My three days with the Mundari Cattle herders in South Sudan.

Day 0.

Outside Terminal 1 at Dubai International Airport, ready to begin my journey to the world's youngest country of South Sudan.

On the train to Concourse D after checking in and passing through immigration and security.

I had a trip booked to visit South Sudan back in 2015 with my friend Jordan. We unfortunately had issues with a dodgy tour operator and the trip fell through.

While it seemed relatively straightforward to visit the capital of Juba, there wasn't alot to see and the photo restrictions were really strict.

Our original trip in 2015 included a trip outside of the city to the Mundari cattle herders and I was keen to visit them for my second attempt at visiting the country. This was complicated however by the ongoing South Sudanese Civil War making it unsafe to venture outside of Juba.

With the war finally winding down though (and officially ending in February 2020), it was now relatively safe to visit.

This evening I would be flying to Addis Ababa before continuing to Juba the following morning. Although there was a once a day direct flight to Juba from Dubai on flydubai, the four times daily flights from Addis on Ethiopian Airlines offered better flexibility and timing.

In the Marhaba lounge getting a bite to eat.

My boarding pass to Addis along with my hotel voucher for my overnight stay.

About to head to the gate. I originally planned to fly out early tomorrow morning but had to scramble to rebook the evening before after I was bumped to a later flight to Juba.

The ET777 waiting at the gate.

Watching the safety video as we pushed back.

Watching the Brad Pitt sci-fi film, Ad Astra. I had missed the film when it was in the theaters so was pleased to see it on my flight this evening.

Chicken and rice served for dinner.

Actress Natalie Portman in the astronaut drama Lucy in the Sky. Very mediocre and I only saw the first half before I lost interest in it.

Getting closer to Addis Ababa as we fly south-west over the Gulf of Aden.

It was my first time with an overnight stop at Addis Ababa so wasn't quite sure what to do. It turned out to be very simple however and after passing through immigration to get my transit visa I headed to catch the hotel bus.

Beef, pasta and potato served at the Debredamo Hotel.

And my spacious room for my short stopover. I then crawled into bed for a good nights rest before the flight to Juba tomorrow.

Day 1.

After a 5:30am wake up call I showered, repacked and headed downstairs for some breakfast.

And then got a ride at 6:30am back to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

A restored Ethiopian Airlines DC-3 on display outside the airport. It was my first time seeing it and I couldn't resist getting closer for a photograph.

Outside the sparkling new but still closed entrance to the new terminal building.

Airside with my boarding pass.

And after a short bus ride, about to board the De Havilland Dash 8 for the flight to Juba.

Sausage and eggs served for breakfast on the ~2 hour flight.

Looking down on the capital as we come in for landing at Juba International Airport.

On arrival we had to queue up for a temperature check and fill out a health declaration due to the Kivu Ebola epidemic. In 2016 I had visited Africa during the Western African Ebola epidemic so there was a definite sense of déjà vu.

I had an arrival permit so after handing over $100 got my a visa in my passport.

I then passed through customs after a cursory glance at the inside of my bag.

After meeting up with my guide/fixer, Fedrick, we walked out to the airport carpark to meet Lawrence, our driver from South Sudan, and our chef, Samson from Uganda.

We then headed into the city in the 70 series Toyota Landcruiser.

The first stop was to fill up at the gas station.

We then stopped at a hotel to pickup Javier, a Spaniard who had arrived in Juba two days previously and was also on the trip to meet the Mundari Cattle herders.

Our last stop in the Juba was at a Lebanese supermarket.

As well as picking up a few supplies I got a pide for lunch.

We then headed out of the city and headed north.

The dirt road was badly potholed but we made good time in the ever capable Landcruiser.

About 60 kilometers from Juba we left the dirt road and drove for several kilometers offroad before arriving at the Mundari cattle camp, our home for the next three days.

Meeting the local Mundari chief.

And one of his wives and kids.

It was mid-afternoon and the cattle were still out grazing so the people in the camp were making the most of this idle time of day.

Mundari child in the shade of a tree.

A head of a stillborn calf which had been taxidermied to try and coax its mother to still produce milk.

A Mundari man rinsing hair with cow urine. The urine has purported anti-bacterial and other health benefits.

As the late afternoon came the people of the camp begun their routine chores. A Mundari boy using a brush made from some twigs to sweep up the goat and sheep droppings.

The collected droppings are later used for the dung fire.

A Mundari man with his face covered with ash and dust, acting as a means of sun screen and protection from insects.

Some of the kids checking out the newly arrived strangers.

And greeting us with big smiles.

