Dinka Bor or Dinka Jonglei?: Historical Roots of the Ethnic Identity Crisis in Jonglei State

Posted: August 22, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Commentary, Jonglei State, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers


By Jacob Jokmagai Dengadiit, Juba, South Sudan

 old map of jonglei counties


Wednesday, August 22, 2018 (PW) — I recently wrote an article entitled, ‘WHERE IS THIS OLD MAN CALLED BOR?’ I was addressing the name that has been taken as our daily topic of discussion while in real sense, we have issues of concern like poverty, insecurity, lack of infrastructure, poor healthcare, and lack of jobs topping the list of our daily utopian needs.

I was marveled later by some of the comments I received under my article. I saw that this problem is more of an ethnic identity crisis. I remembered the disagreements between #Team_Magot and #Team_Gongic_Lualmawut back in Juba during the wrestling tournament in the middle of this year. I also recalled the ditching songs between Bor and Twi especially. I still see them going live on the same matter. I see a push and a pull between the name ‘Bor’ and ‘Jonglei.’

Because of the above reasons, I recoiled back into my world of thoughts and I was like, “Ureka! History will settle this matter once and for all.” I went into research only to discover the one and only thing that many of my friends have been always bothering me about. “Jokmagai, please write a book.” That is one of the constant words I hear when I talk to some of my relatives and friends. To my friends I discovered that I can really write a book.

My research was on the names; ‘Dinka Bor, Bor Asili and The Dinka of Jonglei.’ I had promised to write an article and published it here as a point of debate and discussion. The title of my research was: “JONGLEI MERRY-GO-ROUND OF POLITICAL GAMBLES THROUGH ETHNIC ASSIMILATION SUPERIORITY SYNDROME: FROM NYARWENGIZATION THROUGH KONGORIZATION TO BORIZATION.” As I was doing that research, I addressed the issue at hand and when I later finished, I discovered that I had already written 44 pages. The ideas were still jumping in from the creative side of the brain and I was like, “Let me write a book on this then.” Look! Already 44 pages in about a week!

I am therefore withholding the debate until I finish the book. Don’t be discouraged, I cannot leave you empty-handed. I will give you the historical highlights for your inferences on the Dinka Bor and the Dinka of Jonglei issue.


(a) The Turko-Egyptian Rule (1821-1881)

  • Most of the Dinka people in the current Jonglei State had already immigrated and settled East of of the Nile River.
  • The wars between Nuer and Dinka were mostly common since Nuer were immigrating into the then Upper Nile region displacing Dinka along their path.
  • The Nile River was opened to trade around the late 1840s and Turkey introduced slave trade.
  • Bor, which is now Mading Bor or Bor Town to be precise, was a common place where Arabs, Turkish, Maltese, Frenchmen, Egyptians and Syrian Slave traders were oftenly organizing raids to kill those who resisted slavery and take those who never resisted as slaves and raided their cattle.
  • There was no establishment of any leadership yet apart from our traditional Masters of the Fishing Spear and village elders.

(b) The Mahdists Regime (1881-1898)

  • Mohamed Ahmed ibn al-Sayyid, the mahdi, revolted in 1882.
  • He captured Khartoum in 1885; calling himself Mahdi (savior or redeemer).
  • Mahdists created the first theocratic state of Sudan where Islam and Arabic were compulsory.
  • Slave trade intensified and Sharia Law was imposed on the Southerners: Equatoria, Barh el Ghazal and Upper Nile were their target places.
  • They (Mahdists) killed, looted and took into slavery anyone who resisted them.
  • One Dinka Nyarweng Chief survived this regime after many threats from them wanting to kill the Chiefs. His name was Lual Ajok.

