Gallery to host event exploring Sudanese culture

A Dinka herder. Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith
A Dinka herder. Angela Fisher and Carol Beckwith

By Leigh Ann Dewey

Contributor

The African nation of Sudan and city of La Jolla may seem worlds apart, but these two distinctly different regions will exist side by side for two evenings, starting at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 and 15 at the Africa & Beyond Ethnic Art Gallery, 1250 Prospect St., La Jolla.

The free two-day event will feature Angela Fisher and Carol Beckworth, authors and photographers of the book “Dinka: Legendary Cattle Keepers of Sudan,” and Benson Deng, who with his brother Alphonsion Deng and cousin Benjamin Ajak, wrote “They Poured Fire On Us from the Sky.” A dual book-signing party with entertainment and refreshments is planned for Oct. 14, and talks by Fisher, Beckworth and Benson Deng will be given on Oct. 15.

Accomplished writers and photographers for more than 30 years, Fisher and Beckworth have devoted their lives to documenting and photographing the rapidly vanishing lifestyle of the Africa’s indigenous peoples. They have won awards for 14 of their books, produced feature stories for National Geographic and Life magazines, and had their work exhibited throughout the world. This will mark their second appearance at Africa & Beyond. Eight years ago, they introduced their book, “African Ceremonies,” at the gallery.

Their new book, “Dinka: Legendary Cattle Keepers of Sudan,” chronicles the lives of young men who are entrusted at an early age with their family’s greatest wealth: their cattle.

Given a cow at puberty, a Dinka boy cares for the animal its entire life, honoring the cow by taking the animal’s name, reciting poetry in its honor, and training its horns into a curved shape that he mimics as he stands watch over the cow. The boys care for their animals daily in cattle camps, protecting them from predators and thieves.

Originally from Sudan and part of the Dinka ethnic group, Benson Deng, Alphonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak, are three members of a group of young men known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” An estimated 27,000 these “lost boys” of the Dinka and Nuer groups were displaced, and many orphaned, during the Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983 to 2005, that killed 2 million people.

The name “lost boys” was given by aid organizations, including the International Rescue Committee. The committee relocated thousands of these refugees to the United States, where they were mentored by U.S. citizens and given many opportunities, including the chance to attend college.

Now men, the Deng brothers and Ajak are among 1,000 “lost boys” who call San Diego County home. “They Poured Fire On Us from the Sky” offers their first-hand accounts of how they were driven from their homes in Southern Sudan and trekked nearly 1,000 miles on foot at the ages of 5 and 6, enduring terrible hardships until they reached a refugee camp in Kenya.

They were mentored by Rancho Santa Fe resident Judy A. Bernstein and her family. Bernstein was the first to read their accounts, and helped them publish the book in 2005, with hopes of raising money for their college educations. She wrote the book’s introduction.

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