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More alarming, the nine-year-old boy showed no interest in cattle. Like his brother, Logocho crouched to suckle the udders of cows, but to him they meant only milk. For countless generations Murle men—and their rivals throughout southern Sudan—had lived alongside their cows. They named them, decorated them, slept beside them. Sang of them. Danced in their honor. Loved them. Men used cattle to purchase brides, who provided children, who tended more cows.

What is your purpose? Logocho's father asked.

While the men and beasts migrated from water to water, Logocho preferred to stay behind with his grandmother. The old woman scratched lines in the callous earth to grow sorghum and beans and maize and even pumpkins, and in lean seasons the men came to her with hands outstretched. Logocho helped her plant the seeds, tend the sprouts, and harvest the crops. She protected him from his father.

You are special, she would say.

She could not save him now, though. His father and the boy were holding him hard against the ground. "Naa?" Logocho cried. "Why?"

When he saw the "specialist," he knew. The man kneeled and bent over Logocho's face, then he reached for what looked like a thin metal file. He pried open the boy's jaw and wedged the blade between the two bottom middle teeth. He worked it down to the gum, and then with a wrench of his shoulder, he twisted it. Crack! An incisor splintered, and blood filled the moaning Logocho's mouth. The specialist reset the blade and—crack!—shattered the other middle tooth.

Now you look like a Murle.

In the next few months, chaos would descend on both Logocho and his homeland. A magician in the village would pronounce his family doomed. Across southern Sudan, the fury of generations would erupt in 1983 in a war both horrific and invisible to the outside world. During the next two decades more than four million southerners would flee their villages into the hinterlands, northern cities, and neighboring countries. Two million would die.

Logocho's life—fleeing, warring, searching for purpose—would share a trajectory with southern Sudan itself. But on this day, the boy's father released him and walked away with the specialist. Logocho rolled onto his side so the blood could pour from his mouth into the dust.

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