Jose Manyang Ater, 24, is a budding actor who hails from Rumbek in Western Lakes region, located in the central region of South Sudan.
He belongs to a group of young South Sudanese who are staging plays across the country to discourage violence and raise public awareness on trauma caused by ethnic clashes, cattle raiding and child marriages.
The high school graduate said that inter-ethnic violence has claimed hundreds of lives and left many traumatized while fueling revenge attacks.
He is now using his talent to help raise public awareness on root causes of violence, trauma while providing a solution.
“I was influenced to practice drama due to violence in our country. We need people to change, some of our people don’t listen to mere words but they understand better when you put words into action,” Ater told reporters.
In one of the several plays, staged during the national trauma awareness festival in Juba, he focuses on a group of youthful cattle raiders motivated by social and cultural pressure to amass huge number of cattle in order to meet the high bride price.
He said the high bride price remains one of the key contributors to violence, since time immemorial among most pastoralist communities in South Sudan.
“Mostly the cause of this is when you don’t have anything. It’s a very long story that started even before we were born. It seems people are revenging like if I come and raid your herd of cattle today, next time you will organize your group and will revenge for that,” said Ater.
“My message is I don’t want people to fight, to raid each other’s cattle. I need peace in the community. You know poverty in South Sudan is a problem, I advise that it’s better to work very hard so that you own property rather than go to raid,” he added.
He said girl child education should be encouraged in order to discourage the habit of viewing girls as source of bride wealth.
The national trauma awareness festival under the theme “Reconnecting South Sudan Communities Through Theater” is supported by the South Sudan Theater Organization and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Jennifer Adut Maker, 20, an actress from Western Lakes region, also said poverty is not the major reason as to why people raid cattle. The main reason is the high bride price.
“If you have few cattle you can just think of raiding others. You raid in order to increase the number of cattle and get your bride,” said Adut who also works as a journalist with a community radio station.
“We the ladies are the victims in our state. If we could give the girls a chance to go to school then the number of people raiding cattle will be reduced. Sometimes I feel bad when I see my fellow girls being forced to get married just because of greed,” she added.
Adut disclosed their performances have been well received after positively influencing behavior change in the society.
Ayuen Maker, 24, an actor from Bor in the north eastern Jonglei region, said many South Sudanese are traumatized because of the violence they have experienced both on small and large scale levels.
“Early marriages still continue up to now in my village. We do such drama to educate our people that education is very important,” he added.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, about 72 percent of children in South Sudan fail to complete primary school education due to poverty and early marriages.
Edward Settimo Yugu, director-general of culture in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, said they are supporting the performing arts to create awareness on trauma and encourage unity and peace.
“We want to encourage performing arts, we want to bring peace. Recently we brought people during the national unity day from various states and when they go back they disseminate messages on peace,” said Yugu.
Joseph Abuk, executive director of South Sudan Theatre Organization, said theater performances have brought together youths from various regions, fostering unity.
“Someone from Pibor sharing a (hotel) room with another from Bor is an expression of our desire to unite as South Sudanese,” said Abuk. Enditem