Stories of slavery in Sudan

Friday, April 2, 2010
A few additional points on the issue of slavery in Sudan, which the constraints of a 750-word column did not allow me to make:

First, many readers will wonder about the fate of released captives such as Majok. Where do they go? Do they find their families?

The answers here are generally encouraging. The Dinka tribe, dominant in this part of Sudan, has a strong system of clans. Dinka names indicate not only personal identity, but also an individual’s regional background. Local tribal leaders in the village I visited are able to contact the tribal leaders in a returnee’s home area. The experts at Christian Solidarity International report that almost all liberated slaves eventually find their families or extended families through this highly developed tribal structure.

Second, some readers may recall past controversy about the method of releasing slaves in Sudan. Since payment of some kind is often made to masters to secure the release of slaves – in cash, or even in cattle vaccine – doesn’t this create a market for the continued taking of slaves? Whatever the merit of this argument in the past, it has little application today. The peace agreement between Sudan’s north and south, signed in 2005, generally ended the slave raids. The redemption of slaves today brings almost no risk of encouraging further enslavement.

Having met a number of men and women recently released from slavery in Sudan, one feels compelled to tell their stories – the injustice they have experienced seems to demand it. So let me add the details of two more cases.

Nyamut Aruop Buoi is a pregnant woman in her early 30s who left her village to go to the market in Warawar, perhaps in 1996 (she is unclear about dates). At the time, she was married and had two children. Fighting broke out in the market. She remembers: “When I heard the gunshots, I tried to run. My friend was killed, shot while running. Their faces were covered. They were on horseback. I was surrounded by a group of Arabs.” These men would have killed her, too. But another group came along. One of the raiders, she recalls, said, “Don’t kill her. She may be my wife in the future.”

“They tied my legs and hands,” she says. “While tying me, I was thrown down and lost a tooth. They released me and told me to walk. The first night, many houses were set on fire and people were killed in a Dinka village. I was so frightened, I could not sleep.” That night, Nyamut was raped by five men.

In the north, the slaves were divided up. Nyamut’s master, she says, was a “bad man.” “He used me without marrying me, against my will.” She was given household duties, including collecting water on a donkey. Her master had only one wife, a woman by the name of Khartouma, who abused and insulted her. “If her husband was away, she beat me with a stick.” Why the beatings? “She knew her husband was having sexual relations with me.” Nyamut had three children by her master, two boys and one girl. Each of these children was taken away from her at the age of two and brought to the cattle camps. “That was very unkind,” she says quietly. She saw her children only occasionally, though they knew her as their mother. She hopes they will eventually be liberated as well. She is now pregnant with another child by her master. She also intends to look for her two children from her previous life in South Sudan, but has not had any news of their whereabouts.

Abuk Garang Theip is a much younger girl. She appears terrified, but warms over time. A Sudanese doctor at the camp estimates her age at 12. She was evidently captured in 2004, at about 6 years old. What does she remember of that day? “I remember, where is my mother, where is my father? I dream of my mother, but when I open my eyes, my mother is not there.”
Abuk was brought north, sometimes riding on a horse, at other times walking. “When we were marching, they sometimes killed a person or two on the way. Some were shot. They told me, ‘If you don’t stop crying, we’ll kill you also.’” The raider who captured her became her master. The master’s children, she says, “were all troublesome and aggressive…. They used to wake me up and beat me with a whip of branches, for no reason. The parents said nothing. If I tried to beat one up, the father would come in to beat me.”

“They wanted me to pray with them,” Abuk says. “When I refused, the wife cut my leg with a knife. She said she intended to amputate my leg. That is what she told me. The master did nothing to stop it.” Why did she resist conversion? “I’m Dinka. I have nothing to do with their religion.” Eventually, the mother had her circumcised, along with her own daughter. “They did it. I don’t know the name. It was a man and a woman. The woman did it.” Abuk was given an anesthetic. “She used a knife, a blade. They wanted to make me a proper daughter.” (Female circumcision is practiced, in cases such as this, to make girls more marketable as “clean” Muslim wives.)

Abuk told me that, while in captivity, she never thought she would be free. She is still looking for her relatives.

The stories of Majok, Nyamut and Abuk are just three among many, in a distant place, where countless people unfairly suffer. But someone should know their names.

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