The Toposa belong to the Turkana group, which also includes Karamojong of Uganda, Nyangatom of Ethiopia and Turkana of Kenya. They are semi nomad pastoralists and share many similarities in terms of culture, way of life, language. The Toposa economy and social life revolves around herding livestock, including cattle, camels, donkeys, goats and sheep. The Toposa also pan for gold and other precious minerals in stream beds. They may travel considerable distances seeking water and pasturage. Possession of cattle, along with possession of a loaded gun, are the main measures of status and wealth. Cattle are central to Toposa culture. The Toposa have always competed for water and pasturage with their neighbors. They have a tradition of constant low-level warfare, usually cattle raids, against their neighbors who do the same.
South Sudan has recently gone through several civil wars and great instability. The last crisis erupted in June 2016. A peace agreement between the fighting parties was signed toward the end of 2018, however the conditions for implementation of a sustained deal may not be there yet. South Sudan is a very young nation and does not benefit yet from appropriate State of law and governance. On the other hand, the country has significant wealth potential, including oil and minerals.
Due or thanks to this instability, South Sudan has partially remained unaccessible over the years to the foreign wold and hence to international industrial consortium and their economic interests as well as to mass tourism. South Sudan and especially the region where the Toposa are found is still somehow untouched. it is also a very large area where wild life is still found and not parked like in some national park in Africa.
The Toposa, their way of life, their culture, their natural environment have long been altered by climate change, foreign influence, « African development », global monoculture. Likewise and even though being one of the last and largest reservoirs of wildlife in Africa, the wild animals presence in the region has already greatly negatively impacted by human activity and environmental changes over the last 40 to 50 years.
When South Sudan will somehow stabilize it is almost certain that those industrial groups’s interests will start impacting at a much larger scale the country, the environment, the people and their way of life and culture, the wildlife.
What will be the world for the next generations? How do we value diversity, nature, environmental issues, cultural diversity, biodiversity, wildlife? Are South Sudan and more specifically here the Toposa and their region next to be necessarily scarified to the agenda of mass consumerism?
Our current choice of economic system is not only bad for our well-being. It is also one of the central influences exacerbating key global problems such as the environment (including climate change and the unsustainable use of natural resources) and social justice (including poverty and human rights issues). Our own well-being and global problems, including environmental issues, are therefore two sides of the same coin. We urgently need a new system that will put these things right.
This photographic project is also a snapshot of what already no longer exists within the Toposa society their way of life, their culture, what is still there today, and what will no longer be tomorrow.
The photographs draw into the question of natives of a region whose traditions and customs reach back to thousand years ago but whose incorporation into contemporary world seems ineluctable, whose cultural identity seems to be at risk due to modernization and development. In a today’s world dominated by monoculture the indigenous culture capacity of absorbing new elements while maintaining its own unique integrity is questionable. Who doesn’t want a coca cola can? I appreciate the photographs to be suspended in time and through the passage of time I want to believe that the images created will endure providing a substantial visual and documentary legacy of my encounter with the Toposa.