John Dau Shares Native Dinka Experience With Upper Schoolers

Collegiate School Global-Scholar-in Residence John Dau spoke to 11th and 12th Grade students in Upper School English teacher Mil Norman-Risch’s course, Nomads, Pilgrims and Exiles. Through readings and images of wanderers, travelers, seekers and alienated people around the world, the class explores themes of journey, home, displacement, spirituality and identity.
Mr. Dau spoke about his experiences with his native Dinka tribe prior to the outbreak of civil unrest including stories of the annual Dinka migrations to ensure fertile grazing land for cattle as seasons changed. He also talked about the ceremonies and customs related to wrestling and singing that occurred at Tochs, a place where the hearty members of the tribe spent the dry months with cattle and the tribe mingled with other ethnic groups. Mr. Dau shared that a natural and welcomed consequence of this tradition was the maintenance of peaceful relationships among tribes.

As part of the course, students read excerpts from Mr. Dau’s and his wife Martha Akech’s, book Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan that chronicles their story. The book is an important primary source for its inclusion of the rarely told female perspective of Sudan’s lost children and its celebration of human resilience.

In addition to excerpts from Lost Boy, Lost Girl, course texts include Jamil Ahmad’s The Wandering Falcon, Shakespeare’s King Lear and the Indian epic Ramayana, as well as the work of Chinese poet Basho. Excerpts from the work of Edward Said introduce the concept of Orientalism from several perspectives.

Students explore varieties of pilgrimage — religious and secular, medieval and contemporary — ranging from the Appalachian Trail to Spain’s Camino de Santiago to Mecca, as well as the works of artists and filmmakers who see themselves — literally or figuratively — as nomads, pilgrims or exiles.