The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 8: The Dinkas and Baris. Annexation to Egypt.

The day after the incident of the lion Frank was looking over the country with his glasses, and discovered what he supposed to be a cluster of anthills of a new kind. Scanning them closely for some minutes, he finally determined that they were not anthills, but the huts of a village. Being somewhat uncertain on this point, he appealed to the Doctor.
Head of a Dinka Bull

"You are right," was the reply, "they are the huts of a native village."

"But they are different in shape from the Shilluk huts we have been seeing as we ascended the river."

"Yes, they are different in shape, and they belong to another tribe of Africans. We are now in the country of the Dinkas, of whom we have already spoken.

"The Dinkas are mainly on the east bank of the Nile, and their possessions extend quite a distance into the interior. The actual area of their country is unknown, as it has never been surveyed, and only a few travelers have explored it. The Dinkas tend to be taller than the Shilluks, and are a brave, hardy people. Like the Shilluks, they are fond of veneering their skins with ashes, which gives them a brownish hue, and the favorite bed of the Dinka is a pile of ashes, with a stick of wood at one end, on which his neck can rest."

Fred wished to know how they lived.
Sectional View of Dinka Hut

"As to that," replied Doctor Bronson, "their ways of life are not much unlike those of the Shilluks, except that they are more peaceful. They have large herds of cattle, and are eminently a pastoral people. They cultivate the soil to quite an extent, and they move their villages occasionally in search of pasturage for their herds.... There: observe the bank of the river with your glass and you will see one of their herds, which is evidently coming down to allow the cattle to drink."

Frank looked to where a dark spot seemed moving over the plain. As soon as he had adjusted his glasses, he descried the drove that the Doctor had pointed out.

There were hundreds of cattle in the herd, which moved at a dignified pace, under the control of two or three dozen men, who were wearing only long lances. Frank remarked the nakedness of the Dinkas, and the Doctor informed him that among this people the wearing of clothing is considered a weakness in men, and only the women are dressed with anything more than oil and ashes. The Dinkas call the Nubians "women," because they wear clothing, although it is not much, and a true Dinka would allow himself to be frozen to death rather than put on a garment to keep his body comfortable. "But they do not consider it weak," continued the Doctor, "to seek the shelter of their huts when the cold wind blows, and in this way, they get along without much suffering."

Abdul had been among the Dinkas, and said their herds of cattle would astonish the boys if they could see them. "Why," said he, "I have seen many a herd of ten thousand animals, and one of two thousand is considered small. They have large yards, or corrals, where the cattle are driven at night, to prevent their straying, and also to protect them from the attacks of wild beasts. The cattle are much like those you saw in the neighborhood of Khartoum. They live entirely on the wild grass, and in dry seasons are apt to suffer from scanty pasturage.
A Dinka Cattle Yard

"A cattle yard among the Dinkas, when the herds are driven in for the night, is an interesting and also a noisy spot. Each animal has his place, where he is tied to a strong peg driven into the ground; and the herdsmen have the same trouble as herdsmen everywhere else in managing the refractory portion of the drove. Once in a while a man is trampled under their feet or gored by their horns. The absence of clothing is in favor of these cattle drivers, as they are able to get around with more agility than if they were encumbered with garments. The cows are milked only once a day, and their yield is surprisingly small.

"In addition to their horned cattle the Dinkas have great numbers of sheep and goats. But, unlike the sheep of Northern climes, they do not have any wool."

"Why should they," said Fred, "when they live in a country where they don't need it? Nature adapts herself to the conditions of the climate."

"If that is the fact," retorted Frank, "Nature has not been true to herself in some cases that I could mention. For instance, she ought to have given the natives of London, where it rains so much, a cuticle like a rubber overcoat; and if she had given them skins of regular Goodyear or Macintosh garments, pockets and all, she would have done a good thing."

"Quite right," replied his cousin; "and while she was about it, she might have given the New Yorker a double covering of mosquito netting and buffalo robes, so that he could provide for his tropical summers and his arctic winters. When you talk about the rain of England you may offset it against the terrible variations of the thermometer in New York."
A Sheep Without Wool

"But about the Dinka sheep," said Abdul. "They have a sort of shaggy mane on the neck and shoulders, but the hair on the rest of the body, including the tail, is quite short. This style of covering makes them look like small buffaloes, and when you see one you almost require to be told that you are looking at a sheep, and not at some other animal. Their color is white or a dirty brown, and sometimes they are spotted or 'brindled.' The goats are not unlike the goats of other countries, but they grow quite large, and are usually very thin in flesh.

"It is a curious circumstance that the Dinkas do not slaughter their cattle, but have no scruple about eating beef when the animal is killed by accident or is the property of somebody else. They reckon their possessions in cattle, just as we do in money, and a man who has no horned property is indeed poor. Neither do they kill their sheep, and the goat is the only domestic animal that they slaughter for food. In their currency one cow equals thirty goats. Goats take care of themselves, and require very little attention, but the cattle must be herded and watched. Wild beasts occasionally carry off their goats, but the loss is so slight that it is not heeded.

"Their huts are made of thatched grass, and larger than those of the Shilluks. The people take considerable pains to keep their dwellings clean."

Frank thought their habit of sleeping in ashes was not an agreeable one. Abdul said the practice had at least one merit, as it drove away a good many insects that make sleeping disagreeable on many parts of African soil. "I have suffered less from fleas and other small game in the Dinkas' huts," said he, "than among the Shilluks or the other tribes that I have seen. They are a hospitable race, and their cooking is not to be despised. They live on the flesh of goats and on fish caught from the river, and they make several nice dishes of milk and farinaceous products. Their manners at table are as polite as in Europe, and their way of eating is more like yours than that of the Arabs."
A Dinka Village Near the White Nile

"Do they have cups and saucers, plates, knives and forks, and other table things, as we do?" one of the youths asked.

"Not by any means," was the reply, "as they have few manufactures, and their dishes are principally gourds and shells. This is the way they eat at their meals:

"A large dish of cooked farina is placed on the ground, and the party sits down around it, each one having a gourd shell full of milk or butter. When all is ready, the oldest person or the one highest in rank pours some of his milk on the farina; then with a spoon he eats as much as he likes, and passes the dish to the next. The first pours his milk only on the part he touches, and the second follows his example, and thus they take their turns until all are supplied. I think you will agree that this is a much neater way than that of the Arabs, who all sit around and thrust their fingers into the same dish, even though they are scrupulously careful to wash their hands before and after, and also several times during the meal."

"I remember reading in Dr. Schweinfurth's book," said Frank, "that he often entertained Dinka ladies of rank in his tent, and was surprised at the way they fell into European manners. He used to serve them with his foreign dishes, and they sat on his chairs; they handled his forks and spoons as though accustomed to them all their lives, and carefully washed everything when through with it and put it in its proper place."

With the study of the people through whose country they were passing, with frequent sights of crocodiles and river horses, occasional shots at cranes and other birds, and a goodly amount of sleep whenever the mosquitoes would permit, the youths did not find the time hanging heavy on their hands. Finally, one afternoon they were told that Gondokoro was in sight, and their steamboat voyage was about to end.

The arrival at Gondokoro was a grateful relief from the marshes and lowlands through which our friends had travelled for nearly a thousand miles. As they approached this point, they saw mountains in the distance, and found the little settlement on a bluff, or high bank, ten or twelve feet above the river. Frank hoped they had said farewell to the swarms of mosquitoes that had been pestering them for many days, but the Doctor brought him no grain of comfort in replying that the mosquito had the whole of Africa for his domain, and they could only be rid of his presence by leaving the country.
Ceremony at Gondokoro on its Annexation to Egypt

Frank asked for the history of Gondokoro, and received the following information, which he duly recorded in his notebook:

"Gondokoro is in the territory of the Bari Africans, and on the right bank of the White Nile; it is in latitude 4° 54' north and longitude 31° 46' east, and in a hot and unhealthy country. It was formerly a station of the ivory traders, and was occupied only two months in the year, during their annual visits to the Upper Nile valley. The tropical rains last about three-fourths of the year, and render the air very moist and the vegetation vigorous. The grass is so luxuriant that the buffaloes are concealed by it, and the reeds on the banks of the lagoons near the river grow to a height of twenty-five or thirty feet.

"It was formerly an important depot of the slave traders, and when Baker Pacha came up the Nile to abolish their traffic he took possession of Gondokoro in the name of the Khedive, and annexed the country to Egypt."

"Yes," said Abdul, to whom Frank read the notes he had made, "the ceremony of annexation was very interesting.

"Baker had decided to change the name of the place to Ismailia, in honor of the Khedive, and the ceremony was fixed for the morning of May 26, 1871. A tall flagstaff had been erected for supporting the Egyptian colors on the highest point of land overlooking the river, and all the trees and bushes were cleared away, so that the ground was as smooth as a lawn.

"The troops, to the number of twelve hundred, marched from their quarters at six in the morning and formed a square near the flagstaff, one side consisting of a battery of ten guns, ready to fire a salute.
Austrian Mission House at Gondokoro

"When all was ready the official proclamation announcing the annexation of the country to the Khedive's dominions was read at the foot of the staff, and as the last sentence was uttered, the flag was run to the top of the pole and immediately fluttered in the breeze. The officers waved their swords, the soldiers presented arms, and the battery fired a royal salute. The natives had been invited to witness the ceremony, and they came in large numbers. When the artillery was fired, they were greatly astonished, as few of them had ever heard anything of the kind before, and their surprise was increased when the troops indulged in a sham battle, during which they fired about ten thousand rounds of blank cartridges. They were not at all friendly to the annexation, as they had been persuaded by the slave traders that the movement was intended for their oppression, and they would all be carried into captivity."

Frank continued his notes on the history of the place:

"The Austrian government established a mission at Gondokoro in 1853, and built a church of bricks which were made of the clay found in the neighborhood. The mission was discontinued in 1858, and of twenty missionaries that went there to preach the Gospel to the natives thirteen died of fever, two of other diseases, and two others went away with their health so broken down that they died soon after reaching Khartoum. The natives tore down the mission church and pounded the bricks into dust, which they mixed with oil; they anointed their bodies with the paste, which they pronounced an excellent substitute for red paint. All missionary efforts were abandoned, to the great delight of the slave traders, who had found them interfering with their business.

"From that time down to the arrival of Baker, in 1871, the town resumed its former condition and appearance, as a station of the ivory merchants and slave traders. There was no law in Gondokoro, and very little order, and if anybody chose to commit a crime there was hardly a probability that he would be punished for it. Everybody who went there for any purpose other than trading was regarded as a nuisance, and the merchants were not slow to excite the natives against him.
View of Gondokoro, from the River

"Baker erected a line of earthworks for the defense of the place, and built warehouses for keeping his goods and military stores. After his departure some of the buildings erected by him were pulled down, and the material became scattered and lost. The military station was made on the bank of a small stream which enters the Nile at this point, but it is too shallow to admit steamers and sailboats, which are consequently moored to the bank of the river."

Our friends were cordially received by the commandant of the post, Colonel Abd-el-Kader, who had served with Baker in the famous expedition, and was highly complimented by that gentleman for his zeal and efficiency. The colonel invited them to his quarters, and as soon as the greetings were over, he assigned them a place where their tents could be erected. The youths were not at all sorry to exchange their quarters on the steamer for their canvas houses, whose qualities they had tested in the journey from Korosko to Berber. Frank declared he was rapidly becoming a native, and thought it not at all improbable that he would prefer a tent to a substantial dwelling place for the rest of his life. Fred said he would wait a while before declaring himself, as he was a long way from renouncing the comforts of a home in New York or any other large city.

