Aiwel

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In the belief of the Dinka people of Sudan, Aiwel was the founder of the priesthood known as the spearmasters. He was the son of a water spirit and a human mother. During his childhood, Aiwel's mother died, and he went to live with his father in a river. When he became a man, he returned to his mother's village with a beautiful multicolored ox he called by the name Longar. When the people saw him, they called him Aiwel Longar. Thus, there entered into the cosmology of the Dinka people one of their most important figures.
Aiwel Longar is representative of so many values, attitudes, and dispositions in Dinka philosophy that one could almost say that the Dinka measure other humans by the characteristics of Aiwel Longar. First of all, his narrative is epic and shows that he had arisen from a special condition of being from the spiritual and the human side. Second, he overcame all conditions of difference and established himself as the leader of his people. The story is told that Aiwel Longar performed many mighty deeds at his mother's village.
Not long after Aiwel Longar had returned to his mother's village, there was a terrible drought in the land. When the rains did not come, many people died because they could not find food. Crops died in the field. There was little grass in some places and no grass in even more places. Thousands of cattle also died in the land.
Aiwel Longar was greatly disturbed by the conditions he saw. Finally, he went to the people who remained in the village and told them that they should follow him to a new land because if they remained in their village they would die. His confidence increased to the point that he spoke directly to the elders. He said that they would have water and grass for their animals as well as for themselves if they followed him to the new land.
Although he had traveled where others had never gone, it was difficult for him to convince them of something they had never seen. Many people did not believe Aiwel. They refused at first to leave the village. They spoke against the plan, and Aiwel Longar decided that he had to leave so he began his journey with those who wanted to go with him and his family. These willing individuals trusted Aiwel's words. Some of the people who had challenged him soon decided that they would follow Aiwel.
But Aiwel was angry that they had not come in the first place; when they reached the river, he killed several people as they tried to cross the river to join him. The people with him begged him not to punish all of those who did not initially leave with the group. Persuaded that all of the people had not objected to his plans, and after the leaders of the revolt against his idea had been killed, Aiwel relented and allowed most of the people to join his group. He gave the men spears, and they became a part of his spearmasters clan.

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Further Reading

  • Asante, M. K., and Nwadiora, E. (2007). SpearMasters: Introduction to African Religion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Scheub, H. (2000). A Dictionary of African Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.