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

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid