Murle understandings of friendship – a personal account

Friends from Lanngo age-set on their way to a dance, Lotilla River, April 2015

Written by MK, contributor from Pibor

Murle are very proud of their rich culture and will go miles to maintain it. Friendship, in Murle language known as ‘langotizet‘, has always been central to Murle culture and that can be seen also through how the very important social institution of the age-sets is experienced and lived. Friendships can be between people with the same gender and mostly rare between opposite genders. People meet friends in different occasions including age-set dancing ceremonies (kuruma), during cattle grazing and water points. People get to know each other individually or through age-sets (bul). Men of particular age-sets would treat each other like families and would even sacrifice their life if need be.

Dances in Murle community are carried out by different age-sets and ladies betrothed to this particular age-set will wear particular beads that are known to belong to that age-set, and they will then dance with the men in this age group. After dances, men will decide to go after girls, and will attempt to befriend girls and ask if they can date them. Of course, that’s socially forbidden and has to be done in secret because these girls’ brothers can’t bear the thoughts of seeing their unmarried sisters walking with men home. Often, if these men get away with it, the friendship will lead to something serious and might results in betrothal if parents agree to it.

People who are born from fathers of the same age-set automatically become friends (‘langothen‘), and refer to themselves as “dol ci ameno” which is loosely translated as children of the same bone (same beads). If I was for example a daughter of Muden’s age-set, every son/daughter of Muden would automatically become my friend and we would tease each other without being annoyed. We would take pride in our father’s age-set and would offer help to each other when required to do so. A lady is identified by her father’s age-set until she is married, and she will take her husband’s side after marriage.

Another form of friendship that I have found to be very powerful and have witnessed in the community is one between male friends. Young boys that grow up as neighbors or just age-mates will grow into men who protect each other and aid each other. They collectively approach girls and persuade them to date each one of them. The lady will choose who she thinks is right for her and the other friend will cheer and treat this girl with utmost respect and no jealous intentions. Male friends trust each other with their darkest secrets and none of them would snitch any information from their trusted friend.

This kind of true friendship is evidenced when men go for war. Elders will advise warriors to separate friends on the battlefield. This is done to avoid losing the two friends in case of great catastrophe during the battle. On a tough battle, when one friend is shot, the other friend will risk his life to save the life of the other. On occasions where one is shot dead, the other friend will move to the war frontline with an intention of dying and having not to live a life without their friend. Great male friends who have kids will also betroth their daughters to one another as a sign of respect and as a way of strengthening their friendship even further and building family ties between them. This might sound controversial based on the civilization and the modern life the community has adopted of recent, but this topic is meant to enlighten the world about the significance of friendships in Murle community. Finally, male friends who are married will show their respect to one another by naming their children after their friends. Those who have named their children after one another will address themselves as “manygon” and their wives will be “ngangon”.

Murle friendship with other neighbouring communities is a strong one too despite the increasing violent clashes between them. Individuals will build long lasting friendship and will defend their friends with their life. Many conflicts have been going on with some engulfing lives of Murle loved ones, but Pibor has always been a saved haven for everyone including some members of the warring community. Murle people believe that harming someone who you’ve shared a plate with (a friend) is an act of cowardice that will result in great consequences. Natives of Boma, Pibor, Gumuruk, Maruwo and Lekuangole have always hosted people from other communities and protect them at all costs. “A lot has been said against us, many stereotypes and biases are used to define us, but no one has ever talked about our hospitality and the true essence of friendship”, said an old man I interviewed. There is definitely a lot that needs to be unlearned and re-learned about Murle community.

This post was written by MK, a young woman from Pibor studying abroad who wishes to remain anonymous.

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