How the Dinka Got the Cow

Pastoral Times
2 min readJul 8, 2022


By Jacob Jiel Akol

Dinka herdsmen of South Sudan have a unique ritual before their bedtime stories. Just before the first story begins, someone shouts out “Our old home!” and in response, the sleeping mates will reply with “All of us! Our old home! All of us!” This, according to them, serves two purposes: to prevent nightmares about the stories to be told; two, to warn everyone that whoever interrupts the story risks having nightmares. The story then begins with “This is an ancient story” and proceeds to announce the title of their story.

So let’s begin. “Our old home!” Please say “All of us!” and read on.

This is an ancient story.

How Dinka got the Cow?

A long time ago, the Cow and the Buffalo lived in the forest with their mother. One day, their mother was killed by humans in a hunt.

“We must revenge our mother,” said the Cow.

“Yes”, said the Buffalo, “we must revenge our mother! I am going to kill any human I see in the forest! They will dread my fury!”

“No,” said the Cow, you must not get too furious. Just calm down and think. They will kill us like our mother if you attack them. Think.”

“What is there to think about!” said the Buffalo angrily. “This is war!”

“Yes I know, it is war,” replied the Cow, “but there must be a better way of killing humans. I know!”

The Cow said: “We must surrender to humans and give them milk. Feed them and in due time they will value us so much that they will begin to fight over us and thus kill each other. That’s the best way to revenge our mother!”

“What nonsense!” said the Buffalo, “I surrender to those who killed our mother? Have you gone mad? I will never do such a thing. You do it your way and I will do it my way!”

The Cow and the Buffalo then parted company. The Cow surrendered to humans and the Buffalo remained in the forest.

Today we know which of the two has killed more people than the other. It is the Cow!

Brother kills brother for the Cow. Clans will feud over the Cow. Nations will go to war over the Cow. And a man without cows cannot marry a decent woman. The Cow has more than revenged her mother. It has enslaved humans! Yenakan.

Edited excerpts from the book MYTHS & FOLKTALES: AFRICAN STORIES FROM THE DINKA OF SOUTH SUDAN by Jacob Jiel Akol



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