(c) The Anglo-Egytian Condominium (1898-1956)

  • The British defeated the Mahdists and abolished slave trade, which is one of their few positive contribution on the Southerners.
  • They came up with a new system of administration in 1922, called the Southern Policy.
  • That Policy said that the South and the North must not trade amongst themselves.
  • Arabic and Islam were stopped in the South and English plus Christianity were introduced.
  • Tribalism was the new mean that the British were going to use on the then Dinka of Upper Nile Province.
  • The Chiefs were going to rule their clans and a Head Chief would rule a section say Nyarweng and Hol whom their Head Chief was Deng Malual while Monykuer Mabuur was still the Chief of Ang’aach section but under Deng Malual in hierarchy.
  • This is where our ethnic tug of war began. This is the history I want all of you to understand. This is our history.
  • In Upper Nile Province, up to 1906 the Dinka were in two different districts; Bor District and Duk District.
  • Bor District headquarters was Bor while Duk District headquarters was Duk Payuel, a place called Dung e Mapatic by that time.
  • The Dinka sub-tribes that were in Bor District include Dinka Thony and Dinka Bor (Athooch and Gok). Some authors refers to Dinka Thony as Monythany Dinka and others refer to them as Thain correctly spelled as Thany.
  • In Duk District, the Dinka sub-tribes there, were Twi, Hol and Nyarweng Dinka.
  • A good point to remember here is that, Duk and Bor Districts were separate districts in the same Upper Nile Province until 1906.
  • In 1906, Mongalla Province was formed and thus Bor District was moved from Upper Nile Province to Mongalla Province with Bor as the headquarters of both Bor District and Mongalla Province.
  • Therefore, Dinka Thony, Dinka Bor-Athooch and Dinka Bor-Gok became part of Mongalla Province under Bor District.
  • Dinka Twi, Dinka Nyarweng and Dinka Hol remained in Duk District in the Upper Nile Province.
  • Deng Malual, who was by then the Dinka leader of Duk District requested the British for the unification of Dinkas in one area due to security concerns about the wars of Nuer and the reclamation of Dinka lands that were already taken by Nuer and also the repatriation of Nyarweng and Hol Dinka scattered by Nuer.
  • Deng Malual request was granted and for the first time in the history of administration for the Dinka of Upper Nile, they united to form Bor-Duk District in 1926 with Deng Malual as the Paramount Chief and Machiek Deng as his deputy.
  • The new headquarters of the created Bor-Duk District was Bor but not Duk Payuel anymore.
  • The administration of all the Dinka of Upper Nile was thus moved to Bor but each sub-tribe retained their original ethnic identities, a man who used to live in Malek remained in Malek and so does a man from Duk Padiet. Only the center of administration was moved.
  • During that period around 1929-1932, courts became operative and the tribal elders who headed the courts handled cases like dowries, debts and penalties for adultery.
  • That is how the following courts were formed, the ones you pronounces in your Jienglish as ‘Koot’ as follows: Duk Padiet, Duk Payuel, Kongor, Wangulei, Maar, Piool, Paliau, Anyidi, Makuach, Kolnyang, Baidit, Mathiang and Jalle Courts.
  • Machiek passed on in 1945 before getting the governorship which the British had promised him and Deng passed on too in 1946.
  • History has it that Duk part of Bor-Duk District was dropped but how that came about, I am not sure. Bor-Duk District thus became Bor District.
  • Ajang Duoot took over as the next Paramount Chief and Mabior Ngueny was his Deputy. Ajang ruled from 1947-1967 when he was unfortunately massacred with 32 other chiefs by Arab Soldiers in Bor in that same year of 1967.
  • Mabior Ngueny was to rule as the next Paramount Chief but Dinka Twi declined and the reasons are not documented by Nyok (2008) who made that argument.
  • That was the end of the Paramount Chiefs and people lived leading their own sections separately and independently in the then Bor District until another historic time in 1976.
  • The British later reversed the Southern Policy a decade before the end of their rule and thus, that is why the Arab killed our chiefs in Bor. They were allowed by the British to rule us again and spread their Sharia Law.

