News / Africa

South Sudan's 'Bullet-Bangle' Artists Make Art Out of War

South Sudanese fashion designer and anthropologist Akuja de Garang hopes to promote the country's bullet blacksmiths and others using shell casings to make spears, pipes and jewelry before such skills are lost, Oct. 2013. (H. McNeish/for VOA)
South Sudanese fashion designer and anthropologist Akuja de Garang hopes to promote the country's bullet blacksmiths and others using shell casings to make spears, pipes and jewelry before such skills are lost, Oct. 2013. (H. McNeish/for VOA)
Hannah McNeish
Africa’s longest-running civil war left South Sudan in ruins when it split from the north in 2011. But the country’s artisans are literally picking up the old shell casings from artillery fire that used to terrorize the population, and are making jewelry out of it in the “bullet bangle” business.
 
On the outskirts of Rumbek, capital of South Sudan’s Lakes state, a symphony of smashes and clangs rings out from dusk till dawn, as a row of blacksmiths hammer away at old metal shells and craft them into works of art.
 
John Panchol, a slight man with bulging muscles from the backbreaking labor, has been making things from bullet and artillery casings for years.
 
He used to mostly make traditional weapons, in a place where violent cattle raids are still common.

"Before I was making bracelets, I was only making spears, axes and knives," said Panchol.

Growing demand

The raiders use deadlier, modern guns now. But Panchol has found that the growing demand for art and jewelry made from bullets - so-called "bullet bangles" - is becoming his new bread and butter.

Blacksmiths in South Sudan, which is littered with old bullets and shells after decades of war, are scouring the country in their bid to make art from war, especially with best selling 'bullet bangles.' (H. McNeish/for VOA)Blacksmiths in South Sudan, which is littered with old bullets and shells after decades of war, are scouring the country in their bid to make art from war, especially with best selling 'bullet bangles.' (H. McNeish/for VOA)
x
Blacksmiths in South Sudan, which is littered with old bullets and shells after decades of war, are scouring the country in their bid to make art from war, especially with best selling 'bullet bangles.' (H. McNeish/for VOA)
Blacksmiths in South Sudan, which is littered with old bullets and shells after decades of war, are scouring the country in their bid to make art from war, especially with best selling 'bullet bangles.' (H. McNeish/for VOA)
He finds that some of his best customers are Rumbek's cows. This is cattle country, where cows outnumber humans, and many people are named after their father’s favorite bull or best milker.

"I’m not just making bracelets," he said. "I’m producing bells for the cows and some spears that are luxury [items]. People love these things."
 
Panchol learned his trade from a man who, in his prime, bashed out thousands of products. He is now so old he mostly stays at home or shuffles around town with a stick, but Panchol has taken on three apprentices so the craft will continue.
 
One, John Chol, who lost his construction job in the capital, Juba, hopes that he will be able to retire on his skills, but said the problem is supply of raw material.
 
"It’s difficult to get the metal, the remains of the ornaments that we get," said Chol. "Some people supply us, but we also have to look hard. We will carry on doing it, though."
 
Seeking raw material

Their searches take them hundreds of kilometers away to areas like Abyei, a contested region on the Sudan-South Sudan border.
 
South Sudan split peacefully from the north in 2011, but disputes over a largely undefined border and how to share revenues from oil wells, now mostly in the South, sparked weeks of fighting last year that many feared would take the two sides back to all-out war.
 
South Sudanese fashion designer Akuja de Garang is one person who is trying to promote the new nation’s struggling artisans and preserve their gifts for future generations.
 
De Garang, who like many others fled a war that killed an estimated 2 million people and forced countless more to choose fight or flight, spent most of her life in Britain where she studied anthropology.
 
Her house bears some of the beautiful trinkets made by around 70 ethnic groups spread across South Sudan. They include intricate pipes of wood encased in smoothed-down bullets, and engraved, razor-sharp spears usually brandished by tribal "wise men."
 
Creating a network

She wants to put South Sudan on the map for more than its violent past, and support artists like the metalworkers by providing small loans, a market for buyers in the capital, and advice on prices that will reflect the blood, sweat and tears of their toil.
 
“What I’m trying to do with the organization I’ve set [up] is to offer an opportunity to act as a market. So what I’m trying to do is to set up a network across the 10 states,” said de Garang.
 
She said "bullet bangle" artists also are helping to clean up a country littered with bullets, shell casings and other remains of years of war.

Ironically, the business of crafting art and jewelry out of scraps of military metal is likely to die out - due to a lack of raw materials - if this new nation can maintain peace with Sudan. For now, artisans are turning pieces of war into pieces of art.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More