Book Review: Love & Relationship Guide for the Junubin Girl

review

This review consists of direct quotations of the text in the book. Some quotes have been paraphrased to keep the text as concise as possible.

The author starts the book with a heartfelt dedication to her father, Joseph Malath (late SANU (Sudan African National Union) party member).

In the acknowledgments, the author states that her book was influenced by her personal experiences, which really offers an explanation to the consistent portrayal of her opinions throughout the book.

The book is entitled ‘Love & Relationship Guide for the Junubin Girl' and naturally, the author utilises ‘Junubin’ to describe Southern Sudanese. Junubin means ‘Southerners’. To be described as a direction may be offensive to some because outsiders may not realise it as an identification of Southern Sudanese people.


* Note that counteracting evidence used in this review to dispute claims by the author pertains mostly to Dinka culture as I believe that the author primarily used Dinka culture as the basis for South Sudanese cultures. This is further supported by the mentions of the dowry and polygamy systems in the book. This is not to suggest that other South Sudanese cultures have or do not have similar customs etc.


Chapter 1 delves into ‘Society, Culture and Indoctrination’, with an aim of understanding the basis of Southern Sudanese society. However, there was a clear digression into detailed explanations of the main terms associated with society, culture and indoctrination (i.e. leaders perceptions and government tactics).

Women indoctrination: ‘'The indoctrination of Junubin girls occurs in three levels; society, family and men. Common concepts they are introduced to; women originate from a weaker sex, - are not as intelligent as men, - cannot be effective and productive leaders like men, - cannot be taken seriously as leaders within the Junubin society'’.

The author appears to be unaware of notable South Sudanese women in politics, i.e. Ageer Gum, Dr Sitona Abdalla, Nyandeng Malek and Victoria Adhar Arop.

Victoria Adhar Arop is a well-respected politician and a retired general of the SPLA. She became known as the mother of ‘Lost Boys’ because of her services to children in Ethiopia in the 1980s (Bubenzer and Stern 2011).Another notable and highly respected politician who was in parliament with Joseph Malath was Victoria Yar Arol. She was an activist and the first Southern Sudanese woman to graduate from university. The men in parliament valued her opinions and debated with her on equal grounds. The men in parliament who she ‘schooled’ were affectionately known as ‘Yar’s Children’. Victoria Yar Arol’s legacy paved the way for other South Sudanese women in politics.

Society indoctrination:‘'Junubin society is taught to accept their life’s condition as a permanent state without seeking change or expecting their leaders to be held accountable for their actions'’.

South Sudanese are incredibly resilient; South Sudanese have resisted Islamisation and colonialism that swept West Africa even before the arrival of the British in pre-secession South Sudan (Alier 1990). Furthermore, with on-going conflicts between the SPLM and rebel groups, the presence of opposition parties, journalists and activists speaking out, action and focus groups for change in Juba, it is difficult to believe that South Sudanese don't want to seek leadership or government change.

In Chapter 2, the author introduces us to four categories used by South Sudanese men to ‘'negate South Sudanese girls’ worth and abilities'’:

     The village girl:‘'cultural restrictions require the girls to perform domestic duties, living a life of servitude. Education is not supported and these girls are the epitome of South Sudanese society’s ideal; many girls inadvertently hope to emulate as she has characteristics wildly sought by South Sudanese men'’.

This is yet another absurd statement from the author because in most Southern Sudanese societies there is a division of labour. The society divided labour such that women carried out day-to-day chores and during the rain season, men herded cattle and provided protection from the ever-present ethnic conflict. The men were also responsible for other duties such as fishing, building homes etc.In terms of education, the lack of education was not an issue of gender but rather an issue which affected all Southern Sudanese. Southern Sudanese were deliberately held back from education due to oppressive forces (Alier 1990). Furthermore, South Sudan had less than 50 secondary schools in the 1970s which were scattered all over the country the same size as Western Europe. Factors such as distance, prevented most parents from sending their girls to school due to therisks associated with long distance traveling.Accompanying the text is an illustration of the bending postures ‘as she [the village girl] is continuously performing house duties’. This was a slightly humorous and odd representation of the subjective (family size/wealth dependent) workload of a village girl. Page 24 shows the work schedule of a village girl with no direct source.

bending

The categorisation of village girls is occupied with absurdity and common misconceptions surrounding village girls. The author assumes that village girls lead unhappy and undignified lives. However, village girls lead different lives to each other and some may feel dignified and fulfilled in their roles as a future mother and wife.