"Be careful about one thing," said the colonel as they left his quarters; "remember you are now in the country of the white ants, and they will eat anything except iron. They have even been known to gnaw holes in a stovepipe, if some of my officers tell the truth, and it is currently reported that they have ruined our best grindstone. Everything not enclosed in tin or something stronger is subject to their teeth, and you must be constantly on the lookout for them."

The boys promised to be careful, and as they watched the landing of their stores, they gave directions to Abdul, forgetting that he had been in the country before and knew all about it. The goods were properly stowed, those not enclosed in tin cases being hoisted on posts, to hold them clear from the ground, and the feet of the posts placed in pots of water. At night when the boys retired, they were obliged to be careful of all their garments and hoist them out of reach. Of course, it happened that the second night one of them forgot the necessary precaution, and left his boots on the floor of the tent. In the morning he found they had been riddled by the ants and were no longer waterproof, and their usefulness as coverings for the feet had passed away. He was more careful in future, and learned to appreciate the ants at their true value as destroyers.
Baris Stealing Cattle from the Garrison at Gondokoro

Almost everything except metals yields to the teeth of these insects. Ordinary timber, carefully dried and painted, is attacked by them, and it was not unusual to find them devouring the gunstocks of the soldiers or the woodwork of machinery and implements of daily use. One of the officers found his sword-belt had been eaten on a hook where he hung it during the night, and there was hardly a garment belonging to the men of the garrison that had not suffered in some way from the pests. Fred recalled some familiar words of 'Pinafore' relative to sisters, cousins, and aunts, and wondered if the author had the ants of the Sudan in mind when he penned the now antiquated lines.

The youths were interested in studying the country around Gondokoro, and the information they obtained was carefully recorded in their journals. We are permitted to make the following extracts, which will save us the trouble of referring to the explorers of Africa who have written about these lands:

"Gondokoro is in the country of the Baris, people somewhat resembling the other tribes of the Nile, but differing from them in language and customs. They have large herds of cattle, like their neighbors the Dinkas, and, like them, they until the soil to some extent, though the raising of cattle is their chief occupation. Doctor Bronson says they raise a good deal of mischief as well as cattle, and have given no end of trouble to travelers and to the military expeditions that have been sent among them. The Austrian missionaries were unable to do anything with them, and their labors of several years among the Baris and the sacrifice of valuable lives did not make a single earnest convert to Christianity.

"They occupy a territory about ninety miles long by seventy wide, its greatest extent being from north to south. They have no king or any other person whom they recognize as a ruler. The country is divided into districts, and each district has a chief, who does not acknowledge the authority of any other. The result is they have occasional wars among themselves, but these troubles do not last long. They are implacable enemies, and they look upon every stranger as a spy or intriguer. They have suffered considerably from the raids of the slave traders, who plundered their villages and carried the prisoners into captivity; but when Baker Pacha came among them, with the avowed object of suppressing the slave trade, they were hostile to him, and remained so until after his departure. They stole his cattle, attacked his camp, killed his soldiers, and did everything in their power to drive him from the country and stop the work for which he went among them.
Colonel Abd-el-Kader

"The country of the Baris is a fine region for grazing, and admirably adapted to the support of their herds of cattle. It is diversified with park-like stretches of grasslands, interspersed with extensive forests of the finest timber, and occasionally rises into mountain ranges two or three thousand feet high. Rivers rise among these mountains and flow to the Nile, and they are sufficiently numerous to give the country a good supply of water, except in the season of drought.

"Most of the soil is fertile, and produces abundantly when tilled. The mountains contain iron ore of excellent quality, which the natives reduce and work into weapons and other things. They have very skillful blacksmiths, and some of the products of their skill would match the best workmen of an English or American shop. We have seen spearheads, knives, arrow-points, and similar things from their hands, and they were fashioned as perfectly as though turned in a lathe or stamped by a machine.

"Some of the arrow-points have barbs below the head, so that the weapon when driven into the flesh of an animal will have no chance of being drawn out, and there are several forms of these arrows. Then they have elephant spears weighted with a ball of iron, so that a hunter may drop them from a tree upon the unsuspecting animal that passes beneath him. They have learned the process of hardening their iron, though they have not yet discovered how to convert it into steel. It is certainly good enough for all their uses, and the supply is inexhaustible."

