka occidentaux (Soudan du Sud) entre 2010 et 2013, et d'autres travaux de recherche effectués au Soudan du Sud jusqu'en 2015.

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