DINKA-NUER PRESS RELEASE #2
Date: 20 February 1999
From: New Sudan Council of Churches
Chiefs Of Dinka and Nuer Stir Crowds, Emotions and Perform Rituals
Dinka-Nuer West Bank Peace and Reconciliation Conference in southern Sudan
Nairobi, Kenya: The New Sudan Council of Churches has successfully facilitated a historic exchange of visits by Dinka and Nuer Chiefs and community leaders on the West side of the Nile River in the Regions of Bahr el Ghazal and Western Upper Nile. The attached report from Dr. William O. Lowrey, who is serving as the NSCC Facilitator of this peace process, gives an eye-witness account of the events.
With the conclusion of the exchange visits the final preparations for the formal peace conference are now in high gear. Hundreds of delegates chosen by their own people from all the counties of Bahr el Ghazal and Western Upper Nile are now on the move to the conference site. The first arrival of official delegates is expected on Sunday 21 February. Many delegates are walking for long distances. Some are being picked up in lorries for part of their journey. An airlift that will transport observers from the East of the Nile and many Nuer participants from their central collection point in Western Upper Nile will take place just before the conference formally opens.
A Nuer-Nuer Reconciliation conference is now taking place as a preparation for the Dinka-Nuer conference. This reconciliation has been viewed as critical after severe fighting between Nuer sections in the second half of 1998. Chiefs and community leaders have come together in a common site to heal their intra-ethnic wounds. From that site they will be transported in shuttle flights by NSCC to the site of the Dinka-Nuer Conference.
After three months of work by approximately 300 local people, the Dinka community that is hosting the conference is rapidly completing their preparations of 150 toukels, a meeting hall, latrines, water tanks, food distribution and preparation sites, and communications and documentation centers. The Convoy with final supplies arrived at the site on Thursday 18 February after a three week journey beginning in Kenya, passing through Uganda and covering extremely difficult terrain in southern Sudan. The arrival of the Convoy touched off a celebration of joy from workers at the site and team members of NSCC in Nairobi.
The NSCC team has announced that the Opening Ceremonies will take place on Saturday 27 February. The following three days will be extended times of storytelling between Dinka and Nuer with the identification of key issues taking place within the context of the stories. Following that will be a period of working groups that design solutions for the identified issues. These proposals will then be worked by the whole conference to gain consensus on conclusions and resolutions. Efforts will be made by the conference to create new institutional arrangements that can build peace along the Dinka-Nuer border over an extended period of time. If the Conference is successful, one of the first evidences will be the immediate sharing of the toich (grazing lands along the rivers) and fishing ponds during the current dry season.
NSCC calls upon people of faith to join in prayer and practical support for this courageous effort of indigenous peoples to build a peace from the grass-roots upward. Journalists are welcome to cover the Conference but an EMBARGO will continue on the filing of stories until the Conference officially ends.
Dr. Haruun Ruun For More Information Contact:
Executive Secretary NSCC
New Sudan Council of Churches Phone: 254-2-446966/448141
[Participants in Chiefs Exchange: Five Dinka Chiefs, three Nuer Chiefs, a Nuer Dep. Appeals Court Judge, Nuer and Dinka Women’s leader, Nuer and Dinka Intellectual, three journalists, myself as peace process facilitator; and thousands of community people including additional chiefs, civil and military officials, women, youth, children]
There is no doubt that a peace is underway between Dinka and Nuer in Bahr el Ghazal and Western Upper Nile regions in southern Sudan. It is a world that is difficult to grasp for people from the West. This is not a peace that is forged primarily on a piece of paper, although that will happen by the time the Conference is over. It is not a peace constructed in meetings and negotiated as a set of ideas, although that too is likely in the coming couple of weeks. This is a peace and reconciliation process between peoples with oral traditions. They draw from rich resources of traditional life and see themselves as rooted in a common family. Dinka and Nuer know that peace comes when people are reconciled, wrongs are forgiven, covenants are established, rituals provide visible signs of inner commitments, and new paths are created for interactive relationships along their borders and within each others’ lands. This exchange of chiefs was historic. It is a part of the peace, not a prelude to a conference. Within the total process the new relationships are forged. As they tell stories to each other they see the hand of God at work to bring them peace. As I witness their peacemaking, I see the Spirit of God blowing in their midst and it is clear that the peace that is coming is being built with their own hands and driven by passionate hearts. Warriors are being transformed into peacemakers. From my journal and the writings on my heart come these highlights:
** On the plane with the Nuer chiefs flying from Leer to Marial and Thiet in Dinkaland the sounds of chattering magpies suddenly took over. The Nuer looked out the window of the plane, saw the crossing of "their river" and knew they had entered Dinkaland for the first time. It was electric.
** In Marial Lou, where we refueled, it was just these Nuer and me standing next to the plane surrounded by a couple of hundred surprised Dinka. It was not part of our planned journey and was only a fuel stop. Deborah, the Nuer women's leader saw a Dinka women she knew and explained to her in Dinka that this was the mission of peace to Dinkaland. Then the Dinka began to come up and inspect the Nuer and shake hands and ask questions. I gave out press releases to some who could read English. Then some discovered that standing right if front of them was Chief Isaac Magok, the fearful warrior they knew only by reputation. Suddenly the excitement became immense. They kept saying, "if Chief Isaac is in Dinkaland there will be no more fighting."
** In Thiet with Dinka chiefs hosting Nuer Chiefs...twice bulls were sacrificed, flipped on their backs, four men holding their legs, a knife slitting the throat, geyser of blood spurting from the aorta, and each of us stepping across the slain bull, proclaiming in action that the conflict of the past was being cut from us all and the peace was beginning.