"Since writing the above we have been to a Bari village about five miles from Gondokoro, and had the opportunity of inspecting their dwellings. The village consists of conical huts, which resemble those of the Dinkas in outward appearance; the inside is different, as it has an inner circle, with a low opening. We had to crawl on our knees to enter one of the huts, as the door was only two feet high. When we got through, we stood up, but had to stoop again to get to the inner circle, which has an opening no higher than the door.
Bari Arrows and Elephant Spear

"We found the inside of the huts perfectly clean, and we voted unanimously that the Baris are good housekeepers, for they do all the work about the dwellings. The walls are of wattles, or reeds, and small withes woven together. The outside of the hut is thatched with grass, and the inside is plastered with cement made from the clay of the anthills mixed with ashes, and worked into a paste with water. Outside of the hut there is a little courtyard, with a fence around it, and paved with the same kind of cement that we saw on the walls. This yard is carefully swept every morning, and no dirt is allowed to gather there in the course of the day.

"Most of the huts had granaries near them, and we were told that some of the villages had large granaries in common. The granaries are made of wickerwork, plastered with cement, and standing on posts of stone or cement, so that they cannot be damaged by the white ants.

"Every village has a large zeriba, or cattle yard, where their herds are driven at night for safety. The one we saw was made of posts of a very hard wood, much like ebony, and one of the very few woods that the white ants will not devour. The posts were six or eight inches in diameter, and sunk into the ground, so as to form a stockade about eight feet high. The spaces between the posts were interlaced with thorny bushes, and would form an admirable defense against an enemy armed with Bari weapons.

"Near the house of the sheik or chief we passed an open shed, near which a drum was suspended. Abdul said the drum belonged to the sheik, and no one is allowed to touch it except by his orders. It was shaped somewhat like an egg with a slice cut off from one end, and was evidently hollowed from a log of wood.
African Drums

"Abdul explained that the Baris place great reliance on their drums, and have a system of signals for them, so that information can be readily conveyed. One kind of beat calls the fighting men together for war, another summons them to a council, and another tells them to go in a certain direction to meet an enemy. The signal for war is sounded from one village to another, so that the whole country can be under arms in a very short time. It is not unlike a telegraph in its operations, and may be very well compared to the bugle and drum calls in a civilized army.

"Every morning the drum is beaten to give the signal for milking the cows, and when the work is done another signal sends the herds to pasture. A similar call is given for bringing them in at night, and it is said that the cattle know the different sounds of the drum just as well as their masters do.

"The dress of the Bari men is much like that of the Dinkas—a veneering of ashes, and a spear or lance. The women wear aprons of leather, but the men go quite naked, and consider clothing a mark of softness. One reason of their disrespect for Europeans is the fact that the latter wear clothing, and they invariably speak of the Egyptian officers as 'Turkish ladies,' because they are clothed from head to foot."

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 8: The Dinkas and Baris. Annexation to Egypt.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Annexation: Addition or incorporation of something, or territories that have been annexed.
Veneering: An application of a veneer, a thin covering of fine material.
Pastoral: Relating to rural or country life and scenes.
Gourd: The dried and hardened shell of a fruit from a plant in Lagenaria or Cucurbita, made into a drinking vessel, bowl, spoon, or other objects designed for use or decoration.
Farinaceous: Made from, or rich in, starch or flour.
Farina: A fine flour or meal made from cereal grains or from the starch of vegetables.
Missionary: A person who travels attempting to spread a religion or a creed to convert others to their beliefs or religion.
Mission: A settlement or building serving as a base for missionary work.
Earthwork: Any structure made from earth; especially an embankment or rampart used as a fortification.
Granary: A storage facility for grain or sometimes animal feed.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: See the children of modern-day South Sudan in Africa.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the countries of Sudan and South Sudan on the map of the world.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.