Contributor's Opinion

Opinion: Akobo is an ancestral land of the Lou-nuer people, particularly of the Mor sub-tribes

To expel the spurious claims of Anyuak community over the Akobo land,

By Khan Banguot Gok ,

Sep 11, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — This article serves to clarify how the modern days Akobo or Akobo land became the cradle land of the Lou Nuer community and in particularly to the Jock, Mach and their uncle, Nyang Dinai, who are these days collectively referred as the Mor Nyang or Mor Nyabiel.

Let me begin by walking you through a brief historical background of what became known as Akobo, since there has been so much dispute between the Anyuak and the Lou Nuer community over its ownership. Towards the end of this article, I will also explain why Akobo is an historical Homeland of the Lou Nuer community.

Akobo is one of the renowned towns of South Sudan due to its people’s participation in the Independence struggle and their boldness in the country’s decision making; it’s located in the eastern part of the Jonglei state bordering Ethiopia. It was among the 11 counties of the Greater Jonglei before the creation of Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA), and is now one of the nine counties that can form the state. According to the census, conducted on the 22nd of April 2008, the Akobo population was estimated to be 136,210 people and subsequently increased to 192,937 in the 2017 projection count.

Akobo town in Jonglei state, South Sudan. Alison Martin/Oxfam.
Akobo town in Jonglei state, South Sudan. Alison Martin/Oxfam.

Coming to the main concern, ‘the ownership of the Akobo land,’ I would like to encourage you to read this statement up to the end. 

Historical Background

In 1844, migration took place in Western Nuer land (Bentiu), following the several heated disputes between Dinai Geaka’s ancestral section, and the other Nuer sections which led to the abandonment of the land. However, Lou Nuer and Fangak marched out of the land, and after some years, Gaat-Kiir Kaker also left the land, and were led out by Latjor Diyian and his wife, Nyaguach.

Before the exodus, some professional hunters were selected to go and explore the land, and also to burn it down in order to scatter the wild animals before settlement. Fangak was explored and found to be a good place for settlement since it had sufficient grazing land, fertile soil for farming and for both drinking and fishing (Gezira river). Lou Nuer and Fangak plus few people from other Nuer sections came to the Fangak land and settled there for more than forty 40 years.

While in Fangak, another dispute occurred in which the Lou Nuer were repeatedly expelled out, and abandoned the land and went through the shore of the river Nile. On their way, the elder in charge of the migrants was Beach Chuol. The professional hunters who were there to explore the would be occupied place were: Kuoth Both, Buy Buol and Bidit Beliew. Before they reached their final destination,they (the migrants) settled in many places along the shore. The first area where they spent some days was Bukteng. In the days spent in Bukteng, one of the famous hunters, ‘Bidit Biliew’ died and was buried at Tithpuok, near to the tall tree (Thow), located within the center of the Bukteng highland. That tree may either still exist or has been cut down, but it should be well known by those who are now dwelling there.

As we know that in ancient times people did migrate mostly to look for satisfactorily grazing land and fertile soil for cultivation. The migrants also left Bukteng due to the grazing land and settled in Yakuach and spent some years there. Within that period of time spent in Yakuach, many children were born. Some of those children were called according to the area’s name. Among them was Yakuach Ruot Dim, ‘The grandfather of Chie-Yakuach(Yakuach lineage) whom their present Homeland is now Lony in Walgak payam.’

Also, life in Yakuach was not as favourable as they expected. So the people migrated from Yakuach, heading Eastward to Ethiopia. There, they settled in Räwmän-Nyang which is now present in Ethiopia. They also spent some years there and later came back to the shore to proceed moving Southward.

On their way Southward, they settled in many places before they reached the present Akobo land and Makak was one of the places they occupied. On their arrival to Makak, Nyal Biliew, one of the people in charge of the migrants met with the mermaid (Nyanjut) at Nyakang’s shore (Watch Nyakang) and suddenly killed the mermaid. ‘Nyanjut’ is now believed as an earthly god by Chie-Biliew, ‘the ancestral offspring of Nyal Beliew.’