Everyone in the camp belonged to the same extended family.

Samson starting to prepare our dinner in the back of the Landcruiser.

The little ones chilling in the shade.

Using a machete to cut up a felled tree.

The chopped branches would then be used for firewood.

Along with my well travelled Canon 5D Mark IV I had brought four lenses; 16-35mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm.

Sisters. The orange hair that many of the Mundari people had was due to rinsing with cow urine.

The ammonia in the urine causied the hair to be bleached, resulting in the orange colour.

Stoking the warm embers of a dung fire.

Using a cattle hide to pile on freshly dried dung.

And now smoking away.

Catlle now beginning to wander in from a day out grazing.

Helping a young calf find its way into the camp.

The cows and bulls needed little assistance and ambled readily to their designated place beside a dung fire.

King of the hill.

Two cattle beside a dung fire.

The Mundari are famously known for their cattle which represent their wealth, status and dowry.

As well as for warmth in the night the smoke from the dung fire helps to repel flies and other insects.

A Mundari girl resting against a wooden platform used for sleeping.

And a portrait showing decorative scarification on her forehead.

Mundari man wrapped in a blanket.

And secured with a knot.

The camp starting to fill up with more cattle.

And now tethered in place.

Mundari girl wearing a bone necklace and ear rings.

Dusting down the cattle.

Feeding them some fresh foliage.

Carrying a log of wood for the fire that was now finally cut.

An orange-haired Mundari man blowing the camp horn.

It is fashioned from a cattle horn and is used to call the cattle back to camp.

Collecting more foliage for the animals to feed on.

The cattle are washed and massaged with ash twice a day to protect them from insects.

A Mundari lady holding a bundle of cattle tethers ready for the returning herd.



Mundari men wearing a mixture of modern and traditional dress. As well as their native language of Mundari they also spoke South Sudanese Arabic.

Pausing for a photo.


The returning cattle were now streaming into the camp and everyone was on hand to shepherd them into place.

Drinking milk straight from the udder of a goat.

The Mundari live mainly off the milk from their herd, not the meat.

With a bull with some of the largest horns in the camp. The Mundari proudly decorate the biggest bulls with tassels.

The tassels are made from the hair from the cattle tails.

They are not only decorative, but also keep insects away from the eyes of the cows.

The sun getting low in the sky with all the cattle now returned to camp.

Fish freshly caught from the nearby White Nile.

The golden light of dusk now illuminating the camp.

More of the 300+ cattle now in the camp.

The smoky haze from the dung fires and the lowlight of dusk now permeating the camp.

Tethering the last of the cattle.

It was very interesting and fascinating to simply wander through the camp and observe, experience and photograph a way of life totally removed from my own.

Distinctive V-shaped scars visible on his forehead. Mundari boys have scars cut into their foreheads with sharp blades when they are children as a symbol of community and adulthood.

Warming the feet beside the fire.

A cow with distinctive notched ears for identification.

The sun now gone and the smoky haze now creating a very ethereal feel.

The Mundari girl clutching a twig for cleaning her teeth.

The end of the South Sudanese Civil War means many soldiers are no longer needed and an influx of men looking for wives. This has caused the price of dowry to skyrocket from 20 to 40 cows.

Their value can be up to $700 each, a fortune in a country where the average monthly wage is just $50.

Despite their fearsome horns the cattle were harmless and not aggressive at all.

A Mundari boy making sure the cows were properly tied up and secured for the night.

Mundari boys.

The last of the golden light of dusk as the sun now recedes well below the horizon.

A boy checking on the herd from an elevated perch.

It was quite a sight to see so many cattle where there had just been a large patch of dirt, dust and stakes only a few hours earlier.

There was no electricity in the camp and the only light once dusk fell were from the camp fires.

There were no huts or buildings as such in the camp and the Mundari simply congregated around the fires in the evening next to the cattle.

Our tents now setup and the table set for dinner.

Enjoying our dinner of fish, rice and vegetables prepared by Samson.

After practising my very mediocre Spanish with Javier and discussing our past travels I crawled into my sleeping bag and quickly nodded off despite the occasional moo from the nearby cows.

Day 2.

After a surprisingly restful sleep, I got up at dawn to make the most of the first light of day.

Fast asleep beside the smouldering pile of a dung fire.

The cattle already awake just before sunrise.

A Mundari man waking up on one of the camp wooden platforms/beds.

Even though the sun had yet to rise the people of the camp were already beginning the morning tasks.

A row of cattle in the soft blue light of dawn.

A young boy warming himself beside the dung fire mound.

