South Sudanese Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • Do not gesture or pass things with the left hand alone. Use the right hand or both hands together.
  • It is considered extremely offensive to insult an elder. Some South Sudanese may believe that it can bring about a curse on the person who was rude.
  • Address people using their formal title or reference to a familial relationship, especially if they are older than you (see Naming for more information on this).
  • Show respect to those who are of a higher social status than you by looking down and avoiding direct eye contact.
  • People may kneel down to greet or serve people of a much higher status. Children may kneel to parents and elders, and wives may kneel to their husbands.
  • South Sudanese people tend to have a relaxed approach to time. To be late is normal and does not imply rudeness. It only means that something “came up” (usually within the family or among close friends). Sometimes lateness is related to social status. Important people are expected to be late while everyone waits for them.


Visiting

  • Social visiting and hosting has a great importance for building and mending relations among friends and family members.
  • The Sudanese can find it insulting if a person does not visit them for a long period of time.
  • In South Sudan, people may visit without invitation or notice – especially children. However, if the visit is going to extend over a couple of days, people make arrangements in advance.
  • It is a good gesture to bring a small gift when you visit. You may also bring gifts for any children that live at the household.
  • Remove your shoes before entering someone’s house.
  • It is customary to greet the man of the house before other people present.
  • Hosts immediately offer refreshments to their guests, starting with water and then tea or coffee (boon). Receiving and sharing such hospitality is a sign of courtesy and respect.
  • It is considered rude to refuse such refreshments. Doing so could be perceived as a direct insult to the host.
  • Depending on one’s tribal/ethnic background, men and women may socialise together or separately during visits.


Eating

  • Guests are offered the first portion of food.
  • The head of the family – the father – is served first before other family members.
  • Children are sometimes allowed to eat beforehand or quickly so that they can go to bed early.
  • Children, women and men may eat in separate groups.
  • It is considered strange to eat alone.
  • It is very rude to decline food from a host.
  • Do not speak whilst your mouth is full.
  • Very important guests may be treated to eat the family’s best goat, sheep or chicken.
  • If a leader or person of great esteem is visiting, some tribes may sacrifice a bull in their honour. The guest of honour is then expected to jump over the animal to cleanse its body of any bad spirits.
  • Dining utensils may be fashioned out of dried and hollowed-out calabash gourds (e.g. as bottles). This is a long, thick, melon-like fruit.
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