These People Really Love Cows And Even Bathe With Cow Urine - Find Out Why!
May. 21, 2020
Dawn breaks on the Nile on the Mundari cattle camp and a young tribesman begins his daily routine - after cleaning his teeth with a stick he douses his head under a stream of a urine from a cow.
The act will not only help prevent infection but will also tinge his hair orange.
Life in the little-documented Mundari tribe in South Sudan revolves around their prized bulls - who represent their wealth, status and dowry - and photographer Tariq Zaidi is one of the few people to capture the tribe's fascinating way of life on film.
The Mundari tribe in South Sudan are known for their cows which represent their wealth, status and dowry.
A small ethnic group composed of cattle-herders and agriculturalists, the Mundari have come to be known for their unique way of looking after their cattle in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country.
The tribesman continues his daily ritual.
Next he sucks fresh milk straight from one of his cow's udders then bangs a drum to alert the rest of the tribe that it's time to graze the animals.
It is not just the cows' urine that provides protection for the Mundari people. Tribesmen smear peach-coloured ash on their skin - and that of their cows - from dung fires.
To largely keep themselves clean, Mundari men will squat under streams of cow urine, which they see as a natural antiseptic to fight infection. The act will also tinge their hair orange.
A Mundari man bathing in cow urine
Their breed of cow has been a dowry, a source of medicine, wealth and even a friend. The Mundari “look like bodybuilders,” said Zaidi, “but their diet is pretty much milk and yoghurt. That’s it.”
It has the consistency of talcum powder and is a natural antiseptic and mosquito repellent, offering both man and bovine protection from the scorching Sudan heat.
A Mundari boy drinking cow's milk straight from the udder
Describing the tribe's relationship with the creatures, Zaidi said: 'Their cows are the most important thing in their lives. And they will protect them at all costs.'
As such, the tribe use rifles to watch over their large-horned herds, as a single cow or bull can be worth up to $500 (£348).
Every year in South Sudan around 350,000 cows and bulls are stolen, and over 2,500 people killed by cattle rustlers.
'These animals are treated like members of the family,' says the photographer. 'When the cattle return back from the pasture they know exactly where their masters are and where their home is – they are like dogs in that way.
A Mundari man protecting his cattle
'Families will sleep with their animals, wash them in ash and make sure the ground is soft and clean for them.'
With distinctive V scars on their foreheads, the Mundari people value tradition, particularly when it comes to wrestling and music.
The tribe, located just north of the South Sudanese capital of Juba, live communally, sharing everything from blankets to instruments.
They are among the tallest individuals in the world, and are said to tower over their prized herds.
These include cattle called Ankole-Watusi – a distinctive white animal with curved horns, also known as 'the cattle of kings'.
The creatures' horns can stretch up to 8ft and the biggest bulls are adorned by the tribe with tassels.
'Every Mundari man I met had his favourite cow,' says Zaidi. 'It is his most prized possession and a reflection of himself.'
The cattle are used as both currency and as a status symbol, and form a key part of a family's pension or dowry.
After the civil war ended, thousands of men are said to have returned to South Sudan looking for wives. This return has seen an increase in 'bride price' – making these cows even more valuable and susceptible to lethal raids.
At least 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed since conflict began in the country in December 2013, with over 2.2million people being displaced and certain areas on the brink of famine.
The conflict has caused the nomadic Mundari people to continue to herd their cattle across the banks of the Nile.
'The ongoing war in South Sudan has cut off the Mundari tribe from the rest of the world,' says Zaidi. 'They don't venture into the town, they stay in the bush, and it why their unique way of life endures.'