Abuk is the name of the first woman in the world according to the Dinka people of Southern Sudan. The Dinka believe that the Creator made Abuk and Garang, the first man, out of the rich clay of Sudan. Once Abuk and Garang were created, they were placed in a huge pot; when the Creator opened the pot, the man and woman were fully formed as good-looking beings, except that the woman was small, much smaller than the Creator thought good. Therefore, Abuk was placed in a container full of water. She was left there for a time, and then when she had swelled up like a sponge to the size of a regular human being, the Creator was pleased.
However, Abuk and Garang were given only one grain a day for food, and they were always hungry. Soon Abuk used her intelligence and cleverness to make the one grain a day into a paste to make it last longer. She also decided that she would take one grain on alternate days and save it so that she could plant grain. She did this, and her work became the source of all grain.
Although this is a historical myth with real power in the explanation of the origin of Dinka society, the idea is also current in the lives of the people. In fact, the Dinka represent Abuk by a snake. Her favorite animal is a small snake, and her representation by a snake speaks to the concept of coolness and intelligence that is associated with women in many African cultures. Abuk is important in the Dinka culture, so much so that she has the responsibility to look after all women and children, fertility, the growth of trees, plants, and the productivity of the harvest. In addition, the supply of water is the responsibility of Abuk; hence, women are known as the keepers of the water. They go to the rivers for water and are responsible for making certain that the family has a good supply of water. Garang is placed in charge of everything else.
Of course, with so many responsibilities, Abuk was certain to run afoul of something in carrying out her responsibilities. She decided that she wanted to plant more crops in order to have more food to eat. Thus, she and Garang planted more grain and tried to be careful so that they would not harm the earth or create problems with the Creator who lived in the heavens. When Abuk took a long-handled hoe that reached to the heavens and began digging in the Earth, the handle of the hoe accidentally struck the Creator.
At that time, the Creator withdrew from the Earth because of the offense and sent a small blue-colored bird called atoc to cut the rope that humans had used to climb up to the sky. The Creator then left the ordinary lives of humans because the world had been spoiled by the actions of women and men. Everything has changed.
There is now illness, death, and trouble on the Earth as a direct result of the separation of the Creator from the people of the Earth.
Nevertheless, the Dinka honor Abuk as the first woman and see in her the creation and origin of all their traditions. As the first woman and the first mother, she is celebrated in the festivals and rituals of the Dinka.
- Asante, M. K. (2007). The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony. London: Routledge.
- Beswick, S. (2004). Sudan's Blood Memory: The Legacy of War, Ethnicity, and Slavery in Early South Sudan (Rochester Studies in African History and the Diaspora). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.