Fieldwork Update from South Sudan

Despite challenges including the lengthy processes required to gain permission for data collection in fieldwork sites, increasing costs of fuel and food, and a deteriorating security situation, the research team on the ‘Visual Early Warning and Preparedness in Civilian Protection’ project have this month commenced fieldwork.

Researchers Haji and Doria from the partner organisation CARD (Community Aid for Relief and Development) carried out research in the village of Kakuwa, Juba region throughout April 2023.

They conducted interviews with civilians in the village who explained Early Warning processes which are used in preparation for possible eruptions of violence, as well as in periods of open violence. In their conversations about Early Warning Early Response mechanisms, researchers were told:

“Our community is headed by a Sultan, and Chiefs who act as councilmen. […] We have three ways for preparing for attacks and the last option is normally to run away.

The community prepares for attacks according to the kind of insecurity or danger that’s about to happen. We ask, is the insecurity affecting livestock, plantations or is it an attack from another community? Depending on the danger we prepare accordingly. As a community when news of an impending insecurity is rumoured, normally a messenger/ community member runs to inform the Sultan. 

Once news of insecurity reaches him, it is spread by messengers to the people around to either pack and run, or gather at the sultan’s house for the information to be shared and a way forward is known.This information is also passed by using a local instrument called telure/owi , this instrument is blown and the bearer climbs up a high tree to observe the movement of the enemy and blow the instrument accordingly. This person acts an observer and as an alert system. 

The other way of passing this information is normally through drumming. Now drumming is used for different reasons depending on the beats of the drum. A certain way indicates death, and the other indicates gathering and lastly danger etc. The drummer normally shouts or speaks as well to communicate what the drumming intends to communicate. These systems alert the community members and makes them aware of what is happening within the community and act accordingly.”

In addition to these operational mechanisms to convey early warning information and prepare for possible attack, researchers also found such culturally-specific practices enhance community solidarity and collective identity. This increases community cohesion for at-risk villages and tribes. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such practices have become more widespread in the last few years, not less as a result of repeated attack and continued insecurity. 

Civilians using fire ash to draw protective circles on the ground
Civilians positioning reeds and grasses in certain ways to show avenues for escape and indicate direction.
Civilians climbing trees to check the horizon for attackers and then warn neighbours by using specific calls, similar to whistles.