On hands and knees sweeping up the cow dung.

A calf suckling from their mother's udder.

Some of the younger Mundari boys were responsible for looking after the camp goats and sheep.

Stoking a dung fire mound.

With so many cattle, scooping up all the dung seemed like quite a monumental and not too pleasant task.

The children had a surprisngly strong work ethic and carried out their early morning chores without complaint.

A cow with a impressive set of horns.

The daily collecting and recycling of the dung also helped to keep the camp relatively clean and waste free.

Annoying flies harrassing a cow.

A bleary-eyed Mundari boy and one of his goats.

Another of the morning's tasks was to dust down the cattle again.

The very fine ash is similar in consistency to talcum powder and is the same dust that the Mundari apply to their face annd bodies.

Making sure every cow and bull got a liberal dosing of dust.

A small and colourful bird perched on the back of a cow.

Spreading the collected cow dung out on the ground.

The dung would then be dried in the sun during the day.

Rubbing the cattle's horns with mud and ash.

The cattle were calm and compliant.

The red mud is to protect the horns from chafing and disease.

Bull with a bell round his neck.

The cattle seemed quite content to have their horns massaged with mud.

The brilliant red mud contrasting with the white hide of the cattle.

Black, white and red.

A Mundari boy collecting fresh urine from a cow.

Sitting down for an omelette and coffee for breakfast.

A small mountain of cow dung about to be spread out for drying.

The goats and sheep in their corner of the camp.

Getting breakfast.

Fresh from the goat.

Heating up.

A warm cup of milk.

A Mundari man wearing a necklace with heart and arrow pendant.

Red diamonds.

An older Mundari man with grandson.

Milking the cows, one of the last tasks of the morning.

Steadying the cow with a rope looped around the hind legs.

Fresh from the teat.

A young Mundari boy with the herd.

And with his sister.


The cows were largely docile with the routine of daily milking.

In between.


The camp bell.


All the morning chores finally complete.

The cattle leaving camp late in the morning.

Chasing a few errant stragglers.

And off to the fields for a day of grazing.

The goats and sheep following.

With the final animal exodus from the camp.

Samson preparing lunch at the camp as we retreated to the shade of the tree after the busy morning.

And some spaghetti, fish and peas for lunch.

While chatting about other trips to Africa, Javier mentioned he had been to Mali not once but twice. The first time he managed to lose all his photos when backing them up on an external hard drive, and hence the need to return for a second time.

With the camp now empty of animals and everyone taking a break there wasn't much to photograph so I took a nap in my tent.

And was woken up 2 hours later by a bleating calf! The calf had an infection from insect bites to its ear but they had given it an injection and it was now looking a bit more lively.

I had brought with me four camera batteries but at the rate I was taking photos it became evident they would soon run out. Luckily I had brought a USB battery charger and by using Lawrence's USB charger in the Landcruiser I was able to charge them back up and keep snapping away however.

The men stripping corn from the cob.

Enjoying an afternoon cup of tea from Samson.

The afternoon tasks beginning again.

AK-47 for protection from cattle rustlers.

A Mundari Woman wearing a cross around her neck. 61% of South Sudanese are Christian.

Sweeping up by hand the now dried cattle dung.

Afternoon snack.


Preparing the camp for the returning animals.

Some of the kids laughing with Javier after he shows them their photos.

The men sitting under the tree and drinking cow urine while the children go about their afternoon chores in the background.

The fire mounds smoking away again with the freshly dried dung.

With my passport now complete with obligatory police registration after Fedrick returned from a trip back to Juba.

The first cattle now back in camp after a day out grazing the pastures.

A young calf needing a bit of a pull for motivation.

And some of the bigger cattle being tied up too.

The pale white ash looked almost like face paint.

Unlike yesterday the sky was relatively cloud free, allowing the camp to be bathed in a warm bright glow in the late afternoon.


The copious smoke mixing with the golden light of the setting sun.

Resulting in a very ethereal and almost magical atmosphere.

And making for very dramatic and striking photography.


Hammering in a stake to secure one of the bulls.

Three cows that had returned to the same tether as the night before.

A boy pausing for a photograph amongst the cattle.

Mundari ladies preparing dinner.

The sun now below the horizon as the last light of the day begins to fade.

A young Mundari boy with a belly fill of milk.

The faint light of dusk now rapidly fading.

Some of the kids waiting for their mother.

Beef and rice for our dinner and freshly prepared by Samson.

With some juicy watermelon for dessert.

And the sky awash with stars and the campfires illuminating the camp below making for a beautiful end to day 2.

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