Bari proper is an estimated 70,000 people Nilotic ethnic group, native to the Juba county in Central Equatoria.
Similar to some other Southern Sudanese ethnic groups, the cultural identifier as a “Southerner” (in terms of ethnic and linguistic affiliation) can sometimes be difficult for Bari people – both within and outside of the Bari communities– due to the lack of a general binding definition and distinctive criteria for demarcation. The term “Bari” is often used ambiguously. In a broader (linguistic) sense, it applies to all Southern Sudanese people who speak an Eastern Nilotic Bari language as their first language (which adds up to about 400,000 to 500,000 people). In a narrower (geographic) sense, the term only applies to the original inhabitants of the city of Juba and the nearby villages of Gondokoro and Rejaf along the banks of the White Nile and the surrounding savannah. This part of the Nile River valley in Central Equatoria is called “Bahr al Jabal” in the Bari language.
The Bari from this region are called the “Bari proper” in order to distinguish them from other Bari speaking groups, such as Pojullu, Kakwa, Kuku Nyambara and Mandari (Mundari). The proper Bari geographic region is sub-divided into Bari ti lobot (“Northern Bari”) and Bari ti loki (“Southern Bari”).
Traditionally, the proper Bari people are sedentary, mainly crop cultivating subsistence farmers. However, cattle and small livestock also play a significant socio-economic and cultural role. Cattle, sheep and goats are an important asset for the Bari because the traditional, often very costly dowry is usually paid in animals. Thus getting married with a bride from a wealthy family can help poorer grooms to climb the social ladder.
The Bari are considered mostly peaceful, socially adaptable and family-oriented people – both in their self-image and to the outside world. The Bari religion is based on a central Almighty God and powerful natural spirits. Today, many Bari are followers of Islam and various Christian denominations. The Bari society is divided into social classes and age groups and structured around family units and tribal affiliations. In the olden days, the society was primarily differentiated into the Dupi (servants) and the Lui (free people). The upper class consists of wealthy farmers and local chiefs. The Bari have neither a central executive or legislative body nor a national state history of their own.
Over the course of history, the Bari have often suffered from attacks of neighbors and raids by Turkish and Arab slave traders. From 1894 to 1910, Bariland was part of the Lado Enclave and under the rule of the Belgian Free State of Congo. During this period, many Bari were forced into labor camps and slavery. The civil wars raging between North and South since Sudan’s independence caused large numbers of Bari to flee their homeland.