Becoming an author is not an easy task. It is stressful, frustrating, boring, tiresome, and time-consuming. The road to Caged Animals: A Cry for Justice was a bumpy one. I struggled to hold onto my dream of being an author, but I knew that my story was important.
Life is the worse dictator in this world. It directs you. It leads you through twists and turns. I often advise relatives, friends, and colleagues to be careful with life. You never know whether it will take you down the wrong path or the right one.
Whether traditionally publishing or self-publishing, all authors must face challenges. But they also find rewards. An author’s truest success lies in the knowledge that their work has taught its readers something new, that its readers have learned something from it that they wouldn’t otherwise have known.
I knew that the decision to tell my life story, which, due to its length, has been split into two separate books, was something that would cost me great effort, but I also knew that it was something I would not regret. Fame and financial gain were not the reasons I wrote my stories. I wanted to share my history with others, in the hope that they could learn from it. My experience with life behind bars was the greatest teacher I ever had, and I knew that it could also teach those who read about it.
I understand that life treats each of us differently. Natural disasters, refugeeism, and civil wars were terrible events that we faced in South Sudan. I have experienced the dread of wars in South Sudan. I have experienced incarceration in Australia—I was charged with assault after defending myself against an attacker. I have experienced the difficulties of life in a refugees camp.
In reflecting on my journey, I’ve come to understand something: my future was and is unpredictable.
Of the many experiences and challenges I have faced, one terrible event remains clear in my memory, and I expect to carry it to my grave: the Bor genocide of 1991. I was a key witness, and what I saw was beyond description.
After I fled the war to Ngangala, Central Equatoria State, I thought the war would end and I would be able to return to my village.
In the camps, the days became weeks, weeks became months, and I soon understood the truth: I would never see my village again. For months, I trekked on foot without shoes.
In those months, I would become a victim of air bombardments, thirst, hunger, and disease. Basic needs were not met in the remote village I ended up in, but still, my life was better than it was before the war. During the war, my future hung in the balance, caught between life and death. After the war, we faced the aftermath of violence, destruction, and an ethnic cleaning attempt in my village. The trauma, and what I learned from it, will never fade.
While in the prison in Australia, I thought about a possible future in which I would live to have a family of my own. My partner and our children, I thought, could one day read about my hardships and lessons in my memoir.
Initially, I believed that my second book would be published in the United States of America. My American friend Jack Feerick was willing to help me by connecting me with American publishers. Unfortunately, Jack was busy with a lot of works, and little time remained for my story.
I believed that it was important to share my story as soon as I could. I decided to seek publication with Africa World Books. The CEO of Africa World Books, Lual Reech Deng, is a very encouraging person, who has supported many authors in Australia and abroad, focusing on authors in Africa and the diaspora. Peter Lual has assisted men and women of integrity in the African community to achieve their writing and publication goals. I could not be more grateful for the privilege of Africa World Books’ help.
My relationship with Peter and his ancestral home of Dacuek dates back one hundred and fifty years. Today, I call myself a son of Hol Ajang Majok in Great Twi East, but my granddad, Dau Chol Bul, was once a dual citizen of the Dacuek clan.
One hundred and fifty years ago, my granddad was a polygamist, like most other men in his village. He married his first wife, Apul Atem Madol Golou from Wut-Akonychok, then
went on to marry his second wife, Amach Bior Nul from Wut-Padoor in the Dacuek clan. Those years were dreadful in South Sudan, especially in our ancestral home of Pakeer, plagued by natural disasters.
The impact of disaster in his homeland forced my granddad to leave his village and move to Dacuek with his family, where he lived a decent life with his in-laws. In Bapping, Granddad welcomed sons Thuch Dau (my grandfather), Bul Dau Chol, and Deng Dau Chol, and several daughters.
My grandfather grew up and passed through the rite of passage in Dacuek. He married his first wife, Achol Yool from Wut-Awualian, Pan-Ajakhook. Like his father before him, my grandfather was a polygamist. He married three wives in Dacuek, the second of whom was Athieng Akoi Akech from Wut Pan-Cholthi, who would give birth to several children, including my father in 1946.
The Dacuek clan became my family’s home, and they had no intention of returning to Pakeer. They lived in Dacuek until Dacuek engaged in political conflict with the Nuer tribe and Kongoor clan.
My father said that there were allegations that Dacueks would murder villagers in the neighbourhood. Distant tribes such as the Nuer and Murle quickly became enemies, a result of revenge. Dacuek’s warriors were frequently accused of murder by their neighbours, and members of the far-off clan of Kongoor were often the alleged victims. In those days, law enforcement did not exist in Dacuek and surrounding areas. Tribes and clans could take laws into their own hands, which was what made genocide so easy.
In remote villages, massacres and genocides were committed and left unrecorded. There was no media or good governance in South Sudan to report or record them. In attempt to subdue the wars, spiritual leaders (village prophets) performed black magic rituals.
When Dacuek was accused of murders by the Kongoor and Nuer tribes, tensions reached a peak. The Dacuek people would face two fronts. What followed was one of the darkest nights in Dacuek’s history.
