The current implications of the two competing theories about the Nuer People

Posted: September 8, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël in Commentary, Contributing Writers, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, Philosophy

The two-theoretical approach in Dr. Wal Duany’s dissertation at the Indiana State University, USA, about the Nuer People: Do they have any implication with the current crisis in the Republic of South Sudan?

“Not so with the Nuer. . . . Their institutions are invisible. Every now and then a regulatory idea surfaces and marshals activity, then sinks out of sight, while another becomes visible in its effect upon movements of cattle and people. If they can be said to have anything corresponding to political institutions, these have absolutely no physical form, no architecture of palaces or prisons, no embodiment in piles of stones. . .” (Johnson, 1980, as cited in Duany 1992).

By Dr. Simon Wuor Gai, Nebraska, USA

Nuer white army

South Sudan Rebels: Nuer White Army Fighters

September 8, 2017 (SSB) — While this author is neither a political science major nor a historian by profession, I like to read stuff that is relevant to our contemporary societies, particularly the two Sudan’s—South and the North. There is significant evidence that any decision-making process can be maximized within the context of knowing the unlimited body of knowledge. In this context, I always push myself to capitalize on my current expertise to other areas, where I am not a subject matter expert in or anything along those lines.

With that being said, I find it interesting when reading Dr. Wal Duany’s dissertation at the Indiana State University where he addressed the Nuer’s constitution order by examining the two-fundamental theoretical knowledge in his capacity as a political science’s scholar. To conceptualize the Nuer’s social order, Dr. Wal Duany compared the two theories, the Acephalous and Autocephalous theoretical understanding against the Nuer people to unearth the strength or weak social order of the Nuer tribe from the Republic of Sudan in his dissertation—South Sudan was not independence yet by then.

Although Dr. Wal Duany successfully defended his doctoral thesis, some challenges remained to be answered and interpreted by the next generations of the Nuer tribe. For instance, other scholars have mocked out the acephalous societies as one of the primitives and backwardness societies in the world for resistant to change while changes were part and parcel of any society. Interested readers are referred to (Ayittey, 2012).

In the same line of reasoning, Duany (1992)’s dissertation quoted two famous scholars, who did not appreciate the social order of the Nuer and other stateless, headless societies around the globe. From the perspectives of these scholars, Douglas Johnson (1982) stated out loud and clear that Nuer have no visible institutions, per se, in thy social order. He suggested that their institutions come and go, especially during the marshaling activities and during the cattle camp for pasture, water points, as well as other use of the resources. Literally, what this means is that Nuer have no centralized legal and political institutions, as opposed to some types of kinship arrangements, or social capital to which disputes, marriages, among the others, can be settled through (Johnson, 1980, as cited in Duany 1992).

His counterpart, echoed similar observation as he put it “The Nuer are considered by some observers as lacking institutions. Their social arrangements might instead, be viewed as forms of social capital which need to be understood in order to appreciate how problems of further development can be addressed” (Coleman, 1989, as cited in Duany 1992). Drawing on these theoretical understanding, it is crystal clear that these four academic scholars have reached a consensus that the Nuer tribe is an acephalous, stateless, headless, egalitarian, classless society. They are all equal in form, shape, and color (Ayittey, 2012; Coleman, 1989; Johnson, 1980, as cited in Duany, 1992).

By and large, Nuer people have no court buildings, visible political institutions, and centralized system, where one man or a woman is appointed as a head of the system. According to Duany (1992), Nuer people are all equal. Perhaps, the etiology of this belief, as suggested by the above study, stems from Lic, the forefather of Nuer, who was believed to have been created by God. In turn, Lic had a son by the name Holnyang, who had two children with different mothers later. He named them as Ghaak and Gee. In his own right, Dr. Wal Duany seemed to suggest that it was where the principle of equality got started from Nuer tribe. Meaning, these two sons of Holnyang are equal and that nobody is above the other regardless of any social status they may have had in the society. They are still equal to the common man.

This finding is consistent with the rest of African tribes, who are also stateless or acephalous societies like Nuer. For instance, Prof. G.N Ayittey (2012) pointed out that “There is a wide dispersion of this system across Africa, adopted by such ethnic societies as the Tiv and Igbo of Nigeria, the Nuer of Sudan, the Somali, and the Bedouin Arabs throughout North Africa. Such societies reached compromises in conflict resolution rather than making judgments and applying sanctions.”

Autocephalous, on the other hand, is a system where power is centralized and bestowed to the head of the institutions. He/she could be a king, a queen, a president, judges; you name it. According to Dr. Wal Duany, this system is not in favor of Nuer people. Many governments of the today’s world are being run by an Autocephalous system where power is centralized for the community’s coherency including the government of South Sudan, which is in question right now in the Nuer’s eyes. With the current knowledge of South Sudan national census, we have 64 recognized tribes in the country. Then the question becomes, how many tribes subscribe to Acephalous and Autocephalous social order in South Sudan?

