Women and children covered in white ash from burnt cow dung eagerly welcomed herds of cattle back into kraals (enclosure for livestock) at the Wundor Cattle Camp in Bor, Jonglei State, after a day's grazing.
"These cows you are seeing are everything to me," said Gabriel Kuany, 42, who has four wives and nine children. "They give me milk that I sell, and I buy food and pay my children's school fees."
Cattle keeping is one of the oldest economic activities in Southern Sudan. Shunning the western lifestyle common in many African cities, the Dinka Bor community keeps cows for social prestige and the payment of wedding dowries and use their milk for food.
"Initially our cows are purely for prestige -- we cannot sell or slaughter for meat unless they are sick," said Mabior de Maluk, a 30-year-old native of Bor. "But now with modernization, people can sell bulls to send their children to school."
A bull is valued at about 1,000 SDG ($450).
Pastoralists here burn cow dung to smoke out mosquitoes and other insects from the camp. Cow dung ash is then applied to cows and residents to protect them from insect bites.
The Dinka Bor live in aduel (temporary pyramid-shaped, makeshift huts) built from arual (reeds) within the cattle camp, which form a large part of their culture.
"Living in Aduel in the cattle camp and rubbing our bodies with ashes of burnt cow dung are our pride," said 50-year-old Nhial Kuol Garang. "As cattle keepers, we look smart in it."
Cattle are not only valued for food and their dung but also help determine an individual's status, power and influence in the community.
"When you have many cows, you are highly respected and have greater influence in the community and can easily become the chief," said Mr. Garang.
The desire to have more cows has made it difficult for the herdsmen to sell their cows to improve their lives.
"You are always a happy person when you have big bulls with long curved horns," added Mr. Garang. "While dancing, you demonstrate the style of the horn of your bull."
The Dinka's attachment to their cattle also shows in their baby-naming practices. Children are sometimes named after the colour of the family's best bull or cow, said Mr. Maluk, noting that Machar means black, Mabior white and Marial black and white.
Although the majority of the Dinka Bor shuns money, vehicles and stone houses for the simple life in the cattle camp, some have embraced a few aspects of modern society such as formal education.
"I go to school and come back to the camp because it is comfortable staying in the camp," said the 15-year-old herdboy Ayen Mangok.
Back in the old days, according to Mr. Kuany, only stubborn and disobedient children were sent to school as a form of punishment.
"But this ideology has changed," he explained as he gathered cow dung on a smoky evening in April. "All the children are going to school including girls, unless it is the choice of the child to remain in the cattle camp."
Attitudes towards cattle keeping may be changing as increasing numbers of educated youths now regard life in the cattle camp as old-fashioned.
"Most of our children who have gone to school do not like staying in the cattle camp," said Mr. Garang. "They like staying in towns even if they have nothing to do there."
The cattle keepers' life can be difficult. Raids and tribal clashes with neighbouring communities are commonplace, and peace in Southern Sudan is all the more vital to the prosperity and security of the cattle camp dwellers.
"We voted (in the April 2010 elections) because we want to elect leaders who can bring us peace," said Mr. Kuany. "We need peace for our cows, we need peace for our children. If all the cows died, then we are also dead."