A moment with South Sudanese style enthusiast, Akuja. / by Charles Lomodong

   
  
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     Akuja, is more than the title of this photoblog piece. Akuja is a South Sudanese cultural enthusiast, girls  ’   education advocate, peace activist and a jewelry designer. Akuja was Born in Juba, and she grew up in Juba, Khartoum, Egypt and the UK. She has a BA in African Studies and MSc in Violence, Conflict & Development at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. She is married to Papit Otwel Ding.

Akuja, is more than the title of this photoblog piece. Akuja is a South Sudanese cultural enthusiast, girlseducation advocate, peace activist and a jewelry designer. Akuja was Born in Juba, and she grew up in Juba, Khartoum, Egypt and the UK. She has a BA in African Studies and MSc in Violence, Conflict & Development at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. She is married to Papit Otwel Ding.

How do you think your education has prepared you to work in the fashion industry?

I am more of a stylist than a fashion designer. 

Akuja's Jewellery on model
Akuja closing FFAP show

So, my education in African studies taught me to appreciate my uniqueness, my African-ness, my South Sudanese-ness. Hence as you can see my style is inspired by South Sudan and Africa in general. 

Akuja jewelry inspiration South Sudan culture

Akuja can you please tell me what is the inspiration behind your current jewelry line up and design?

The line is inspired by ivory (in the old days), bone and horn, which are very popular among all the pastoralist communities across South Sudan. (Akuja made it clear she does not support the poaching of animals for ivory.)

 

Chatting with Akuja
Chatting with Akuja
Akuja Side profile head-shot

What does embracing yourself as an African Woman mean to you? (during our conversation during the photo-shoot, you mentioned you went through a period where you questioned your skin and “what is beauty... (northern complex)”

The whole northern complex - which by the way, is not to blame the northerners in any way. It is a global complex about the politics of skin color. I mention “northern” because that is when I first experienced it. As a young girl, a teenager, there was this pressure to be lighter skin, because that was what was preferable - guys preferred that. 

   
  
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     So like many of my age I experimented with trying to lighten my skin but I soon realized it wasn’t working for me - I looked weird and it was far too expensive. So I ditched that and decided to love myself as I was.    It took a while for me to feel comfortable in my skin, but I eventually did. 

So like many of my age I experimented with trying to lighten my skin but I soon realized it wasn’t working for me - I looked weird and it was far too expensive. So I ditched that and decided to love myself as I was.

It took a while for me to feel comfortable in my skin, but I eventually did. 

   
  
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     The skin color was not the only thing that caused this insecurity. It goes back earlier… the whole teasing thing that we all go through as children… nicknames etc. But, we as Junnubin (People from South Sudan) we take it too far, notorious, we go to extremes, even so cruel that sometimes it can be seen as child-abuse.

The skin color was not the only thing that caused this insecurity. It goes back earlier… the whole teasing thing that we all go through as children… nicknames etc. But, we as Junnubin (People from South Sudan) we take it too far, notorious, we go to extremes, even so cruel that sometimes it can be seen as child-abuse.

   
  
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     Imagine being called ‘ ya shena' (hey ugly), or you look like a villager, you are not even one of ours, you were bought in KonyoKonyo (the name of a market in Juba, South Sudan's capital) or mosquito legs… etc. Imagine the negative effect that has on a young girls self-esteem. It was crushing and whether I like it or not I am still dealing with some remnants, and I swear if I have children, I will never let anyone give them such negative nicknames. 

Imagine being called ‘ ya shena' (hey ugly), or you look like a villager, you are not even one of ours, you were bought in KonyoKonyo (the name of a market in Juba, South Sudan's capital) or mosquito legs… etc. Imagine the negative effect that has on a young girls self-esteem. It was crushing and whether I like it or not I am still dealing with some remnants, and I swear if I have children, I will never let anyone give them such negative nicknames. 

   
  
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     So embracing my African woman-ness is overcoming the early insecurities of not feeling beautiful, because I looked too village-y/African, whatever that means.  

So embracing my African woman-ness is overcoming the early insecurities of not feeling beautiful, because I looked too village-y/African, whatever that means.  

Some of Akuja Jewels
Some of Akuja's jewelry
   
  
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      Where can people get your line of jewelry?        At the moment you can get the jewelry at the monthly Made In South Sudan Arts and Crafts market, it is held every first weekend of the month at Da Vinci. The next one is 5th, and 6th September.

Where can people get your line of jewelry?

At the moment you can get the jewelry at the monthly Made In South Sudan Arts and Crafts market, it is held every first weekend of the month at Da Vinci. The next one is 5th, and 6th September.

Akuja silhouette

Thanks Akuja!