Trevor Cole was the winner of the Wilderness Capture the Soul of Africa Photographic Competition in 2019, with his photo of a young Mundari herder. This year we are pleased to be working with Trevor as a judge in our 2020 photo competition, Africa in Focus. Born in the city of Derry, Ireland, Trevor Cole has lived in Singapore, Togo, Italy, Ethiopia and Brazil. His two passions in life are photography and travel. He specialises in documenting landscapes and the world’s most vibrant cultures, hoping to create classic images that convey the need for a more sustainable world that embraces diversity.
Trevor recounts the story behind his winning photo and the impact this cultural experience had on his photos and life thereafter.
Symbiosis in South Sudan, an inextricable bond
The Mundari cattle camp, seldom visited by outsiders, is quite simply incredible. I saw Sebastiao Salgado’s photos of these camps years ago and there was little change that I could see. The Mundari people are friendly and enjoy being photographed. The dust and smoke intermingle to create an evocative atmosphere. We arrived in the late afternoon when the light was soft and warm with long shadows. The tribe has all its wealth in the cattle and there are thousands of them. When young men of the tribe get married the dowry may be as much as 40 cattle.
Winning Photograph. 'Framed by the Ankole Watusi'; A young Mundari herder in the midst of the cattle in his care.
At night they sleep with their cattle to protect them, and they carry Kalashnikovs to do so. Cattle rustling is commonplace and is a cause of conflict. The Ankole Watusi cattle have the largest horns (perhaps a metre long in some cases) I have ever seen and the biggest of the cattle may be worth USD500. During the day the cattle disperse from the banks of the Nile into the long grasses of the alluvial floodplain. They return at dusk instinctively.
Photographing at dawn and dusk is perfect as all the cattle are in place. The more you see, the more you realise that there is an inextricable bond between the tribe and their cattle. The way they lead them, rub ash into their skins, attend to their needs, use their milk, dung and urine is a symbiotic relationship where there is an understanding of the cattle, which goes beyond normal animal husbandry. They take pride in their animals and the whole community of man and beast is interconnected. I have never seen anything like it.
'Mundari cattle camp'; the tribe has all its wealth in the cattle and there are thousands of them. When young men of the tribe get married the dowry may be as much as 40 cattle. They cover themselves and their cattle in the ash from their fires to protect against insects.
Whilst they enjoyed having their photographs taken, they were always at work. We were a novelty to them and their reaction to us was welcoming. They collect the dung deposited overnight and spread it on the ground; some of it is used to coat the cattle horns with a veneer of manure. We watched as boys immersed their heads in the flow of fresh urine from the cattle. The outcome of this is to make use of a natural antiseptic and to change their hair colour to red or even bleach blonde!
'An inimitable bond'; shooting at dawn and dusk is perfect as all the cattle are in place. The more you see, the more you realise that there is an inextricable bond between the tribesmen and their cattle.
They relentlessly brushed around the huge camp, ensuring that it was organised despite the huge numbers of cattle and smaller numbers of sheep and goats. The cattle are tied to a peg at night to ensure their security. They have their own parking places! There are forked sticks (small trunks) spaced around the camp which the night watchers/guards climb onto with their AK47s or Kalashnikovs to watch over their wealth.
'Mundari pride'; they take pride in their animals and the whole community of man and beast is interconnected
On the previous evening the air was filled with smoke from the dung and kindle wood fires used to keep insects at bay. The dust is used to help dry the dung, which is laboriously collected and piled in the mornings. It is then dried as fuel. They also cover themselves in ash for the same reason, and it gives them a ghostly appearance as they walk between their animals.
'Symbiosis'; the way they lead them, rub ash into their skins, attend to their needs, use their milk, dung and urine is a symbiotic relationship where there is an understanding of the cattle, which goes beyond normal animal husbandry
As the sun sets in African style, the light, smoke and dust create an ethereal atmosphere which makes it appear that the Mundari and their cattle fade into a mist. An ancient mist, trapped in time, where tribal traits and traditions are perpetuated in the twenty-first century. These ancient practices ensure harmony with the environment and have a small ecological footprint, which is local and ensures cultural longevity.
These people have a very sustainable existence and their connection with nature should be a message to us all.
You can submit your entries for the Africa in Focus 2020 Photographic Competition here.
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