Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in Africa

The Dinka people of South Sudan are known for being the tallest people in Africa, with men averaging a height of 6 feet (1.83 meters) and women averaging a height of 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 meters). They are a Nilotic ethnic group and one of the largest ethnic groups in South Sudan. The Dinka people have a strong cultural identity and are traditionally cattle herders and farmers. They have a rich oral history and their traditional dances and music are an important part of their culture.

Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in Africa

Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in Africa

The Dinkas are an ethnic group native to South Sudan with a sizable diaspora population abroad.

The Dinkas are known for their staggering height. With the Tutsi of Rwanda, they are believed to be the tallest people in Africa.

Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in Africa

A 1976 study by Roberts and Bainbridge reported the average height of 182.6 cm (5 ft 11.9 in) in a sample of 52 Dinka Agaar and 181.3 cm (5 ft 11.4 in) in 227 Dinka Ruweng measured in 1953–1954. Another survey of Dinka men in refugee camps in Ethiopia, published in 1995 found a mean height of 176.4 cm (5 ft 9.4 in).

However, according to recent studies, it seems the stature of today’s Dinka males is lower, possibly as a consequence of undernutrition and conflicts. Other studies of comparative historical height data and nutrition have placed the Dinkas as the tallest people in the world.

A popular explanation according to some scientists is that the Dinkas eat a calorie-stuffed diet rich in dairy products, grains, and meat.

Some Notable Dinkas

Manute Bol

Manute Bol was a South Sudanese-born American basketball player and political activist. Listed at 7 ft 7 in, Bol was one of the two tallest players in the history of the National Basketball Association.

Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in AfricaManute Bol

Bol Manute Bol

Bol Manute Bol is a South Sudanese-American professional basketball player for the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association and he is the son of Manute bol, one the tallest basketball (NBA) player ever. Bol Bol is 2.18m (7’2 ft).

Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in AfricaBol Manute Bol

Thon maker

Thon maker is an Australian and South Sudanese Profesional basketballer who last played for the Cleveland Cavalier. He stands at 7 feet tall. Both his parents are also both extremely tall; his father stands 6 ft 8 in and his mother stands 6 ft 3 in.

Meet the Dinka People of South Sudan, the Tallest People in AfricaThon Maker

Culture of the Dinkas

The Dinka mainly practice traditional agriculture and pastoralism, relying on cattle husbandry for milk and as a matter of cultural pride.

Their pastoral lifestyle is also reflected in their religious beliefs and practices. Most – especially those in villages – revere one God, Nhialic, who speaks through spirits that take temporary possession of individuals in order to speak through them. The Dinka believe they derive religious power from nature and the world around them, rather than from a religious tome.

The Dinka are a pastoral-agricultural people that make up the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. They vary their lifestyle by season – in the rainy season they live in permanent savannah settlements and raise grain crops like millet, while in the dry season they herd cattle along rivers throughout their region. Their lives are very closely intertwined with those of their cattle – at their coming of age ceremony, young Dinka men are given an ox, and that ox’s name becomes a part of their own name. As it grows, they also shape their ox’s long horns into different forms.

African Tribe: The Dinka People Of Sudan

During South Sudan’s dry season between December and May, members of the Dinka tribe move from the highlands to the lowlands close to the river Nile, where they set up extensive cattle camps, ensuring their animals are close to grazing land.

African Tribe: The Dinka People Of Sudan

Dinka Of Sudan

African Tribe: The Dinka People Of Sudan

Culture: Dinka People Of Sudan

Cultural & Religious beliefs, Civil War

The Dinka mainly practice traditional agriculture and pastoralism, relying on cattle husbandry as a matter of cultural pride, not as a source of commercial profit or meat, but as a means to perform cultural demonstrations, rituals, marriage dowries and milk feedings for people of all ages.

The Dinkas’ pastoral lifestyle is also reflected in their religious beliefs and practices. Most revere one God, Nhialic, who speaks through spirits that take temporary possession of individuals in order to speak through them. The sacrificing of oxen by the “masters of the fishing spear” is a central component of Dinka religious practice.

 Dinka People
Photo © Stefanie Glinski

The Dinka are primarily transhumant pastoralists, moving their herds of cattle to riverine pastures during the dry season and back to permanent settlements in savanna forest during the rains, when their food crops, principally millet, are grown. Each group is internally segmented into smaller political units with a high degree of autonomy. Because of the vast geographic area they occupy, the Dinka exhibit great diversity of dialect, although they value intra-group unity in the face of enemies.

By tradition, certain of their patrilineal clans provide priest-chiefs (“masters of the fishing spear”), whose position is validated by elaborate myths. Spiritual leadership and intervention are important to the Dinka, who are intensely religious and for whom God (Nhial) and many ancestral spirits play a central and intimate part in everyday life. Anything from a lie to a murder may be an occasion for sacrificial propitiation of the divine.

African Tribe: The Dinka People Of Sudan
Photo © Stefanie Glinski

The Dinka ritualize the passage from boyhood to manhood through age-old ceremonies during which a number of boys of similar age undergo hardship together before abandoning forever the activity of milking cows, which had marked their status as children and servers of men. Initiation into adulthood includes marking the forehead with a sharp object. Also during this ceremony they acquire a second cow-colour name. The Dinka believe they derive religious power from nature and the world around them, rather than from a religious tome.

 Dinka People Of Sudan

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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