The Forgotten Martyrs of the 1967 Massacre of the Greater Bor Dinka chiefs in Jonglei

Posted: October 15, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Contributing Writers, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

Untold Story of a Great Man: Paying Tributes to Fallen Hero, Uncle Stephen Athian Mayen Athian

By Eng. Jacob Manyuon Deng, Juba, South Sudan

Customary book, final cover July 2017

October 15, 2017 (SSB) — Stephen Athian Mayen Athian was assassinated in 1967, one month before the heinous killing of thirty-two (32) traditional chiefs in former Jonglei Province during the massacre in Bor area under the directive of former Sudan Prime Minister Al-Sadik Al-Mahdi. Athian was a nationalist, freedom fighter, and hardworking civil administrator whose personal, public and professional contributions to the liberation struggle and independence in Sudan and South Sudan had not been recognized in the changing political landscape of South Sudan.

Athian was born around 1937 in Kongor to the family of Sub-chief Mayen Athian Mayen from Anyang section of Kongor clan (Wut). Athian’s mother Kuany Ajang hailed from Ayual clan, rodior section of Twi Community. Athian grew up in Pakuor, in the ancestral land of his grandfather Athian-Manyangdit Mayen Athian. Athian was the last son among four brothers (his three brothers include Deng-Athac Mayen Athian, Dau-Pienyjok Mayen Athian Aguer-Many-de-ahook Mayen Athian and three sisters,) of Mayen-Tuaal’s first wife. Mayen’s second wife had three sons; Dengadol de Mayen Athian, Mading Mayen Athian, Athianthi (Malith) Mayen Athian and their sister. Stephen had married to Achol Deng Majok from Adhiok clan, Pathiem section of Twi who unfortunately died in 1969. Athian is survived by his daughter Tabitha Akech Athian who is currently a business lady in Juba.

Athian’s father was one of the renowned sub-chiefs in Anyang. In fact, Mayen-Tuaal was next in chieftaincy hierarchy to Chief Deng Yong Jurkuch of Anyang section.  Mayen-Tuaal sold many cattle to take Athian to school as that was both the practice of the day and the responsibility of the families to cater for the transport, food and accommodation of their children unless a child had a relative who lived in the towns where schools (educational centres) were situated. Pupils could travel to Bor, Rumbek, Loka and other educational centers.

Athian attended Kongor Bush School and proceeded to Malek School where he obtained primary school certificate, which was enough educational credential and designation to get a job at the time. Athian went to school together with some cousins, including Garang Dut Goch, one of the first boys taken to school by Chief Deng Yong, Manoah Majok Dengdit, a renowned career Sudanese civil administrator who empowered many children in his nuclear and extended family, and Gabriel Achuoth Deng, a veteran politician, a soft-spoken communist by doctrine and training, a former Member of Jonglei Legislative Assembly, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) representative to Cuba from 1985 to 1988 and author of the book titled: Wars and New Vision for the Sudan [2005].

Stephen spent some time in town or in rural Pakuor where he tendered cattle. He was later appointed District Junior Civil Administrator (an equivalent of present-day Civil Administrator, CA) by the colonial government in the Department of Civil Administration and deployed in Kongor in 1960 at the age of 23 years. He was also deployed in Duk Fayuel for a period of one (1) year before he got a promotion to serve as Assistant Sub-Mamur (Mamur is an Arab word which means executive officer those days) at the District headquarters in Bor under the then District Sub-Mamur Mr. Rehaboam Akech Kuai.

While in Bor, Athian performed his duties diligently and with high integrity, enthusiasm, and nationalism. Most former and current leaders who had worked with Athian praised his leadership. Because of his hard work and determination, Athian was assigned an additional task of Court Clerk at the District Headquarters in 1962.

