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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora