One of the most unbelievable places I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit, these cattle camps are some of the last of their kind in the world. These pastoral camps, called Cattle Camps are guarded by cattle keepers. Although simple at first glance, these complex places are remnants of centuries old tradition of cattle trading, ownership and theft.
This boy must’ve been not older than 12 or 13 years old. A protector of the camp, he carries a Russian Kalashnikov rifle, which is common in this area. During the years I’ve spent in South Sudan, it became known that the SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberation Army) cyclically controlled the flow of weapons in the area, supplying them to civilians, and removing them again to turn a profit.
A typical scene just before dawn breaks at a cattle camp. A 4’ x 6’ version of this photo was sold at an auction in 2015 for the Obakki Foundation.
“…Hold up hold up”
The translator speaks.
”He wants to take the safety off for the photo.”
A cattle keeper begins herding cattle as the sun rises. A cloud of dust rises as the relatively still cattle begin to murmur, disrupting the dried dung on their backs. In a flash, they’re gone.
The Ankhole-Watusi cattle have massive horns which are used to dispel heat during days with impossibly high temperatures, but also used to ward off predators.
To western civilizations symmetry has been instilled in us as something that’s photogenic. We’re obsessed with this notion of perfection - in fact, a lot of my photographs are symmetrical. In South Sudan, the cows with the most asymmetrical horns are the most prized.
This is the first shot I took of a cattle camp in 2012.
A young cattle keeper hides behinds a sheet with his brother.
Even though these children live in rough conditions and carry assault weapons, they’re still kids at heart. Three of them fight for a spot on camera. They always want to see themselves on a screen, often accompanying a laugh or a comment in dinka.
One of the first things I noticed when visiting South Sudan is how wonderful the people are. They’re incredibly warm once you crack their shell - and the best thing is no matter what the circumstance, a smile can usually do the trick.
Cow urine is used to dye the cattle keeper’s hair. He also sports the tradition of facial scarring which is now becoming uncommon in Dinka and Nuer tribes. During this process, a razor is used to cut lines of the appropriate tribe on their faces for recognition and to show that they’ve become an adult.
This is the dust from burned cow dung. The cattle keepers burn these fires all day to create ashes which are spread on their skin and the cow’s hide to protect it from mosquitoes.