Reporting from Juba, SudanThe man in the orange sunglasses and a fur hat with earflaps seemed more like a jazz musician on a cigarette break than a tribal chief, but as soon as he spoke, village men gathered for a lesson on brides, poor boys and cattle.
The shade was just right. John Modi Jubek crossed his legs, striking as regal a pose as a chief can when he's sitting in a plastic chair. It was odd to him that a stranger didn't know the Mundari tribe smiles more upon tall women than on short ones. A father may love his diminutive daughters, but affection does not bring longhorns and riches.
"Tall girls fetch more cattle because their daughters will quickly grow and can be married off to fetch even more cattle," said the chief, shooing a stubborn fly. "A tall girl can command 60 to 100 cattle from a suitor. A short girl may get 20 head, and, sometimes, short girls overstay their welcome in the father's home and end up fetching only five cattle. By then, a tall girl has already borne five children."
The chief paused, letting daughter-cattle ratios sink in. The men shook their heads at his calculations.
The chief was wise, cool in the late morning heat, watching sunflower-high women brush beneath the branches of a big tree with jugs and food sacks balanced on their heads. They strode past a man selling padlocks and Jesus calendars; they glided beyond a short sister wobbling in the sunlight with a numb smile and alcohol on her breath.
"Things get competitive for a tall girl," said the chief. "Once she reaches 12 years of age, men come to the father and promise many cattle. Of course, a suitor with no cattle will never marry. Our laws forbid that. He is single for life. If he sleeps with someone's daughter or gets her pregnant, he'll be killed."
What do tall women think about marriage and cattle?
The chief bit his lip, bafflement drifting across his face.
"Women have no say," he said.
May 5, 2010
Some of the tallest peoples in the world are also some of the most oppressed: the black Dinka and Nuer tribes of the South Sudan, who fought a long civil war against the brown Arab-speaking government in Khartoum. Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection driving racial differentiation appears to be at work here. From the LA Times: