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Lopit people

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Title: Lopit people  
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Subject: Eastern Equatoria, Tennet people
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Lopit people

The Lopit people are an ethnic group found in Eastern Equatoria State, South Sudan.[1] Traditionally, they refer to themselves as donge (plural) or dongioni (singular). The Lopit number 80,000 to 100,000 people[2] living in the Lopit area, in the Lopit mountains which extend from the east to the north of Torit.

The Lopit area borders Pari to the north, Bari to north west, Lokoya and Otuho to the west, Otuho and Dongotono to the south, and Toposa and Boya to the east.[3] Lopit comprises 55-57 villages. Imehejek is the headquarters of Lopa county and is located in the Lopit area. There are four payams (administrative areas)[4] in the Lopit area: Imehejek (eastern / centre), Lohutok (south), Harihilo (north), and Longiro (western / centre).


Main article: Lopit language

The Lopit people speak the Lopit language, a Nilotic language which has six different dialects: Ngabori, Dorik, Ngotira, Omiaha, Lohutok, and Lolongo. The Tennet people also live amongst the Lopit, and speak the Tennet language as well as Lopit (Dorik and Ngabori dialects).


The Lopit came to Southern Sudan from East Africa, probably late migrants from Lake Turkana.

Culture and tradition

Music and dance

Music and dancing are central to Lopit culture. There are different dances for different occasions. Each dance has specific costumes, music, ad time allocations associated with it. Drums are an important part of the dances.[5] Some main dances are:

  • Bura[6] - When someone passes away, the dancing happens for 24 hours, beginning with the women.
  • Ikanga[7] - A dance performed at the end of the harvest.
  • Rongit - A celebratory dance performed on different occasions, by the ruling age set and the upcoming ruling age set. This is also part of a training process for the upcoming group.
  • Hitobok - Performed when preparing for a war or fighting.
  • The Miliang and Hatar dances.
  • Lam[8] - Performed once a year around May, after a hunt that begins and night-time and ends the next morning. The hunt itself is a race between individual hunters, all of the kill is presented to the king.

Social structure

Ruling age set

The monyomiji are the authorities and representatives of each village, and the most powerful people in the village. They make the important decisions about war, festivals, cultivation, and initiations.[9][10] They are respected and obeyed, but are obliged to serve the community and previous generation of monyomiji. If they are seen to be making bad decisions or not following the rules, then this older generation of monyomiji may suspend them.

A great ceremony is held when the new generation of monyomiji takes over from the previous ruling age set. This transfer of power happens at regular intervals, ranging from 12-22 years depending on the location,[11] unless there are exceptional circumstances.[12]

When this happens, they are sometimes sent away from the village and expected to return with a valuable item to express their apology.

In central and Northern Lopit (Ngotira, Dorik, Ngabori, Tennet), a new set of monyomiji is initiated every 12 years. There are two names which are alternatively used for this group: ngalam and lefirat.

In Southern Lopit, (Lomiaha, Lohutok, Lolongo, and 1 village from Ngotira), a new set of monyomiji is initiated every 22 years. The same name is used for each new set: hifira.[13]


From the age of 10-11, young girls begin preparing for initiation into girlhood. They begin to form associations amongst themselves, numbering from 3 up to 10-15. The groups of girls need to find a sleeping space to share in the house of an older woman. This older woman may be one of the girls' grandmothers, or a woman that is approached by a pair from the group who seek permission to stay in her house.[14]

This time is for the girls to gain experience and knowledge of their expected duties as hodwo (adolescent girls). Each day they get up early (around 4am) to start grinding sorghum and other grains for their families.[15] The old woman becomes a mentor to the girls, sharing advice with them in the mornings, as well as stories at night.[14]

The formal initiation into hodwo takes place around the age of 14. An individual girl might be selected by the monyomiji for initiation, or a whole group might be initiated at the same time as the initiation of the new ruling age set (monyomiji).

Girls' duties as hodwo include:[16]

  • Being present when the monyomiji are dancing. (being absent for this occasion is severely punished[17])
  • Clearing sticks and weeds from the monyomiji farm. (mana na gula / mana na habu)
  • For new farms, clearing the land.
  • Providing water to the monyemiji who work the farm.
  • Preparing hanyima (peanut butter)[16] in a calabash for the Ikanga festival, as well as an edible oil made from a native fruit.
  • Run errands for the monyomiji together with the dure horwong / inyarhalu (young boys), such as collecting bamboo from the mountain (nyarat), particularly in Lomiaha.


Girls usually remain hodwo until they are married and have children. At this stage, they become ngorwo (women).[18] Unmarried women may choose to join this group, or remain a hodwo for two more years.

Once girls have joined the ngorwo, they are the youngest set of women. It will be 30 years before they are initiated to the next set.

Produce and economy

The Lopit live in a hilly and fertile environment and are agro-pastorialists, practising traditional agriculture as well as livestock rearing. These socio-economic occupations are carried out both on the mountain slopes and in the plains.[1]

The main crops are sorghum, bulrush, millet, pumpkin, ground nuts, simsim, okra, syam, cassava, sweet potato, maize and mango.[19][20] They also harvest forest products, bamboo roots, coconuts, honey, shea nuts (pressed to make oil), figs, and many other sorts.[21]


The Lopit, like other groups in the area, practise extensive hunting. They hunt during the dry season,[4] after the harvest (January – April) has ended.[7] This time is for group hunting, when groups of up to 2,000 men team up to hunt game. Neighbouring villages team up to hunt in the land of the village that has called for the hunt.[22] The call is put out four weeks in advance.

The groups split into two parts that proceed in different directions, and then the heads come together and regroup to cover a large area. The first animal killed in the hunt is given to the king of the land. When the meat is being divided up, elderly people have the first choice.[23]

Some parts of the animal cannot be eaten freely. The internal organs (except for the lungs) can only be eaten by the older men and women, whilst young people cannot eat any part of the head or lower legs of an animal.

Buffalo, elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, gazelle, ostrich and antelope are usually hunted. Special hunts are organised for lions and leopards if they have killed livestock.[24]

Fishing is practised from August to April, in swampy areas and lakes.[25]



  • Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart

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