Head Chief Lual Deng’s leadership would soon be tested by terrible conditions. Overnight, Chief Lual decided to set off on foot to consult Alaak Gong, the great prophet in Kongoor, on how to put an end to the war.
“Ace goc ku be koc ba ruur cath wokou,” the prophet greeted Lual, meaning that you need not provoke your neighbours and walk the whole night to seek rescue. He meant it as a joke. In those days, the prophets were very kind people, able to set their differences aside and bless their enemies for the betterment of the society. Alaak Gong was one such generous prophet, an advocate for peace. He succeeded in subduing the violence between Dacuek and Kongoor.
The wonderful story of Alaak Gong teaches us that God is careful with where He offers divinity. He does not bestow it upon those who would abuse it. He gives spiritual powers to those of pure heart and understanding, like Alaak de Gong.
A simple thank you will never be enough to acknowledge the greatness of the prophet Alaak Gong. If he hadn’t subdued the war between Kongoor and Dacuek, my grandfather might have been murdered by Kongoor, and I wouldn’t be here today to write this story.
On that fateful night, the prophet sympathised with Chief Lual Deng and the Dacuek, grieving the consequences of such a meaningless war.
The prophet made it clear that he would perform his spiritual duty and end Kongoor’s offense against Dacuek. He sent an unceasing rain that kept the warriors of Kongoor in their tukuls for days.
Chief Lual Deng returned to his village with a guarantee that Dacuek would not be attacked by Kongoor. The next morning, armed with shields and spears, the Nuer tribe attacked Dacuek.
During the war, my grandfather, Thuch Dau, and his brother Bul Dau were heroes in Dacuek. In the battlefield, Bul Dau and other warriors managed to kill Deng-R Koryiom a Golia, the Nuer tribe’s hero, whose his name is still remembered in the lyrics to Yai de Dacuek, one of Dacuek’s traditional songs.
After the death of their hero, the Nuer tribe were abated, and the Dacuek clan enjoyed victory. Dau Chol, my granddad, died of old age soon after, but his family lived in Dacuek until my father was a teenager. In Bapping, my aunties married Dacuek’s men. My aunt Arok Bul Dau, mother to Duot Chepping Biar. Biar Chepping Biar, and their sisters, was the first daughter in the Dau Chol family to be married in Dacuek. My aunt Adau Thuch Dau, mother to Gai Chol Aweer, married soon after, and my aunt Arokdit Thuch Dau married Pajut County.
But peace was short-lived. Another sad day struck our family at Panyang cattle camp. One morning, Ajak Yool, who was from a distant sub-clan in Dacuek, fatally speared my grandfather’s ox to spark violence, because a few sub-clans in Dacuek were unhappy with our family’s residency.
Ajak Yool then went further, swearing at my grandfather. “Wai wo mioor alei pachol-akol,” he said. This became a popular saying in Twi East, loosely translating to “Who cares if I kill a stranger’s bull?”
My family could not tolerate such insult and racism anymore. Migration to Pakeer, our ancestral home, and to Hol Ajang Majok was the best option for avoiding any further escalation.
There was a theory that the bull’s killer, Ajak Yool, could use black magic against our family, because his section of Pan-Yool were divine holders in the Dacuek clan. And a divinity war was much more dangerous than a physical war, because no one knew what misfortunes he could cast upon our family should my grandfather fight him.
In 1951, my family left Dacuek with their livestock and resettled in their homeland. The head chief of the Hol clan, Majok Ajang Awan, gave our family a warm reception. What Majok Ajang didn’t know was that one day, after he had passed, his granddaughter Atiel Ajang Majok (my mother) would marry Dau Thuch Dau of the family he farewelled in 1951.
A few days their arrival, the Panyang (the divinity God of Dacuek) was displeased with our family for leaving Dacuek without his permission. The Panyang stalked the family, cursing it with sickness, disease, and death. In the 1950s, Uncle Biar Bul, his half-brother Biar-Malang, Atem-Mayenchek, Deng Bul, Mabior Bul, and several others died, with Panyang de Dacuek considered a major cause.
My grandfathers had no choice but to offer some of their cattle to appease the Gods. Regardless, the land remained dry, and family deaths continued to occur. Nothing changed until Atem de Juelek, the God of Hol-Atok, took a stand on the Panyang threat.
Atem de Juelek, through a spiritual prophet called Kur Khot, gave a warning to Panyang de Dacuek, telling him that we were no longer his people and that he needed to stop killing our family. A war broke out between the two Gods, and finally, the deaths caused by Panyang stopped.
I tell this story so that others can learn about where I come from. This story is not part of this book, but I think that it is important that readers know that I was once a Dacuek.
It is a great honour and privilege to pass down our history, especially to children from the Dau Chol family, who might not otherwise know these stories, which are essential to our heritage and legacy.
The history of Panyang de Dacuek was real. It is important for me and all who are interested in Dinka culture. The Panyang was a great God, and even today, some Dacueks who maintain superstitions praise Panyang in their hearts, despite their Christianity.
Maybe it was Panyang who compelled me to strip the deal with Jack Feerick and choose to work with Africa World Books.