He quickly established a strong link and trust with Anyanya one leaders because he was able to help in his capacity as the civil administrator for the benefit of the Southern struggle. In the quest for freedom by the people of South Sudan, Athian facilitated most of the underground Anyanya one activities beginning from 1963. For example, he collaborated with Anyanya one leaders and soldiers to acquire ammunition and weapons from Simba, the Chinese supported rebels against the Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko in the same year. Meetings of Anyanya leaders were conducted at night in Athian’s house, where most of the students were introduced to the course and objectives of the liberation struggle in the South.

Ustaz Meshack Ajang Alaak, a professional teacher, a community elder and chairman of the election in Greater Jonglei State in the Government of South Sudan from 2010 to date, could describe Stephen Athian as an intelligent leader and a likable civil administrator. Ustaz Ajang said when they went to schools, they put up in Athian’s house in Bor. Athian made sure the students and relatives’ needs were met adequately. Ustaz Ajang could remember they were listening to the radio at dinner with Athian when the attendance to the round table conference in Juba by William Deng Nhial was announced. Athian did not trust that Arab Islamists would spare William Deng for his strong fight for the right of the South Sudanese. Athian used to follow political events about the progress of Southern freedom fighters. Gabriel Achuoth, one of Athian’s colleagues and cousins, could describe Athian as a brave gentleman who could speak the truth openly and articulate his argument with both passion and precision.

This trait according to Gabriel Achuoth led to Athian’s death merely one month before the chiefs were killed. If Athian had collaborated with the Arab Islamist government like some of the Southerners during the insurgency in Bor, he might have escaped death. Prof. Ajang Bior Duot, university lecturer, principal regional leader for public administration and management, a career public administrator, an elder, a South Sudan National Legislative Assembly representing United Sudan African Party (USAP), could also describe Athian as caring and responsible, when they went to Malek, School in the 1950s, he could remember Stephen carrying him while seated in the car so that he was not hurt by other older children in a fully loaded vehicle until they arrive at Malek Christian Missionary Society (CMS) school.

When Athian met with Paramount Chief Ajang Duot de Bior in Bor District Headquarters towards the end of 1963, the Paramount Chief quickly admired Athian’s work and was able to consult him in different public administration and court cases. In 1964 when the Arab government started to falsely accuse traditional chiefs and intellectuals in Bor area of conniving with Anyanya one, Athian and other intellectuals moved to the remote villages. Athian advised the students, relatives and other civilians who lived in his house to leave to the villages and small towns and followed them afterward to Kongor.

Since Athian was conversant with administrative work and District court issues, Paramount Chief Ajang continued to engage Athian with court procedures and consultations at Kongor Court center from 1965 to early 1967. Athian was referred to as “Borkamin de Ajang.” Borkamin (or its corrupted form in Dinka, Aburkamin) is an Arabic designation which simply means “court clerk”. Athian could move on foot from Kongor up to Duk Padiet covering approximately 40 miles (66 km) and from Kongor to Paliau, about 16 miles (27 km) in pursuits of relevant court cases and their subsequent implementation.

Athian did the tremendous job in the office of Paramount Chief in Kongor Court Centre through to 1966 when he was reported to the government together with other chiefs in Bor area. One evening in 1967, a message came to Kongor Court Centre demanding that the Paramount Chief Ajang and Athian were needed at the District Headquarters in Bor. It was not known what the intention of the government was but because of his courageous character, Athian told Paramount Chief Ajang to remain behind. Athian persuaded civilian leaders that he should first go and find out the reason why the government needed the Paramount Chief and court clerk, then he could communicate to Paramount Chief Ajang to go to Bor.

Athian and Paramount Chief Ajang wanted to resolve the issue in Bor because they feared that Arab government would come to Kongor and destroy people and resources. Athian’s offer and suggestion to go first before Paramount Chief Ajang was also linked to loyalty to the Paramount Chief and to his expertise and knowledge because Athian could speak the language of the enemy.  Athian also knew the enemy would not leave him, but he thought the predicament would stop with him and spare the Paramount Chief and other civilians.

