Sudanese extended families include uncles and cousins going back several generations. They determine a great deal about one's life, work and marriage opportunities.

Traditionally the focus for Sudanese people has been the local village or nomadic community. These relatively small communities are made up of extended families based on lineage of male relatives and ancestors. The members of a lineage act in the group's interest, safeguarding territory or forming important ties with other families by marriage. Usually a family leader is a respected elder.

For people in the north who are herders, family status still depends on the size of the herd. In settled villages, certain families hold the rights to own land. In the past, colonial governments sometimes gave powerful positions to certain families. These family groups have gradually become part of the modern political system, but traditional ideas about power and status endure.

Most Sudanese families hold strong traditional values in a rapidly changing world. Whether in rural or urban society, the woman's world has been domestic and the man's world, public. From everyday meals to formal socializing, such as a wedding feast, men and women are segregated. Men and women lead far less separate lives in the south.

It is difficult to say how years of war, famine and migration have changed families in Sudan. Some rural Sudanese have recently moved to cities, where family and ethnic groups mix at school and work. Upper-class families living in big cities like Khartoum and Omdurman tend to be closely connected to the government, business and the professions.

Did you know?

In tribal life, which is specific to the south, cattle are the symbol of wealth for the Dinka and Nuer people. When a man marries he must pay the bride's family a certain number of cows. The more beautiful the bride, the more cows he must give. The groom's family will then secretly keep track of the given cows, how many calves were born to them, the number that died of natural causes or snake bites. If the couple divorces, the wife's side must give back the number of cattle that were originally given, plus all the offspring from them.