Within the categorical perceptions, there is neither a clear transition nor distinction between the voice of the author and that of the South Sudanese men. One such example is this paragraph:

 ‘'Before a Junubin man decides to marry a Western girl, he needs to realise he is placing his future in jeopardy because the western girl wants to marry him only for money and future prospects. If they were to marry, when an argument ensues, she can easily call the police, have him jailed and ruin his life. This requires a Junubin man to view a Western girl as the last option among Junubin girls to marry''.

This phenomenon of categorisation is not backed by any referenced study (i.e a survey), making it lose its validity. 

Chapter 3starts with the author’s personal story of her aunt pressuring her into marriage while she was still in high school in America. The author states three reasons not to get married, demonstrating her ability to give ‘sisterly advice’. It was refreshing to finally encounter some rationality within the book.The author writes that she will opt for adoption if she does not get the man she desires. She further states it is unconventional in South Sudanese culture to adopt children, which is simply untrue (particularly from personal experience). Children are not discarded in South Sudanese cultures, many of which largely operate on community values.

InChapter 4the author claims child marriage is a cultural practice and provides harrowing examples of forced marriages (including one which resulted in suicide).The author has well-researched most aspects of child/forced marriage which is further supported by illustrations and bullet points. However, individual differences were not considered, i.e how daughters are valued differently by different families or a family's financial situation.As intended in most South Sudanese cultures, girls are married off when they are physically mature and ready to bear children (which typically used to be age 15 and upwards (currently, puberty is reached much earlier which may be due toenvironmental factors). Southern Sudanese girls are now married off at an incredibly young age due to socio-economical issues plaguing Southern Sudanese society.

‘'It is our interpretation of culture which has destroyed gender equality'' - Cambodian Civil Society Group.

This quote supports the fact that aspects of our culture have been exploited to benefit the few. The quote also contradicts the author's claim that 'forced marriage is a cultural practice’.

Chapter 5touches on polygamy and dowry. The author’s mother discusses why she chose the author’s father; this further contradicts claims within the book that Southern Sudanese women are undervalued in society. Freedom of choice is dependent on how much a family values their female relatives, rather than South Sudanese society itself.The author struggles to objectively express other viewpoints. The ‘perceived benefits’ of polygamy and dowry are stated as if the author is suggesting that these are the perceived benefits and not the general cultural aims of polygamy and dowry. The perceived benefits of polygamy and dowry are actually the general cultural aims of polygamy and dowry (Fadlalla 2009).Differences in tribal cultures, family dynamics, wealth and how parents value their daughters, impact how they view dowry (as a means to obtain the next meal or a social exchange (as is its general aim)), are viewpoints which the author has not considered.The stated dysfunctions of the dowry system are truly representative of the disintegration of our culture and society. The 'stock exchange effect' with regards to dowry has driven up the demand and price. However, there has beeneffort in some parts of South Sudan such as Jonglei to regulate the bride price. The author also fails to consider that there are some South Sudanese women (educated and accomplished) who:1) do not equate dowry with their self-worth.2) are willing to adhere to this aspect of their culture.

InChapter 6, the author claims abuse is viewed as a natural part of life within the South Sudanese community. The author further states that ‘many Junubin girls are taught by parents ,and extended family to tolerate and accept abuse as part of their subservient role’ and that violence and abuse is a longstanding 'cultural norm'. The author seals her ignorance by writing that ‘divorce is not part of our culture'. Divorce is allowed in South Sudanese cultures, i.e. in theDinka culture, where either a husband or a wife can request for a divorce.Further, the author states that ‘war, trauma, conflict, mental health problems’ are reasons why abuse occurs. Perhaps it is these post-conflict ramifications which have resulted in abuse becoming the 'norm' in our society and not necessarily our culture itself.
The author makes an effort to raise an issue that is often overlooked; the abuse of men by women. The author also encourages breaking the culture of silence, which is a commendable effort on her part.In Dinka culture, compensation has to be paid if you physically harm anyone; male or female. Physical abuse is therefore not tolerated (O'Sullivan 1910).

