‘My culture is my identity’: The story of a Kenyan-born, Australian-raised South Sudanese girl
Maria Nyanhial Maker is from Rumbek, South Sudan. She was born in Kenya and migrated to Perth, Western Australia, in 2003 when had just turned 10 years of age 4 days before her arrival.
She migrated with her 4 siblings and her mother.
Maria studied from primary school to college in the new home. She multi-tasked, working at Commonwealth Bank as her first job, studying and making music as her hobby.
“Regardless of all that, I never forgot to get involved in my own cultural activities where I studied to read and write Dinka from my uncle Eli Magok Manyol and my Pastor Mathew Mading Malok,” she writes in an email.
Nyanhial, also known as Agut-Yom, is a mother, a Wife, a Dinka dialogue children’s Author, a pathologist (phlebotomist), a community Disability Nursing Assistant, a business owner, an entrepreneur, an artist, a sports coordinator, a coach, and a secretary in the office of Rumbek Women Association in Western Australia.
Being born outside South Sudan, one would imagine less knowledge and interest in the South Sudanese culture and lifestyle. However, Agut-Yom grew up involving herself in her community, allowing herself to become ‘nyan Muonyjang’ (Dinka girl), unapologetically.
“I had a choice of choosing the Western way of life. But because I had great role models and strong beliefs, I chose to flourish as Nyan Jieng,” she explains.
Agut-Yom is a name given to those who are brave enough to impale a cow and are respected for it in the Dinka culture.
Nyanhial heard about this. Once again, she was proud of this and needed to earn the respect of those back home who call people in the Western world “Athumaa”, meaning someone who lacks knowledge of their culture.
Nyanhial certainly proved them wrong. She was physically unable to ceremoniously transfix a cow as she resides in Australia, but her husband sent money to buy the cow colored (Yom) for her to spear via Bluetooth (funny but true) with the help of their family members. Her generation had no interest in this but now, she has their attention.
Culture is important.
In her view, culture is a very broad concept that encompasses the norms, values, customs, traditions, habits, skills, knowledge, beliefs, and the whole way of life of a group of people.
To a large degree, Agut-Yom argues, culture determines how members of society think and feel: it directs their actions and defines their outlook on life.
Culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of society from that group. The Dinka community has vast cultural beliefs that make them who they are as a people.
“From a long list, I will name a few I adapted from my mother. They are respected. Culturally respecting your elders, your community, family, and yourself is one of the main practices that defines you as a good person,” she outlines.
She recognizes traditional dances; she says her mother Regina Diing Manyol has always been an icon with a voice of an angel. She leads many groups in singing and dancing showcasing their music and dances from Rumbek at the age of 5 to her teenage years, in Kenya as a married woman, and in Australia where she leads in Western Australia.
“I was blessed with my mother’s talent, beginning her dancing as a leader at Red Cross Catholic Church at Kakuma Refugee Camp at the age of 3 and in Australia where I was always put in the spotlight to lead due to my enthusiastic, energetic, and charismatic leadership,” Agut-Yom narrates.
She grew to become one of the youth leaders in her community to lead the next generation before she was married.
As of now, Nyanhial is married to a Dinka man from Rumbek – Dock Meen Malak, with whom they have three beautiful children.
“We both are proud Dinka people and determined to extend the pride by teaching our kids the ways and beliefs of Dinka people and their culture,” the happy young cultural enthusiast says.
Nyanhial Maker challenges all the youth and the next generation who are getting lost, forgetting their cultures and traditions to re-think the struggles their parents and the last generations endured to bring them here for their betterment.
Relocating to a different country is great. There are many positive and negative factors that we as people face, she believes.
Nyanhial asks her peers whether to adapt to the negatives or the positives. As South Sudanese, she continues, what change will you take back home if you forget your footsteps?
“Who will you be when you return to your motherland? Will you be a role model to the next generation?” she asks.
“Your culture is your identity. Without it, you are a lost sheep with no herd and no home to return to.”
By Africa World Books