Two versions of a Dinka poem from South Sudan. During the time of the Mahdi, the Dinka ruler was required to sacrifice his son as proof of his loyalty. Both versions are horrified by the demand.


The old are asked about the distant past:
Ask your father about the distant past.
The land was spoiled and it did not hold,
And when it did not hold
Arop said, ‘Sacrifice the child’ (1)
But the death of the child dismayed the tribe:
All raised their hands aloft and cried
‘Killing the child will spoil the tribe’.
My Great Father called the word all right.


You, Deng Majok and Deng Makuei, (2)
You are the elders with the words of the tribe:
Why was the son killed?
It was a sacrifice.
Is a human life simple enough to be given in sacrifice? (3)
I beseech you, give me a better-reason!
Why was the man killed?
It was a sacrifice.

from The Dinka of the Sudan (1972)
Francis Deng


  1. Arop: The Dinka ruler at the time.
  2. Deng Majok and Deng Makuei: Elders still living when the poem was recorded.
  3. Human life is too precious (not simple enough) to be offered in sacrifice.