(d) The Arab Regimes (1956-1972; 1983-2005)

  • The Arabs took over from the British in 1956 and colonized the Dinka of Upper Nile Province together with their other brothers in the region, not forgetting Equatoria and Barh el Ghazal Provinces.
  • The Arab leaders who oppressed us, one after the other were Abboud (1958-1964); Jaffar Nemeiri (1969-1986), Saddiq Al Mahdi (1986-1989) and Omar Hassan Ahmed Al Bashir (1989-2005).
  • In 1976 after Nemeiri (who happened to be the only modest Arab to Southerners) had already negotiated the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Accord which was signed. He made a historic turn point again for the Dinka people who were under Upper Nile Province in Bor District. Jonglei Province was formed and Bor District was splitted again into Kongor District with its headquarters in Pawel and Bor District with its head quarters in Bor.
  • The two districts grouped themselves collectively into three major administrative areas: Bor North (Twi, Nyarweng and Hol), Bor Central (Athooch, Twi Ajuong and Twi Pakeer) and Bor South (Gok).
  • The Dinka speaking people who were previously known as the Dinka of the Upper Nile Province now became the Dinka of Jonglei Province meaning the Dinka sub-tribes inhabiting Jonglei. In Bor District, as it was before 1926, Thony and Bor Dinka were the two Dinka sub-tribes in there while Twi, Hol and Nyarweng now became members of Kongor District.
  • To stress a point here, Bor as an administrative center was the headquarters of Bor District before 1906 and became the headquarters of Mongalla Province from 1906-1926 and became the headquarters of Bor-Duk District which later became Bor District from 1926-1976 and again became the headquarters of the new Bor District in 1976. Duk District Headquarters was Duk Payuel until 1926 when Bor-Duk District was formed and Duk Payuel was now abandoned as the administrative headquarters. Pawel became the headquarters of Kongor District from 1976-2003.
  • As it was, previously in 1906, Bor District was still inhabited by Dinka Thony and Dinka Bor (Athooch and Gok) while Kongor District was inhabited by Twi, Nyarweng and Hol Dinka.
  • In 2003, Kongor District splitted into Duk County and Twi East County and Bor District became Bor County. Duk County is inhabited by Hol and Nyarweng Dinka. Twi East County was now for Twi Dinka And Bor County for Dinka Bor (Athooch and Gok) and Dinka Thony.

(e) Jonglei after CPA (2005-2018)

  • The name Greater Bor emerged around early 2000s and it was subsequently rejected by Twi, Nyarweng and Hol, but why? The answer to that question will be addressed in my loading book which I thought was going to be a short article.
  • The current Jonglei State was decreed by President Salva Kiir Mayaardit in 2015. After that new counties emerged from the three counties of Duk, Twi East and Bor who were formed in 2003.


  • Administrative units have moved and changed and probably they are still going to change as population increases and demand for the creation of more administrative units.
  • On the other hand, the ethnic identities of the five Dinka sub-tribes remain untouched as Thony, Bor, Twi, Hol and Nyarweng.
  • Dinka Bor is a sub-tribe of Jieeng just like Dinka Twi, Dinka Aliab and Dinka Thony.
  • The Dinka of Jonglei is the collective name for the five sub-tribes of Jieeng living in the current Jonglei State. These are Thony, Bor, Twi, Nyarweng and Hol Dinka.
  • Dinka Bor is a subset of the Dinka of Jonglei which is referred to as the Southern Dinka by some authors or Dinka in general.
  • Dinka Thony, Dinka Twi, Dinka Nyarweng and Dinka Hol are neither subsets of each other nor the subsets of Dinka Bor.
  • Bor is the Capital city of Jonglei State hence an administration center. Bor land is the land of Thony, Bor-Athooch and Bor-Gok which extend from Jalle up to Chuei Keer or just Bor Town itself. Bor is also the ethnic identity of Athooch and Gok communities.
  • Jonglei State is our current administrative area since its creation in 1976 as a Province. Jonglei is a name of a place around Ajuong and Pakeer but not a name of a particular ethnic group. Jonglei is our center of unity.
  • The Administrative Bishop to whom Twi, Hol, Nyarweng, Bor and Thony Dinka can directtly report to is Jonglei State and the submission of such reports is done in Bor Town.
  • The Ethnic Bishop to whom Thony, Twi, Bor, Nyarweng and Hol can directly report to is Jieeng/Muonyjang.
  • Bor, Thony, Hol, Twi and Nyarweng are subsets Dinka.
  • The old men from our villages conduct our marriages and call us by our respective sub-tribes but we who are members of the church know ourselves as one sub-tribe DINKA BOR which is historically the name that belongs and only belonged to Athooch and Gok aside Thony.
  • Greater Bor is our creation so can Greater Twi, Greater Thony, Greater Hol and Greater Nyarweng be. Everyone feels good to be greater, right?
  • Bor in Bor, Panyang in Ajuong, Pariak in Abii, Pageer in Kongor and Pawaai in Nyarweng are some few examples of places connected with people’s ethnicities or people’s names or clans. Pawaai is a name of a section in Nyarweng and also the name of the land. We can say for example, Hon. Aguer Panyang has arrived in Panyang.
  • Why do I say that we have got five sub-tribes of Dinka in the current Jonglei State
  • Check this out!