Chapter 7is loaded with outlandish statements such as, ‘'we are a society that bases part of our existence on pretense and denial when it comes to addressing sinful acts such as molestation or rape'' and [our community says] ''there is not a single Junubin man who is a molester''.The author also states that the kitchen is where South Sudanese girls are most likely to be molested, due to the fact that ‘'she is raised to believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen, whenever she is at home she spends majority of her time performing domestic duties'’.
The author 'rectifies' a lot of the outlandish statements by providing tips on molestation prevention and tell-tale signs of child molestation.

The author beginsChapter 8with ‘'one of the most disturbing and mind boggling things that occurs in our Junubin society is the blatant disregard for Junubin girls and women who have been raped'’. The author continues with, ''rape is viewed as a behaviour no Junubin can commit'’.

For example, in Dinka culture, when a woman is raped, the offender would be killed by her male relative (i.e. brothers) or all cattle would be raided for seizure (O’Sullivan 1910).

The author states the reasons for rape and makes the effort with a reminder that even the wealthy, respected men are capable of rape and that South Sudanese girls should not let their guard down.According to the author, a South Sudanese girl’s chances of rape is increased by previous history of molestation or rape, alcohol and drug intake and having multiple sexual partners. This ‘'places women in vulnerable position increasing chances of rape. When a junubin girl sleep with many Junubin men, the word easily spread that she is easy, when a Junubin man would want to have sex with her and she declines, he can rape her and validate his actions by stating ‘she has sex with many men''’.

chapt 8

The author continues with other questionable theories of why rape occurs with ‘'her level of education becomes a threat to her partner and increases her chances of being raped'’.  

InChapter 10, the author utilises statistics to illustrate the high STD (sexually transmitted diseases) rate. This chapter also consists of graphic manifestations of STDs, which makes this book unsuitable for girls of a certain age. 
 

Chapter 11discusses skin bleaching. The author utilises the anatomy of the skin to explain the health risks associated with bleaching. 

The author also shows considerable bias. She writes that, ''lack of identification with Junubin culture (war attributing to lack of cohesiveness between families, tribes and lack of historical figures, symbols or events that unite entire Junubin population'', are reasons for bleaching but never made that same effort to explain why aspects of South Sudanese culture are exploited.While impressive in her explanations on skin bleaching and its cause and effects, the author loses me with this certainly odd quote:

One of the social implications of bleaching is ‘'loss of employment due to bleaching as your skin is lightening and bad smell is emanating from you and the boss questions your decision making skills'’.

InChapter 13, the author utilises a graph explaining six of the common reasons why Southern Sudanese men cheat. The Y axis of the graph is unlabelled, thus the figures remain unexplained. The author also makes a grave mistake of not explaining the nominal data within the text. There is also no references to the source of the information, the graph or its data.

InChapter 25, the author lists the misconceptions of Equatorians, Dinka and Nuers. Common misconceptions are stated, however, I was generally annoyed at Equatorians being grouped together as if they are culturally, linguistically and ethnically homogeneous. Further, the Dinka and Nuer tribes have multiple subdivisions and each have variations in culture and language. 

Author states reasons why she loves being from different tribes. However, the author has expressed considerable ignorance and somewhat disdain with regards to Dinka culture, particularly on social media.

The book ends with a heartfelt conclusion; the author appears to be sincere in wanting other South Sudanese girls to use their greatness and talent to achieve their dreams.

Conclusion

This review was challenging to write, but perhaps not as challenging as reading the book. The author appears to have rushed the book, which is characterised by missing words, letters, spelling, grammatical errors and incomplete sentences (as seen on page 171 of the book). In some cases, the text is wrongly formatted.

 

The author goes above and beyond to explain simplistic scenarios, i.e. the outcomes of particular actions. Disappointingly, she fails to spend the same amount of effort on researching culture using first-hand sources such as books, university literature (peer reviewed papers, case studies etc.) and research (surveys, etc.). This effort would have offered this book extra leverage and perhaps anchored it as a pioneering South Sudanese lifestyle and relationship guide.

