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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home

New Americans

Immigrants from other areas of the world

The South Sudanese people

Cultural Profile of their country of origin- South Sudan

Dress Traditions

Clothing is very important for the South Sudanese people because it can show to others the status and social class of that individual, what clan or tribe they are from, and even their gender.

Example of traditional South Sudanese clothing

The South Sudanese men’s traditional attire consists of a long, loose-fitting white or pastel-colored robe called jalabiya, or jellabiya- worn throughout the River Nile regions, and also used in Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea. This type of garment has a wide cut, it is ankle-length, and has no collar (and in some cases, no buttons) and long, wide sleeves. Versions made by farmers have very wide sleeves and sewn-in pockets used to carry tobacco, money, or other small items. The reason why it is light-colored, and sometimes brown, is because light colors help reduce heat from the sun; long sleeves and hem protect skin from sun and sand; loose-fitting design helps skin to breath and reduces sweating. These robes are made of light natural fabrics.

They also wear a headdress (either a skullcap or a turban), and shoes. The traditional shoe is known as the Marquinhos, and it’s often made out of bovine leather or crocodile skin, abundant in the region.

Among the ancient cultures that have inhabited the South Sudanese region, the Dinka stand out as amazing artisans and tailors. the Dinka have traditionally focused on the human form as their primary method of artistic expression. There's great examples of pieces of clothing worn by them in museums all over the world.

Dinka corset- used by men

The Dinka, who live in the swamplands of the Sudd in South Sudan, believe that their herds of cattle are a link to the spirit world. This pastoral lifestyle is reflected in their religious beliefs and practices, including but not limited to their choice of clothing. Most notable among these traditions is the fact that their traditional attire includes a beaded corset, an indicator of gender, age, wealth, and ethnic affiliations. The colors of the beads vary depending on the age of the wearer; young Dinka between 15-25 years-old wear a corset made of red and black beads. The use of pink and purple are for a man between 25-30 years old; while yellow beads are worn by those over 30 years old. Many combinations, including blue, green, white, black, and red are frequently used. Dinka corsets were used by both men and women.

Warriors kept this corset on them and changed it only when they reached the next age group. The men wore these corsets tight. Women’ corsets were different, and often decorated with cowry shells. They have a loose bodice style and when worn, they are wide and hang from the neck like a large necklace. In some rare cases, young girls would wear a tight corset with a projection in the back, like the men's. This corset would remain on her until cut open at her wedding.

The bead patterns, and the height of the corset's back correlated to the status and wealth of the person wearing it. The higher the back, and the more adornments (such as the addition of a leather and bovine fur trim) , the higher the status for the men. These beads were made of glass, and multicolored. Beadwork is an expression of their creativity and an important part of their adornment traditions.

Modern South Sudanese people still take pride in looking sharp and well dressed, combining their textile traditions and a westernized style of clothing, usually tailored to the owner's shape and personality.

South Sudanese women hold their traditional outfit in high esteem. Girls traditionally wear their first formal clothes at the age of 12.

In South Sudan brides sometimes wear red wedding gowns, composed of a type of dress called thobe and a shawl. Today, it's common for South Sudanese brides to wear Western-style white dresses, but originally they were made in red with gold details. A thobe is an ankle-length attire, usually with long sleeves, similar to a robe, kaftan, or tunic. It is commonly worn in Arab countries and some countries in East and West Africa, but it is a regular traditional wedding dress in South Sudan.

When wearing this outfit, a sirwal (pants) is normally worn underneath. Thobes have become a staple of trendy fashion as South Sudanese women often express their growing opportunities and desires through fashionable dresses. Also, a thobe can sometimes be worn with a bisht. Originally made from Syria, Iraq, and Jordan, a bisht represents the status and wealth and it is worn specially for occasions like traditional wedding ceremonies. It can be made from cotton, satin, polyester, jersey, denim and other fabrics.

Men in traditional clothes and shawls

Women also wear thawbs. They can be of any color, and have various patterns on the fabric. They are very colorful and beautiful. Elder women seem to prefer white thawbs, and young ones mostly wear multicolor attires, often with accessories. Expensive thawbs are embellished with embroidery, stitch-work, rhinestones and other decorative elements.

The shawl is a simple item of fabric loosely worn over the shoulders and arms, and sometimes over the head. A shawl is usually a rectangular or square piece of cloth, which can also be folded to make a triangle. Some of these can also be shaped as a triangle, or other shapes that include oblong shawls.

Modern South Sudanese women, like the men, have adapted their clothing to a more westernized style. This style, however, combines the beautiful fabrics that are a hallmark to their culture, making their clothes very colorful and beautiful. They are usually also tailored to the wearer's personality and unique sense of style.

Traditional bride and groom attires

South Sudanese people are less conservative than their counterparts of the North, which allows the new generations to be a lot more adventurous and creative in their choice of patterns and styles.

The following video is from a store in Juba.

Stay tuned for more information on the South Sudanese people and their culture, and more places and their people in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.


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