An wakai!/An Pan e ma! Hol Dialect

Gol e ma! Monythany/Thony Dialect

Mao! Mao! Twi Dialect

Werkuo!/Kokuo! Bor Dialect

Paanda!/Were yiin! Nyarweng Dialect






By. Jokmagai e Dengadiit
Contact me at: jokmagai@gmail.com


Abushouk A.I. (2010). The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan from Collaboration Mechanism to Party Politics, 1898-1956. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. Vol. 38. No.2. pp.207-236.

Hutchinson, S. (2012). A Guide to the Nuer of Jonglei State. University of Wisconsin-Madison. pp.6.

Imani M.O.E., Gadalla E.O., Deng P.L. & Abdalla M.E. (1978). The Existing Services in Kongor and Bor Districts. Report No.6. pp.1,3,17&21.

Johnson D. H. (1989). Political Ecology in the Upper Nile: The Twentieth Century Expansion of the Pastoral ‘Common Economy.’ Journal of African History. Vol.30. pp.469-476.

Johnson D. H. (1982). Tribal Boundaries and Border Wars; Nuer-Dinka Relations in the Sobat and Zaraf Valleys (1860-1970). Journal of African History.23. pp. 187.

Johnson R.T. (1934). Sudan Notes and Records Volume XVII, Part I; The Religious and Spiritual Beliefs of the Bor Dinka.pp.126-128

Kibedde G. (1997). The North-South Conflict in Historical Perspective. Journal of African and Afro-American Studies.pp.15-16.

Mawut L. L. (1985). Dinka Resistance to Condominium Rule (1902-1932). University of Khartoum. pp.1

May D.N.N. (1994). The British Southern Policy in Sudan: An Inquiry into the Closed District Ordinances (1914-1946). Northeast African Studies. Vol 1. No.2-3. pp.165-185.

Nyok P. T. (2008). Paradoxical Existence of Jonglei State Head Quarter in Bor.

Preliminary Report by the Southern Development Investigation Team. (1954). Natural Resources and Development Potential in the Southern Province of Sudan: London. Sudan Government. pp.80.

Willis C.A. (1928). Sudan Notes and Records Volume XI; The Cult of Deng.p.196.

Wyld J. (1930). Report and Notes on Bor-Duk District; The Upper Nile Handbook; Chapter

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  1. David says:

    Your article is very good and interesting to read but it has no meaning or presautive at all, why because you fail to explain how Bor north, bor central and Bor south came about. Think over it again.


    • Jokmagai e Dengadiit says:

      Well, Mr. David, I gave more of a summary of the events. Bor North, Bor Central and Bor South came about during the period of 1926-1976 when all of the people living in the current Jonglei State were all members of Bor District. So the North, South and Central division was basically administrative but not ethnic.


  2. Yoorkuei de Machotdit says:

    Very educative but u have to wait for the full book to feed my brain and community politics lovers’ brains as well


    • Dr. Panda says:

      Dear Yoorkuei,

      There is really nothing educative about this article. It is purely conjectural and unsubstantial work presented to give anti-cohesion elements in our community something to spin in the direction of their chosen. In other words, the article is not based on carefully examined and scrutinized facts, but rather on vague information gathered from unreliable sources.