** In Thiet again...rituals of libations suggested by the women and participated in by us all. A calabash of water was brought with sesame seed floating in the water. The seed represent new life. The calabash was passed and each person spit ritually into the gourd bowl. This symbolized the joining of life fluids with one another. In addition the fine spray spittle represents the coolest part of the hot tongue that can be the root of conflict or contribute to healing and peace. We all came forward and washed our hands in the water. Then we took water in our cupped hands and threw water as a sprinkling over each other. We were being sprinkled clean from the past sins and conflict and enabled to start anew to build the peace.
The second libation was similar the next day. But this time there was no spitting or passing the calabash. The oldest Dinka chief walked around the circle with a young woman carrying the calabash. As he came to each person he dipped the water and sprinkled water on the feet of each of us. This signified the cooling down from the heat of conflict and the preparation of our feet for the work of peace. I was reminded of the verse from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah "how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring peace/good news."
** In Dinkaland long discussions about security and danger. One Dinka said, "The Nuer have disarmed us by taking the risk to come to our land. Now we must take courage to go to theirs." However, there was great concern among the Dinka because they did not know who could provide security in Nuerland...there are the forces of Riek Machar, President Bashier, Cdr. Paulino Matip, Cdr. Kerubino Bol...who is really in charge. Late into the night they debated as Dinka alone. Cmdr. Salva Kiir (2nd to Dr. John Garang of SPLM/A) urged them to take courage. If they refused to go the process of peace would end in failure. They told each other of their fathers and fathers' fathers. They concluded that their ancestors had taken risks for peace and some died, now it was their turn. Their conclusion was to not send just three but to act boldly and send five chiefs and one woman.
The Nuer Chiefs also knew if the Dinka did not go to Nuerland all would end in failure. So they discussed how they could help their brothers. They said they would be willing to leave behind one or two or even for all of them to stay in Dinkaland as a guarantee that the Dinka Chiefs would be safe. Then if the Dinka were killed in Nuerland, the Nuer Chiefs could also be killed.
All of this was a process of building up great courage and putting down deep roots of commitment. They were pledging their lives to this process. In the end no Nuer stayed behind, but rather they became the escorts of the Dinka.
** In Thiet, when the Nuer Chiefs got off the plane and were greeted by the waiting Dinka Chiefs two chiefs stood out. Chief Isaac of the Nuer and Chief Madut of the Dinka were the enemies whose forces faced each other across the border at the center. They went to each other, embraced, danced and celebrated. In a parade through the market center with many military forces keeping the crowds back these two warriors walked with their arms around each other's shoulders and women later spoke of their tears of joy that this meant that the fighting must end.
** In Leer in Nuerland, again two bulls were sacrificed with the same ritual of stepping over the covenant sacrifice. Then powerful traditional dancing featured Chief Isaac and about 20 women with simulated fighting advancing and then retreating. Then Chief Isaac pointed to each of the Dinka Chiefs in turn and the women lifted the Chief above their heads and paraded him around for the thousands in the crowds to see and cheer. The woman, who is the young wife of elderly Chief Dhor Ariik, was also lifted and carried around the crowds. Then the Presbyterian and Catholic Church choirs sang songs. Rev. George Riek (Presbyterian), who was leading the whole ceremony, and a Deacon washed the feet of each of the Dinka chiefs and the woman and washed the hands of the rest of us as peacemakers. Speeches went on into the evening under a beautiful grove of big trees with children filling the big branches as they had climbed high to get a good view.
** Cmdr. Salva Kiir spent nearly two days meeting with us in Dinkaland to work on all security issues. Stories were told of him and we have found a warrior peacemaker at the highest level. I told him that my family had also considered the risks I was taking and they sent me for this peace even with the risks. He said, "Bill, I guarantee your safety, as long as you are in Dinkaland no one will harm you." He placed a special company of soldier to guard us. This was not because they feared for our lives but he said for two reasons. This was the honor that should be given to heads of state and if they did not have the guards the crowds would press in on us day and night and give us no rest. At night heavily armed soldiers slept near, making their bedrolls a few feet away and sentries kept watch in shifts through the night.
** In Leer it was nearly midnight after our arrival in Nuerland and the festivities were over. Deborah came to my place and woke me. She said, "Bill, you must get up and come to eat!" I said, "Deborah, I am so tired and I am not hungry." She responded, "If you do not come the Chiefs will be very angry with you." Through my cloudy head it all began to make sense. I said, "O yes, this is the shared feast of the bull that was sacrificed and we must all eat of it." "Yes," she said. So I had my midnight snack of entrails, trying to keep to the liver which was more palatable at that time of night to me than other organs. Sometimes the price of peace comes in small bites!
The trip was not just highlights. There were real difficulties. Clean water was difficult to get, one engine of the plane failed on Sunday so we could not take off, we sat in the terrible runway heat for nearly eight hours and then a plane came only to get the pilots. Radio communications were very limited. We were delayed one full day and worried that the Nuer could conclude that their chiefs had been killed because we could not get a message to them. However, God prevailed. In Leer during the Sunday worship service a man stood and said: "I had a dream last night. Our guest who are coming are all well. But their plane has failed." So the people prayed for us, were not alarmed when we did not come, and then the elder who told me this story was completely unsurprised when I told him that one of the two engines failed while we were on the ground.
In spite of difficulties, of people who resist peace, and of the tough terrain, the people on the ground, with so little help from others are overcoming every obstacle. I believe they will accomplish this thing which has captured their hearts and hopes. All of them say, "This is of God." And I say, Amen!
William O. Lowrey, Ph.D.
NSCC Consultant and Peace Facilitator