When Athian departed, his brother Aguer-Manydit Mayen decided to accompany him against his will. When the two brothers arrived at Jalle, along with the Bor–Kongor road, about 40miles (67km) from Kongor and 35miles (58km) from Bor, Athian got private information that the government soldiers would soon arrive in Jalle. The government soldiers were at a distance of about 2 km, proceeding to Kongor to pick up Paramount Chief Ajang and Athian. Since Athian knew their encounter with the enemy would involve torture and death, he sent his brother Aguer-Manydit to go the nearby village to fetch water. Athian did not tell Aguer-Manydit that the enemy was coming to pick them up.

The Arab soldiers met Athian in Jalle and put him on a pickup truck. While on the vehicle, Athian told one civilian standing nearby under the tree that if Aguer-Manydit returned from the nearby village, he would return to Kongor and inform the Paramount Chief, relatives, and other local administrators that Athian would return to Kongor after two days.

When they arrived at Bor, the soldiers tortured Athian and put him into prison. According to Late Elijah Malok Aleng and Gabriel Achuoth Deng, the politicians and friends who went to prison to ask for his release, Athian was innocent in their context. Consequently, Sergeant Mahmud had promised to facilitate Athian’s release the following day according to their request. However, after Malok and Achuoth left for Juba, another politician and a member of Twi community, contested the release of Athian from prison. The politician argued that Athian was one of the malefactors who were supporting Anyanya one to a greater extent in Twi community.

With this new evidence, the soldiers tortured Athian to accept the accusations and disclose various locations of Anyanya one around Bor and surrounding areas, but Athian refused. They then removed him from prison in Bor to the outskirt of the town where they later killed him in Gakyuom, a village town in Makuach Payam situated around 15km north of Bor.

Before his demise, Athian had made a huge contribution to his nuclear and extended family and community, in addition to the above public and professional contributions. For example, Athian facilitated the acquisition of formal education by most of his nephews and cousins. Some of the students Athian took to school included Khot Deng Mayen, Nyibol Deng Mayen, John Manyuon Mayen, Chol Arok Ajang, Makuach Akech Arok (a son to his sister Abul Mayen), Diing Abul Mayen (brother to Makuach), Bol Aguer Mayen and Chol-Sebit William Garang Dut. Athian also bought cattle and food for his family and relatives before, during and after 1962 flood in Bor area.

Having a pride bull (ox) was treasured and valued. As a result, Athian bought two oxen for his nephew Aguer-Maliu Deng-Athac Mayen and half-brother Deng-Adol Mayen Athian, remarkable singers who have praised Athian through songs and other poetic expressions. Aguer-Maliu received Majok (an ox with white with black spots) and Deng-Adol received Malual (an ox with a red colour). Deng-Adol’s nickname to this day is Dai de Biar (meaning “an Old Cobra”), according to the colour variance of a snake.

Aguer-Maliu and Deng-Adol have composed great songs in praise of Stephen Athian. Below is one song that Aguer-Maliu composed to compare their artistic features at the cattle camp with his uncle Athian’s decorative and contribution from urban centre:

Uncle (Athian), there are great things that you have brought to my dhueeng

You have your radio, and I groom my Marial (pride bull).

You have your clothing, and I have Arop/Arou (ash from cow dung).

You and I have divided dhueeng (singing profession) equally;

My neck beads are similar to your eyeglasses.

Athian’s great contribution remains insignificant probably because he was killed at the same time with high profile leaders. In Kongor and Bor communities, only a few politicians and elders some of whom are; Manoah Majok Deng, Elijah Malok, Bul Deng Bul, Meshack Ajang Alaak, Prof. Ajang Bior, Prof.Isaac Bior Deng, Gabriel Achuoth Deng, Antipas Arok Biowei, Leekmagar Deng Malual, Kezekiah Chol Aguer, Mading Agok Thuch, Philip Chol Biowei, Maker Chol Adol and elder son of Paramount Chief Ajang, Eng. Bior Ajang Duot that were aware of the passing of Athian and could consider him one of the heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle for the freedom in South Sudan.

