The Shilluk of Southern Sudan

[the-shilluk-of-southern-sudan--Film-list-image]
©DWS
52 minutes / Colour / 1976
Directed by
Chris Curling

Anthropologist Paul Howell Walter Kunijwok André Singer

Country of production United Kingdom

Series Disappearing World Series

This film presents a compelling visual and aural analysis of Shilluk kingship in 1975, and provides a very useful complement to Evans-Pritchard's 1948 text, The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk. Although the Reth (king) has been reduced to the status of second-class magistrate in dispute settlement by the Sundanese government, he is still the focus of political and national identity for a Shilluk people composed of competing territorial groupings. At the death of the Reth, his spirit passes into the Nile.

This film follows the procession of priests as they carry the effigy of Nyikang, the 16th century founder of the Shilluk dynasty, and his son Dak on the pilgrimage from the Nile, retracing the movements of their conquest of the North, capturing the Reth and installing Nyikang. The journey is part of a spiritual renewal for the Shilluk, as well as a renewal of political unity which reaffirms the social order. The outcome of the journey is known, for the Reth-elect will be captured after a ritual battle, and only after being possessed by the spirit of Nyikang will he be installed as King. Thus, the office is seen to be more powerful than the man, and the continuity of divine kingship is affirmed.

However, this is not simply a filmed version of the type of analysis provided in Evans-Pritchard's book, for it deals with the kingship in a quite different political context. For example, throughout the period which leads to his installation, the king-elect is guarded by Government police who are not Shilluk. It is apparent that the future king accedes to office with the `support' of the Government, the 'mock' aspect of the ritual battle being somewhat confused by the very real presence of the guards and their disruptive effects on the proceedings. In any course on political anthropology this film is clearly crucial, and for those quick enough to appreciate it, the commentary carries a great deal of information and analysis. It is also rated highly for verbal and visual accuracy.

C. Curling 1978. `Anthropology and the General Audience: Disappearing World'. Educational Broadcasting International, June, Vol. II, No. 2. (This is not specifically about the Shilluk but discusses inter alia particular aspects of the film of interest to anthropologists and filmmakers.)

E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1948. The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk of the Nilotic Sudan (The Frazer Lecture of 1948). Cambridge University Press. (Reprinted in E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Essays in Social Anthropology. Faber, London, 1962.

L. Mair, 1976. Review of the film. RAIN, 12, p. 6.

Language and subtitles English with English Subtitles

Region North and Northeast Africa

Country Sudan

Keywords Collective / Community identity Social Organisation