Malakal town celebrates cultural diversity
The sound of drums filled the air as performers whirled across the dance floor in a riot of colour, dance and songs in celebration of their tribal diversity.
It was the first cultural day to be commemorated in Malakal town since the civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013.
Performance groups representing nine different tribes came out to showcase their traditional dances and regalia in a celebration of their diversity.
One by one, they graced the dance floor with the music and movement prompting many of the thousands of people present to join them in dance and song – putting aside their differences for the day.
South Sudan has about sixty-four tribes represented across the country.
Because of the ethnic dimension to the civil war and ongoing violence, unity has proved elusive.
The cultural event reflected the gradual improvement in the relationships between people of differing tribal backgrounds and political affiliations in Malakal. In the past, many internally displaced people who have sought sanctuary in the UN Protection of Civilian site have not felt safe enough to travel into the town. However, many chose to make that journey to participate in the cultural event.
The Chief of Civil Affairs for the United Nations Mission in South Sudan Upper Nile Field Office, Anthony Agyenta, said this was an important step forward.
“We are very touched by the fact that our brothers and sisters from the POC have felt comfortable to come and dance their hearts out here,” he said.
Indicating his desire to make progress towards peace and unity, the Governor, James Tor Munybuny, asked individuals from each tribe represented to come to the front and hold hands as a sign of peace.
“I do believe that with the dancing and with the joy that has taken place here, showing our togetherness, appreciating our diversity as the people of this great nation, I have no doubt that we have begun a new path towards achieving peace,” he said.
Malakal, which is the second largest town after the South Sudanese capital Juba, is located in the volatile Upper Nile region that borders Sudan. The town was one of the most devastated during the civil war and is only now returning to a sense of normalcy. Because of its size and location, the residents of Malakal represent several tribes and nationalities – with some even coming from Sudan and Darfur to carry out business activities.
“We want to see this cultural day replicated in every corner of Upper Nile. The old men, the young men, everyone was dancing. And the different cultures represented here today all speak one language – that they are one and that they belong to the same country,” Mr. Agyenta said. “People of South Sudan, residents of Upper Nile, peace is not far off, peace is here. All you need to do is take it and embrace it.”
The cultural day in Malakal is one of a number of activities the UNMISS Upper Nile Field Office is undertaking to promote social cohesion and reconciliation as part of building durable peace in South Sudan.