In 2012, during the memorial service of Paramount Chief Ajang, Uncle Athian’s name was read out loud. However, there was no detailed explanation about his service in the government at the District headquarters and connection with Paramount Chief Ajang at Kongor Court centre.

I have written this piece to educate my younger siblings, nephews, and cousins, and other people about the contribution Uncle Athian had made through available sources that confirm that Stephen Athian was killed with the 32 chiefs and other important public figures during Bor massacre. Citizens who lived in the remote villages at the time only knew of the death of Paramount Chief Ajang and other chiefs. The challenge with death at the same time with high profile individuals like chiefs and military leaders is that the stories of common people are ignored.

Uncle Athian had suffered the same predicament. However, his contribution will never be forgotten in the liberation struggle in South Sudan. Advocacy and social justice have become an important aspect of leadership in Athian’s family. For example, after Athian’s brother Aguer-Manydit, whom Athian advised returning to Kongor before Athian met his death, took sub-chief position after the death of their father Mayen-Tuaal, Aguer-Manydit continued leadership with integrity and passion. Uncle Aguer-Manydit became one of the three elders who sworn on behalf of Kongor against Adhiok regarding the issue of land. A move that he faced with confident. The same position was taken over from Aguer-many de ahook by Dengadol de Mayen who is now one of the chiefs in Biordit wut of Kongor Clan.

Other silent heroes and heroines are missing in the historical and political landscapes in South Sudan. I consider this phenomenon as unfair because liberation war was fought at different fronts and capacities. Other common citizens have suffered for their rights and freedoms in different ways. After Arab officials in Bor committed a massacre against the chiefs, they continued with the planned killing in different villages nearby. For example, the Arab soldiers found young men from Guala and Adol on the bank of the Nile bathing and in different other locations, accused them of being traitors against the government and collaborators with Anyanya one, and killed them.

According to the available sources, the Arab killed eight men from Guala, four of whom include Pareng Kok Ngong, Jongkuch Pach Dot (a biological father to Majier Alier), Kuol Barach Lual, and Garang Bior Kuot and Ayom-Thuonglual Anyieth Kul from Adol. Another incident is the killing of Moses Wach Awuol Jo (head teacher of Malek school) from kongor, Paan de Bior section, Dau Diing Juach (father to Dr. Chol Dau) from Ayoliel clan of Twi Community, Paan de Chol section, Leek-Parjala Deng Maulal (was a nurse in Meridi) from Paluaal section of Nyarweng community and Mr. Anyar Lueth who, according to sources, was the secretary of the paramount chief Ajang Duot, from Adhiok clan, Pakoy section of Twi community.

There is one unique case of a man who was killed with Paramount Chief Ajang Duot. Kuany-magaak, from the Awulian clan of Twi community, Patem section; was found sitting with Ajang by government soldiers who were coming to pick the paramount chief at Kongor town. Kuany had a court case which had taken long to solve and he wanted the paramount chief to settle the case that month. When Soldiers took Ajang, he resisted the advice to remain behind and reiterated that his case would be settled wherever the paramount chief was being taken and there would be no need for him to remain behind.  Ajang told him for the last time to remain but he refused. Kuany was not spared but was killed by the paramount chief as well.

Using the example of Uncle Athian Mayen, this paper opens up a new conversation about common people whose service and fight for justice have been hidden because they met their death at the same time with high ranking officials during the massacre in 1967. Future research will strengthen the historical evidence for international and national readership.

Jacob Manyuon Deng, MSc, BSc, PGD, REng, a director in South Sudan Electricity Corporation (SSEC), member of International Association of Energy Engineers representing South Sudan in East Africa Chapter and a part-time lecturer at the University of Juba, College of Engineering and Architecture, Juba. He can be reached at makouyar@gmail.com, jamade77@yahoo.com, +211914304038

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from, plus a concise biography of yourself.

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