Conceptions of Death Across Nilotic Traditions

The Nilotic people are indigenous to the Nile Valley and speak Nilotic languages, inhabiting a geographic range of South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and northern Tanzania. As was the case with Bantu people, different Nilotic groups have their own traditions regarding the concept of death:

Naiteru-Kop and the Moon (Maasai – Kenya and Tanzania)

Though it varies by specific myth, Naiteru-Kop takes the role of a minor god who gifted cattle to the Maasai people or the role of an intermediary between mankind and the supreme being En-Kai in Maasai tradition. In one story, Naiteru-Kop tells a man named Le-Eyo that if a child died, Le-Eyo should say ‘child stay, moon go away’. However, since the next child who died was not his own, Le-Eyo instead said ‘child go away, moon stay’. When one of his children did die, Le-Eyo tried the initial phrase, but it was too late. For this reason, man is mortal but the moon returns every night.

Ajok and the Final Resurrection (Lutoko – South Sudan)

The chief god of the Lutoko people, Ajok, created all of humanity. He also brought humans back to life after they died. One day, a woman pleaded Ajok to bring her son back to life. Being benevolent in nature, Ajok complied. However, when the woman’s husband came home, he was angry at his wife for begging and killed the child again. Angry and disappointed in his creation, Ajok vowed to never bring another human back to life again, making death a permanent condition.  

Nhialic Severs Heaven from Earth (Dinka – South Sudan)

The supreme being Nhialic (which means ‘sky’) was once conjoined with the earth, connected by a rope. The first man and woman were granted one grain of millet each per day, and were forbidden to grow more. However, one day, the woman became greedy and planted extra millet. While cultivating it, she struck Nhialic with her tools, offending him and forcing him to his current location in the sky. Nhialic subsequently severed the rope, and left mankind to suffer sickness and death on the earth.  

By Tre Hunt

(Image: Wikimedia)

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