Published: July 6th 2008July 2nd 2008
El nino detras de la cerca
Nuestro vecino. Me preocupa. Siempre tiene mucus en la cara.
The following dialogue finished only five minutes ago. While working in my ‘office’ (CARE’s dining room in Pagak), Duony enters the room. He looks at me serious and asks the dreadful question…
‘So, Mario, do you have wife in your country?’
Duony smiles like somebody that just won the lottery. ‘I have Nuer girl for you. It will only cost you 30 cows…’
‘Or the equivalent in dollars, no problem…’
Wiping the (virtual) tears of laughter from my eyes, I thank Duony for the offer…
‘Seriously’, he adds, ‘Nuer women are good. They faithful, work, clean the house, take care of children, you just have to relax…’
‘So, they do everything?’
‘Well, no’, he replies, ‘we men have all responsibilities’. If your father in law sees that you really love the girl, and will take care of her, they will reduce the ‘duat’ (payment), probably to 10 or 15 cows’.
‘Sounds like a good deal, Duony’.
Nuer men tend to get marry in their early twenties these days. Women are ‘valued’ in cows, and this is actually an indicative of their importance in Nuer society; because, for the Nuers, the
value of a man is determined in how many cows he has, or how many is able to pay for his wife.
Duony has ‘only’ one wife, and three kids. He comes from ‘the city’ (Malakal, the capital of the Upper Nile State), and most Nuers that are from cities have ‘only’ one wife.
He was able to reach quite a deal with his father in law: they settled the duat in… 15 cows!! Eight cows before marriage, and eight more payable later (including one extra cow at a 7% interest rate, of course!!).
Duony has been married a little over four years, and has not paid his father in law the remaining cows. He keeps moving from town in town with his family.
‘But man, aren’t you worried that your father in law calls his daughter back home?’ (a common use when the payment is not fulfilled…)
Duony gives me smile #45. ‘That is why you have kids!’ he says…’you think father in law is going to feed his daughter and the three kids??? There’s no way’.
He then turns serious. ‘But it is important you get married, so you have children, and
Duony-George, a.k.a Boy George!!
El protagonista de esta historia
that way your name will be remembered’.
In fact, Nuer names have two minimum components: the first name of the person, and the first name of his or her father, which works as last name. Some old Nuers still use up to ten names, being able to track the name of their tataratataragrandgrandfather, or whatever you called your ancestor born a few hundred years ago. As a legacy of missionaries in the area, all Nuers have also Western names: thus, Duony is also George.
So, Duony-George (from now on, Boy-George) left the room a moment later, after I told him that I will probably marry back home in the future. Hope he didn’t take it badly, since he is the one that has to guide me through Upper Nile in the following weeks.
What I did not tell Boy-George is that I do know that the ‘market rate’ for a wife in Upper Nile is twenty cows, negotiable. I still wonder if he didn’t just say thirty to see if he could get me to pay for the cows he still owes his father in law. But well, that is just Mario the Economist speaking…
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