South Sudan is an ethnically diverse state, with over 60 unique ethnic groups living under the same flag. Each tribe has a unique set of dances and songs which many refugees try to keep alive despite displacement resulting from years of conflict.
Most of the country is made up of Christians, though African tribal practices play a large role in religious life of many South Sudanese.
Wrestling is a very popular tradition in South Sudan, with wrestling events routinely attracting people from neighboring villages to watch. A unique feature of this kind of wrestling is that pushing or shoving is forbidden – participants can only win by knocking their opponent’s feet off the ground. After wrestling has ended, the participants and spectators come together to dance.
The First Sudanese Civil War (1955–1972) resulted in the formation of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region within Sudan. When the Sudanese government revoked the region’s autonomy in 1983 and declared the entirety of Sudan to be an Islamic state, the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005) began.
This conflict resulted in the deaths of one to two million people and forced four million people to flee their homes. One of these people was John Dau, who spent five years as one of South Sudan’s 27,000 “Lost Boys” – children and adolescents of all ages who were forced to make several harrowing refugee journeys by foot across over a thousand miles in search of safety and the very right to live.
Despite these troubles, the people of South Sudan have maintained the indomitable spirit of resilience for which they are well known.
The peace agreement which ended the Second Sudanese Civil War set up the framework for a future referendum among South Sudan’s population on independence. The referendum took place in January 2011, and an astounding 98.83 percent of the population voted to form a new country.
South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011 – an event which brought jubilation to the country. South Sudan would now be in command of its own destiny – not the Sudanese authorities in Khartoum. A new government was formed in the capital city of Juba – a city of 300,000 to 400,000 – located in the southern part of the fledgling state.
Sadly, independence did not bring the peace or stability the people of South Sudan had hoped for. Civil war broke out in December 2013, resulting in the displacement of nearly two million South Sudanese. Nevertheless, the hard work of rebuilding continues and the hope of a brighter future has never waned.