Life or death: the high price of dowries in South Sudan's cattle camps

The Dinka Gok people live in close proximity to their cattle, which is their livelihood and source of wealth. (Matthew Abbott)

Cattle raids and the cycle of revenge attacks have claimed thousands of lives in Lakes state since South Sudan's independence in 2011. Cattle are the main source of wealth and pride in Lakes clans, playing a vital role in marriage arrangements. As wedding dowries increase, clans are forced to steal each others' livestock, and if necessary, kill whoever stands in their way.

Photographer: Matthew Abbott
Multimedia producer: Lin Taylor

Photographer Matthew Abbott spent a week with a Dinka Gok clan in Cueibet County, South Sudan. Abbott first heard about the tribe through his flatmate Abraham who lived with him in Juba. 

Abraham, 27, was raised on a Dinka Gok cattle farm, but left that life behind to work as a security guard in the city. 
With his interest piqued, Abbott hopped on a motorbike to visit the Dinka Gok village where Abraham grew up. 
"We made the journey to his village where he was from, which was a motorbike trip. We had a driver, myself and Abraham and all our bags and cameras. It was quite an adventure – a grueling five hour trip out to the bush," Abbott said.

"Abraham hadn't been back there for nearly four years, so he was really happy to be back and seeing a lot of people that he recognised."

Although there was ongoing unrest and fighting between cattle camps, Abraham assured Abott that his tribe would make the visit as safe as possible.

"We talked about how dangerous it was entering these areas that have constant fighting. But Abraham assured me that he could take me to his particular tribe, and because I was with him, I would be really safe," he told SBS. "Safe in a sense that they would look after me. But of course, there were no assurances that we wouldn't be attacked.

"Only two weeks earlier, there were ten people killed from his tribe. So the chance of attack was definitely a possibility. But once we arrived, it was really great to meet his family. They were very welcoming and happy for me to photograph them."









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