      • Jokmagai e Dengadiit says:

        Dr. Panda, academic and intellectual constructive criticism demands the scrutiny of what was written as a whole. You might be well informed more than I the author of this article but I thought you would have seen my summary of the events and told me that I was right about the time Bor District became part of Mongalla Province in 1906; The time of amalgamation of Twi, Bor, Hol and Nyarweng under Bor District from 1926-1976; Their separation again in 1976 when Jonglei Province was formed and Bor plus Kongor Districts were the two administrative areas. Until the formation of Duk, Bor and Twi East Counties in 2003. Tell me what is vague, unsubstantial and untrue about all these historical administrative events?

        Intellectual criticism demands truth to be identified first and accepted then where you don’t feel right, you can then put it forward in a debate format. I am still waiting for you to point out your doubts like Mr. Yoorkuei and Mr. Yuoot.


  3. Guong says:

    Nice article bro


  4. Daniel Yuoot Ajaangdit Yuoot. says:

    Your article is good except for some points, for example ” all Dinka of Upper Nile were moved to the district of Bor”. This statement is not true. Because the Dinka of Upper Nile begins from Abeliang in Renk, Ageer, Dhongjol, Pawueny, Luac, Thoi, just to mention a few. All these mentioned Dinka tribes were not moved to Bor. The only Dinkas from Upper Nile whose administration was moved to Bor District were those of Hol, Nyarweng, Twiy, and Bor.
    Thank you.
    Daniel Yuoot Ajangdit.


    • Jokmagai e Dengadiit says:

      Mr. Daniel Yuoot Ajaangdit, thanks for your comments and constructive criticism. Be talking about all Dinka of Upper Nile in my article, I was talking on the people I have zoomed out but not every Dinka. My research was on the current people of Jonglei State. Thanks.


  5. Daniel Yuoot Ajaangdit Yuoot. says:

    Secondly, Wangulei wasn’t present as koot that time. It was created in 1972. All the six sectional tribes of Adhiook, Abeh, Kongoor, Ayuaal, Daichuek, Awulian, were all in “Pawel” as their koot..

    Thank you,
    Daniel Yuoot Ajangdit.


  6. Peter says:

    Good writing skill but factually misleading. It is first time to read/hear of “Thony Dinka” as a fifth branch of Dinka that currently inhabits Jonglei States….what I know is that there has always been Thany vertically to our originally settlement/ “Wuor” along the Nile, i.e. Thany at Akwaak fell/falls under Angakuei, Thany at Pariak fell/falls under Abii, Thany at Mading fell/falls under Ateer…..etc…so that exertion by you is completely conspiring for some objective..

    It is furthermore first time to read/hear the so-call “Nyarweng Dinka”, Dinka Bor-Athooc and so forth in your usage of a theory that is difficult to follow because no referencing to support all those claims. Names such as Athooc and Gok are local names and not known by neither Nuer, Equatorians, nor by our Jieng in Renk and around Malakal. Not even in Bar el Ghazal except in Aliab because of intermarrying.

    The debate on which name unifies Jieng people from Cuei Keer to Cuei Thon in Jonglei is a new phenomenon and is being fueled by youth of (Bor, Twi, Nyarweng, Hol) in various parts of the world without consulting elders for straightforward answers.

    If your “book” is based on such facts, it would be misleading as I mentioned above.


    • Jokmagai e Dengadiit says:

      Mr. Peter, a man is classified as a full human being when he cares about humanity and always give out what he thinks is the truth and liberal and democratic.

      Nyarweng, Hol, Twi, Bor and recently Thony are all subtribes and subsets of Jieng/ Muonyjang/Dinka just like Agaar, Aliab and Malual. Nyarweng Dialect is different from Hol Dialect which is different from Twi and Bor Dialects. That is why these people are grouped as subtribes.

      All the Thony people you have talked about exactly fall under the areas your aforementioned by administration and everyone knows that. When it comes to ethnicity, they have their own dialect and I hope you know that. In sociology and anthropology, Thany would be given their right as a separate group of people because of their settlement along the Nile and with fishing as their main economic activity. Democracy demands that whoever has grown in number deserve to be called the way they like.


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