I was in Bor in 1992, After the 1991 Bor Massacre

Posted: March 23, 2015 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Commentary, Featured Articles, Philip Thon Aleu

By Philip Thon Aleu, Juba

March 23, 2015 — The year after 1991 was 1992. 1992, not 1991, was a year of death in Bor.

We were enjoying roasted fish one evening in 1991 when my step-brother, Chol Aleu, arrived to Majak cattle camp, a twenty minutes walk south of Makuach and about 20 km east of Bor town. Chol joined his brothers at the meal and ten minutes later, he broke news of marauding youth from Nuer Lou that has raided his maternal uncles’ cattle a month or so ago. In fact, Chol spent one month in Mading (Bor town) hospital nursing wounds he suffered as a result of snake bites. He and other people were being chased by the attackers from a cattle camp and ended up in a snakes ‘camp.’

Chol gave us the firsthand account of what was happening in Twic (now Twic East county) in the last few months. His conclusion remarks sent shivering waves through my nerves.

‘All these cattle will be taken,’ Chol declared after we listened carefully.

I asked him to repeat the last statement if he was serious. And he said it again in every word of it. I did not know the magnitude of the war in Twic and Duk despite the fact I had seen displaced persons increasingly coming to our villages. Women, children and elderly people from Duk, Twic and Jalle payam were fleeing since fighting started but I knew little of exactly what was forcing them away. Now, Chol has told me the reason.

It was not long. At about 4am that night, women, including my mum, came from our village to break the news that the attackers have overrun Baidit and were already in Werkok. My father, the head chief in the cattle camp, shouted alarm to wake up the people. He said the enemy was near and people should prepare to unrestraint the animals, take care of children and be leaving. It is important to note that all the young men, capable of defending the villages and cattle, were taken during the SPLA recruitment in Bor, popularly known ‘Kaaca de Jok Reng,’ or ‘forceful recruitment of Jok Reng’ in 1990. All the elder brothers we knew in our cattle were no more. There were elder men, boys and girls were left looking after cattle. So the villages were indeed vulnerable.

At about 6:30am, the last man left Majak cattle camp for a journey that took us fourteen days in the bush. At about 12 noon that date, we took a rest at another cattle camp east of Majak but it was not long before we fled and commenced a night journey that I will never forget.

My father was always the last man to leave the camp. That was his duty as the ‘beny de wut’ or the cattle camp chief. He made sure that everyone and every calf is accounted for. And so my mother, like other women, was the only person to attend to her kids. She took my younger brother on her neck and I walked. In fact, I took some bedding onto my head but lost the track of my goats – the animals I had love to rare since my childhood.

There were floods. Water was still over in the forest. We left that cattle camp at about 8pm. The animals, through their feet, mixed the water and earth and formed something like ‘thick porridge.’ We were moving on that sticky substance and it was not long before losing energy. Mum decided to move us away from the animals’ path to avoid that muddy earth. We could not sleep that night and walked the following day till 7pm in evening. Over that period, I had collected and dumped several fish. I thought it was a short journey and had hoped to roast that fis later but it turned out to be endless.

At about 8pm, my father reached the cattle where the animals and those of us who had reached were taking a rest. He called elders and broke news of people killed in his group. He narrated how he narrowly survived. Without being asked the next course of action, he added that it was time to leave the cattle alone and take care of the children. That was not accepted by the elders. He was adamant and within minutes, he had taken us, his extended family, out of the cattle camp. One of my brothers refused and my father left him in the cattle. My step-brother, Deng, could not come to terms with leaving those cattle. He never imagined a life without cattle and that is why he remains a cattle keeper and traditional singer to date. For those of us who were young it was futile to present your thought and we just followed dad and mum.

At dawn that night, our family was joined by many survivors – after the Nuer attackers encircled the cattle camp and slaughter people indiscriminately. My ste- brother, who had insisted on herding the cattle, survived and he joined the family.

A new life began. There were no cattle with their mild and nothing to eat in the forest. Every day in and out, dad and other elders would go looking for loose animals to bring to us for meat. He survived many ambushes and several people were killed. For fourteen days, we ate wild fruits and fish. We were in a new world. I thought the earth had turned upside-down. In my childhood, like many others in our village and the cattle camp, I had not slept in the forest at night though forest was not a stranger to us. I knew bushes were places to graze our goats and calves.

On the fourteenth day, our families reached Bor—Juba road at a section called Malith-thoor, a few kilometers from Jameeza. We, the kids, had survived thirst and hunger for several days and many of us were sick. I was not lucky. I became ill. My dad was carrying my step sister and my mum with my younger brother and so I had to battle it out on my own. I was occasionally staggering into bushes and became impossible to keep up the walking phase of others. For the last three days in the forest, I thought I would die but that did not deter me from trying.

After reaching Jameeza, many families continued the journey to Mogala but our families remained. Several of my age mates died of malnutrition and other related illnesses. For several weeks, I was on sick bed. I vividly remember my father soothing my mum that ‘nothing’ would happen to me. He was referring to death. Towards the end of 1991, I recovered and we returned to Bor.