 

The author makes an effort to address many different topics concerning South Sudanese. However, with a diverse range of topics, the book appears to be confused and loses focus within and between chapters. Furthermore, opinions within the book appear skewed, from one extreme end to the other with facts being the only intermediary. The author also appears to not leave much room for an opinion other than her own. This incredible bias comes along with a very accusatory tone and a somewhat underdeveloped thought process and reasoning.

 

Ironically, the book points out misconceptions and stereotypes, while filled with misconceptions and stereotypes of South Sudanese men, women and culture. With this, the author displays a clear lack of understanding of South Sudanese culture and therefore unleashes a multitude of attacks on it. Her strong affinity for Western culture is perhaps due to her living in America since 1995.

 

The book is not a reflection of authentic South Sudanese culture, but rather depicts the depreciation of culture that has come about due to conflict and colonisation. In some of the most significant chapters (5, 6 and 7) the author fails to make a clear distinction between cultural practices and circumstances (forced marriage, high dowry rate etc.). The author’s inability and lack of effort to make this distinction makes me question her ability to critically analyse. Undeniably, there are aspects of South Sudanese culture that points it towards being a patriarchal system. However, Southern Sudanese society remains fairly egalitarian.

 

The book has strengths in some parts, but many weaknesses. The strengths of this book includes some of the medical advice given, which shows that the author is able to regurgitate facts at her convenience and she appears to be able to do so to a high standard. Her nursing degree also makes her apt to address some healthcare issues in South Sudan.The book consists of many good illustrations and displays a good use of diagrams, making the book much more attractive. The downfall though, is that some illustrations could be deemed as fillers, often displaying what is in the text, making it redundant. The Q&A section makes the book more interactive and offers it a textbook dimension.

 

A strong point of confusion with this book is the undefined age group this book is targeted towards. With well-explained and referenced terms, to discussions about mature topics such as STDs, sex positions, promiscuity and a title that can be misinterpreted (use of 'girl' as opposed to woman or young woman), it is difficult to understand which age group this book targets.

 conc

What further reduced any little credibility this book had, were the information sources referenced? The book consists of references from a sensationalist news article from Yahoo! Voices (’10 Sings Your Man is a Playa’), AskMen.com, Wikipedia and a Twitter status (for a quote I presume). The author barely utilised any books and particularly none on South Sudanese culture. The Wikipedia reference was particularly surprising as referencing from Wikipedia is strongly discouraged in higher education.

 

With cliché quotations from her mother, the author attempts to add some flavour to the pages. Some of these quotes are so cliché that they can be easily traced back to the original author via Google.com. The occasional use of Juba Arabi colloquialism is also perhaps the author’s attempt to connect with the reader at a more personal level.

 

The author has displayed considerable bias within this book and does not appear to be consistent in her views and actions. For example, the author has always displayed an association with feminism, yet the book exudes an undertone of critique and disdain for the personal choices of women, which feminism has usually fought for, i.e. the right to be sexually promiscuous etc. or against, i.e the expectation that women need to behave a certain way to attract men (the author has a chapter dedicated to how Southern Sudanese girls should behave).

 

The bias within this book is further represented by the author conveniently excluding any mention of improvements made so far and/or systems put in place in order to ensure improvements within South Sudanese society (i.e.the introduced quota for gender parity in South Sudanese government). There’s certainly a gender disparity in Southern Sudanese government, but as with most elements of society, it is not a permanent social condition because culture and society are ever changing.

 

The book inspired me to find out more about South Sudanese culture; discovering its shortcomings and misinterpreted aspects. I commend the author for writing this book and making some kind of effort to highlight and address the current issues within our society. However, I disagree with the sweeping generalisations, constant promotion of misconceptions and the low quality of this book which is characterised by lack of research and the utilisation of unreliable sources. The book is sadly unfocused, incredibly biased and culturally inaccurate; this has overshadowed the great advice she offered regarding self-love, relationships and healthcare.

 

Regarding the cultural aspects of the book, the author should have sought advice from academics who were more familiar with South Sudanese culture. Nonetheless, this book has been an interesting read and should be approached with an open mind.


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