Thus, the migrants were not satisfactorily content to settle on all areas they crossed. So, they proceeded to Akobo and settled along the river bank. When they arrived in Akobo, Key Dhil Kuayie was immediately eaten by a crocodile while he tried to bath. The incident utterly discouraged people to settle in Bielkey, the present Akobo land, so they decided to move to another area that might be safer for  them to live. And for the memory of the deceased person, the area was just named, ‘Bielkey’ as the intention was to memorise him (Key Dhiel Kuayie) who was eaten at the shore by a crocodile. In Nuer language, ‘Biel’ means ‘highland’ while Key is the name of the person eaten. So, Bielkey is a compound noun combined with ‘Biel’ the highland and ‘Key,’ the name of the person eaten. As a result, people left the land and only named  Bielkey while other areas around it were left without being named. Then, the people moved toward the present (Pibor) area, and settled in Buongjack, located between Pibor and Akobo.  As time went by, there was an outbreak of pandemic diseases that was by then called, ‘Guol’ in the Nuer language which had recently been discovered to be called Ebola. Guol (Ebola) was so contagious that it killed people in big numbers. People in the first place tried to cope with it but in the midst of it they realized that the disease is fatal and that they wouldn’t be able to resist it. Instead, the survivors escaped from Buongjack, and retreated back to Bielkey land that was first abandoned.

Note! All those areas mentioned above like: Bukteng, Yakuach, Tithpuok, Räwmän Nyang, Makak, Akobo and Buongjack were neither created nor occupied before.

As people returned to Bielkey, a general meeting was conducted.The main goal was to decide what to do next after all those endeavored settlements that were interrupted. In the meeting, people came up with a lot of suggestions; some recommended to permanently stay in the areas along the Bielkey river, despite the existence of the dangerous beast (crocodile) in the river. Others suggested sending out professional hunters to explore the land to be occupied rather than the occupation of Bielkey land with its known mortal beast.

However, too much discord arose between these two contradictory suggestions. Nevertheless, in the meantime, the general assembly concurred on the suggestion of sending out the hunters for exploration. After some days, hunters departed and spent months in the wilderness searching a conducive environment that may be good for permanent settlement. The explorers found Padoi lake,one of the bigger lakes in the area assessed which may sufficiently accommodate all the migrants, and also their cattle. But one of the biggest problems found was the existence of dangerous animals in the lake. Those animals were: crocodiles, hippopotamuses, snakes and other living things that may threaten the lives of the people.

Then the hunters came back and narrated the whole story of what they had found to the people. There, another argument arose in which some people objected to the migration. Among those who opposed the exodus was the elder in charge of the migrants ‘Beach Chuol.’ He said, ‘instead of going to Padoi where there are a lot of dangerous animals, we better stay here in Bielkey because what might lead us out of here is also the same that is in Padoi. Again, the land will also be incestuous to us because the lake will be shared by fathers-in-law, son-in-law, mother-in-law, daughters-in-law and the sisters-in-law.’ However the majority were for the migration and they claimed that the land is fertile and also appropriate for animals grazing as narrated by the hunters.

People disagreed over this issue so some of them decided to remain in Bielkey (Akobo east), while others assented to go to Padoi (Akobo west). Among those who remained were Koang Dungdit from Wech Koang, Gang Lual from Wech Thoah Gang, Puot Dol from Wech Puot, Jany Gai from Wechthoari Jany, Both Wanjang from Wech Both, Pech Ruach from Wech pech, Lual Nyanthoan from Wech Lual, Luak Pech from Wech Luak and Kok Diang from Wech Kok; Nying Chamjock was also remained from Lol Thayian. Those areas were inhabited by those mentioned individuals with their families, while some part of the land remains unoccupied since they were few and not able to occupy the whole surrounding land.

Those who consented to go to Padoi (Akobo west) were briefed by Beach Chuol (the elder in charge of the exodus). He said, ‘ I agreed to go with you but will carry me while my head is turned backward to Bielkey land (Akobo east).’  The elder meant that they should one day come back to this land. He also cursed all the life-threatening living things in Padoi lake, and said, ‘all those hippopotamuses in the lake will disappear, crocodiles will turn to geckos, snakes will be toadpool and harmless to us. Therefore, they eventually migrated and occupied all the areas around Padoi lake.

The Origin of the name “Akobo”

Coming to the question of where did the name Akobo originated from; well, this question is expected to be asked by many people since it is the main subject of this statement, and to respond to it accordingly will make the whole narration clear and convincing.  As we know that Akobo land is very mickle, bordered with Murle from Kachyaktiet, Tuny and Pulkuoth Nyandiet and to the east the land extends to Buge and Parewang, bordering Pochalla county. Thus, it makes it difficult for the few families remaining in the land to control it and protectt it from other occupants, coming from other regions. 