All that happened in my village and surrounding villages in 1991 but 1992 was to come. Let me repeat, all the cattle raiding that occurred in 1991 and the death commenced in essence in 1992. I am saying this because politicians are stuck in 1991 when there was SPLM split but not bother about the aftermath of it. Of course that is what is important to them – the power, but not the lives of the citizens who suffered as a result.

We spent, not celebrated, the 1991 Christmas in Bor. There were few Christains and the rest worshipped local gods. The following year (1992), people died enormously. Many of the boys we herded goats together, including the one who inspired my Christian name, died. Philip Achuek Deng Garang was the first Philip I knew. When I was baptized, the pastor told me many names and I selected Philip because I would ask Achuek his Christian and he would helped me.

News of kids, elders and many more demise was happening less than 100 meters away from our home. We could not play anymore because there was no energy to waste. Things became extremely difficult and everywhere you go, rotting human being’s remains greet you. Elders instructed us to remains at home 24 hours a day. No more movements or else one may die in unknown location. I have no idea of how the earth was operating with life in a certain corner of the planet and death was eating villages under American, Chinese and Russian satellites surveillance in our villages. Or were there no satellites in 1992 over Southern Sudan? I am asking this because today, when I am asking because every time I use my BGAN in Juba, it shows me a satellite directly above South Sudan.

Maybe the devil of death had out-competed World Superpowers.

In April or May 1992, we were taken to Bor town – then under the control of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). It was even worse. Our tulkul (a temporary tent-like structure), was erected near the current location of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) St. Andrew Cathedral in Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. A graveyard was opposite to our tulkul. (Often times I attend prayers in that Cathedral in Bor since 2007 to-date, the old memories cross my mind).

As the saying goes, ‘he who lives near the graveyard does not mourn every death,’ I became accustomed to seeing people being buried. Those were horrible scenes for me – at ten years of age then. Back in my village before 1992, when there was life and not death, I rarely pass near a home where there is a grave. Strangely now I was staying near graves all day and night. On one infamous day, a person was brought to the graveyard and I heard him complaining that he was not dead. He was wondering why these people were hurrying to bury him. He was told that it would be late in the night when he dies later and the Arab soldiers would punish the relatives for not burying him timely. I stood gaping at that drama. I still doubt if those were burials or something else? This because in the morning, you will see a grave torn open by decomposing bodies because the graves were swallow. People had no energy to dig deeper.

In 1992, there were no cattle in Bor, people died in thousands. There was no harvest the previous year because of floods. There was little or no humanitarian food aid provided by SAF soldiers. That compound now part the ECS St. Andrew Cathedral used to be the distribution site and I can recount how we struggled with elders over few drops of cereals. An Arab soldier would use his wooden stick to beat people to death and order others to burry.

We sneaked out of Bor town with other families to our village. I said sneak because the SAF soldiers did not want anyone to move between the villages and the town. Many women were raped to death and many people disappeared in mysterious circumstances. I was told August 1992 was the time we returned to our village. Women had continued to return to the villages to attend to farms and there was little harvest now. Before long, we crossed the Nile River westwards to Wunthoou, currently in Awerial county, into exile. From Wunthoou, we embarked on 43-day journey to Yundu, near Kaya at a Ugandan border with Central Equatoria state.

In our new homes, the IDPs camps, people continued to die because of poor nutrition. Many kids were classified extremely malnurourished and remained in feeding centers for months. Many were sent to early graves. That was 1992, not 1991. But politicians are interested in 1991 because that’s threatened their power seats.

In 2011 Dr. Riek Machar made an apology at the home of Dr. John Garang’s widow in Juba. Politicians agreed to have buried differences and start a new campaign that would remind the survivors of 1992 that it was not freedom from death yet. And so in December 2013, Bor witnessed a second massacre under the forces of Dr. Riek Machar. Since Nuer Lou villages have not witnessed a revenge attack yet, the circle could be far from over! God forbids.

Before December 2013, Bor Dinka and Nuer Lou lived side-by-side in Bor town and businesses flourished between the people. The 1992 starvation of thousands of people to death, known as ‘Capoth’ famine in Dinka Bor, was a vital history and not a blockage between the people. There was no political ‘apology’ that brought the people together. In fact, the politicians, starting with our Members of Parliament and senior executive leaders like governors, ministers in Bor and Juba forgot about the people of Dinka Bor and Nuer Lou.

I hold strong conviction that Jonglei state politicians failed the people, particularly Nuer Lou and Dinka Bor by mismanaging developmental funds and kept people illiterate and vulnerable to future political manipulation. The same mistake is repeated now because peace talks are only about accommodating politicians, sharing wealth and forgetting the victims.

“The challenge is now on our shoulders,” one young politician told me recently, “whether we want to finish ourselves in revenge killings or forgive and reconcile to live as a nation.”

“We cannot fight till the last man or woman,” he told me. I agree with him.

  1. […] of SPLA-IO leader, Riek Machar. His SPLA-Nasir did this to children in Bor in 1991 during an actual massacre – of Dinka people. SPLA-Nasir was the armed combatant group he formed when, supported by the […]


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