The question has no right or wrong answer, but it is our responsibility to build on this two-theoretical approach, pioneered by a late uncle, Dr. Wal Duany in his dissertation at the Indiana State University. Research does not come out of the blue; one should anchor his/her research on the existent body of knowledge. I have personally admired our uncle, Dr. Gat Duany for putting these two-theoretical understanding into a good use on behalf of Nuer tribe in South Sudan. To me, there is a correlation between the current crisis of our nation and the 1992 Dr. Wal Duany’s dissertation’s findings at the Indiana State University. The system of the governance in South Sudan seems to be in question, as its constituencies are not all acephalous, headless, stateless, egalitarian, nor all are autocephalous, or hierarchical societies. In this context, how do you choose the system of governance for this type of people? I will leave the question unanswered for now so that the interested readers can research it.

Beyond a cloud of a shadow, I find it that there is a gap in the social order of South Sudanese people, as we speak. On the one hand, some ethnic groups are autocephalous, hierarchical, head of state, judges, among the others, in thy social order. On the other hand, other are acephalous, headless, egalitarian, and stateless in their social order. How do you bring these forces to form one political system that governs our nation? Once again, such a question rests squarely on our shoulders, especially the second generation of Nuer and those, who may subscribe to the same social order across South Sudan.

With that in mind, there are serious implications on behalf of our nation generally, and Nuer tribe on Dr. Wal Duany’s research study. One, the current generations of Nuer tribe need to revisit this theoretical assumption and expand its relevance at this point in time. Possibly, it could be a turning point in unearthing the underlying issues in our country’s crisis. By re-examining this theoretical approach, perhaps, we may discover another way of governing ourselves in the Republic of South Sudan. Two, Nuer ethnic group may be dwelling in the past, while the world has changed a thousand times. It is a high time for us to conduct a new line of research to find out whether or not this system still intact. Three, in line with the above-mentioned academic scholars, the acephalous social order is reported to have a strong resistant to changes. For this reason, we need to conduct a new line of research to either expand the current theoretical knowledge or find another way of conducting a new scientific theory to solve the existent problem in our country.

Conclusions and recommendations, scientific inquiries do not come out of the blue; one should build and draw on the existent body of knowledge already compiled by other researchers in the field. For instance, Late uncle, Dr. Wal Duany had helped us in discovering the theoretical lens, in which our community was operating through awhile back. Furthermore, Dr. Wal Duany and Dr. Giat Jal also have reached a consensus that the Nuer have originated from Lic, who was reported to have been created by God. His son, Holnyang had two sons from different mothers—Ghaak and Gee who become the Nuer ancestors in life later. I find it interesting that we have something in our hands already built by our fathers, Late uncle Dr. Wal Duany and late uncle, Dr. Giet Jal. As defined in the preceding paragraphs, acephalous societies are headless, stateless, societies, which have no political authority, or social hierarchies except in time of marshaling activities, which come and go. They are egalitarian or non-stratified societies, and all these terms can be used interchangeably with acephalous and autocephalous theories, respectively. In this kind of societies, everyone else is equal. There is no single man or woman bestowed with the absolute legal or political authority, as well as kings and queens.

Consequently, I have strongly recommended Dr. Wal Duany’s research study to be expanded by our current generations to see whether or not there is any application to our contemporary crisis in South Sudan. I don’t want to leave my readers with the impression that Dr. Wal Duany and Dr. Giet Jal’s research studies were incorporated into this article, pieced together by me (Dr. Simon Wuor Gai) entirely. I only addressed the conceptual framework in which Dr. Wal Duany used in his dissertation to prove it to the scientific communities that Nuer people are acephalous, headless, stateless, egalitarian society, who have nothing to do with the theory of sovereignty. Now with the existence of the Republic of South Sudan as a central authority to all its constituencies, how does this authority resonate with the acephalous societies in South Sudan, such as Nuer and other ethnic groups out there?

Notice to all readers of this piece: In-text citations were provided to help the advanced readers locate the sources when they conduct thy own further research or verifying the contents of this piece. List of references was not provided as this piece is not intended for the academic publication. Therefore, its readers or audiences are the common men and women in the social media and other local news outlets. I, therefore, thank those, who will take time out of their busy schedules to read this piece in advance.

The author lives in the greatest city of Omaha in the State of Nebraska, USA. He holds a doctorate at the Colorado Technical Univerity in the area of management and global leadership, and a master degree in counseling psychology from the University of Nebraska. Furthermore, Dr. Simon is currently serving as an advisor to the Nuer Union for Development (NUD) in the USA and beyond. He can be reached at

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

  1. Alam says:

    So this could potentially explained why Nuers are synonymous with violence. Nuers never like authority or nor can they flourish under any creditable authority. They seem to always hurdles around some sort of magicians more then a civil authority. A lot of learning is required in the Nuer Land period. You are undermining yourselves and subjected yourself to marginalization. The World hate violence.

    Thanks for this piece of articles. I hope my Nuer brothers and sisters can read it and appreciate or add more to the debate of this headless, lawless state of mind that the Nuer have continued to employed but it’s damaging to say the least.


    • Simon Wuor Gai says:

      Alam, thank you so much for not only reading this piece, but also leaving a comment. It would be better for us to use the research as a tool that can improve our lives. However, our people see research as something demeaning to them. We have many acephalous societies in Africa like Somalia. The chaotic civil war that took place in Somalia was due to this system. I, therefore, wrote this piece to warn those who hold the same system is South Sudan to revise their constitutional orders, so that they inline with legal and political authority of our nation–The Nuer and beyond in our country.

      Once again, thank you.



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