By late 1890s, Anyuak  migrated from Anyuak land of Pochalla, Buge,Jioor, Pignido and Parewang, and invaded  Akobo through the southeastern part. They then found that the land was partially occupied. We know how difficult it’s for few people to reject the invasion and occupation of their land, however, those who were found in the land had no other options than to allow the Anyuak to settle in.

At their arrival in the land, they were just starting to divide the land without consultation being made. Rine, Nyikang, Wech Dibole, Dilule and Wech Mawär were given to Bhär Chiejaak (Chiejaak sections), while Kobe, Nyikan, Dima, Chan, Okalnga,Wangduar and Tiergol were given to Bhär Chielual (Chielual section). Other areas like Onthil, Ogin, Länge, Olual,Obear, Obor, Chikol, Pany, Orik, Meer, Kony, Burmäth, Olam, Okäw and many others were randomly occupied. Those areas are up to this date called in the Anyuak language, and the blame should not be imposed on Anyuak because the areas were not named by the first occupants, the Lou Nuer community, when they came from Fangak.

When Anyuak had already settled, they then started to contact the indigenous people  who were found in the land. Several meetings were held, discussing how the people could solve their heated issues (communal and personal differences) that might bring quarrel or else lead to the mass brawls. Notwithstanding, the resolution of all those meetings was to nominate the Chiefs, Sub-chiefs and headmen in both sides to enforce law and order. This was done in accordance with the British policy used in Sudan by then. Among those nominees were Chief Gang Lual Thian from Lou Nuer side and the chief Othir Jiok from Anyuak community. Sub-chiefs and headmen were also appointed. When you commit a crime those chiefs have policemen that could apprehend. If you were found guilty and convicted in the court, they could fine you with either cow or goat as a way of punishment depending on how big or small the crime is. This actually helped the two communities to live in harmony and maintain peace among themselves. When Onthil Ogin and Gang Lual Thian’s term ended, other men were nominated in which Jiok Jiok and Mawar were nominated respectively from the side of Anyuak, while Kueyne Long, Yik Gatluak, Makuach Ruon and Ruach Bongo were also appointed in the Nuer side.

As you know that Sudan got its independence in 1956 from Britain, Akobo was then under the Sudan government though there was an existing of Anyanya I in the bushes. Then the government established checkpoints all over the country. In Bielkey, the first area that was chosen and established as a checkpoint was Kobe Gidim, but due to the flatness of its land which contributed regular floodings of the area the forced the government to relocate the checkpoint from Kobe Gidim to Bielkey. There, the sign post that was written as Kobe when Checkpoint was in Kobe Gidim did not change. It was just taken and posted again in Bielkey, ‘the new  established Checkpoint. After some years, the name ‘Kobe’ on the sign post became familiar, and the area was gradually changed from Bielkey to Kobe, and recently has been modernized as Akobo. The meaning of ‘KOBE’ in Nuer language is an imperative word, ‘Cook it as dry rolled food’!

In 1970, many people returned from Akobo west due to their various circumstances, and therefore, leading to the population increase. And as a result, the crime rate goes higher, which makes it difficult for chiefs to control it. Murders, cattle raiding and communal fights become rampant. The jurisdiction exercised by chiefs was automatically seized by the ethnic line, whereby the conviction in the court was utterly so biased, prejudiced and unfair. 

By 1972, fighting broke out between the two communities, and as the results, Anyuak were totally expelled out, and the land was eventually liberated.

In conclusion, I am kindly requesting all those who will read this article to share it with their Facebook friends, and house whom I cannot manage to reach. 

The reason why I wrote this article is to deeply explain why Akobo is said to be a Lou Nuer land, and not possibly be claimed by the neighbors Anyuak, since the Anyuak community used to raise this concern on a regular basis.

May God bless you and bless South Sudan!!

The author of this article is the Chairman of Greater Jonglei FDP Youth league, the would be Author of the book titled ‘Life in Protection of Civilian Site,’ and also an English to Nuer Dictionary lexicographer.

~ edited by Teresa Deng.

The author can be reached for more information on this article through email at khanbanguotgok@gmail.com or through Tweeter and Facebook, @Khan Banguot Gok, 

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