chapter  7
35 Pages

Postcolonial developments

For a while after independence, things went well for the Ngok. Their Chief, Deng Majok, a leader of extraordinary qualities, went much further than his father in identifying himself with the North and assimilating northern culture. At the same time, by winning and maintaining the confidence of all successive governments and officials, he succeeded remarkably in effecting a strong defense of his power and the autonomy of his area from the encroachments of the northern majority. While all the Missiriya chiefs were subjected to the authority of one Paramount Chief, Babo Nimir, Deng Majok was recognized as an independent Paramount Chief of the Ngok Dinka, directly responsible to central government authorities in administrative and judicial matters. He argued that despite his being in the North, his tribe was racially and culturally “southern,” and therefore had to be governed by Dinka law and custom, akin to that which prevailed in the South. A foundation for his argument had already been laid. In accordance with a

special order by the Governor General, Ngok courts were governed by the Chiefs’ Courts Ordinance, which applied to the southern provinces and not by the Native Courts Ordinance, which applied to the North. But whereas in the South, appeals from chiefs were heard by their own peers through an elaborate intertribal court system, the Ngok Paramount Chief was virtually the final authority in matters of customary law and a very powerful ruler whose decisions were rarely challenged. The traditional preeminence of the ruling Pajok lineage, the enhancement of their authority through recognition and reinforcement by successive colonial and national regimes, and the personality of the individual leaders in the family line all combined to make the Ngok system of administration highly centralized and authoritarian, in sharp contrast to the essentially democratic spirit and practice of traditional Dinka society which to some extent still prevailed in the South, even under overall modern government control. Because the Ngok chiefs had such a grip on the situation, law and order,

and therefore peace and security, became more effectively entrenched there than anywhere else in the Dinka world. Under Chief Deng Majok internal warfare totally ceased and, despite occasional attempts, intertribal wars involving the Ngok also virtually disappeared. The Ngok area became a harmonious point

of contact, a secure bridge, and a free market between the North and the South. In fact, although many British administrators preferred that the Ngok join the South, some saw the importance of the Ngok to Afro-Arab relations. K.D.D. Henderson, one-time District Commissioner in the area and later governor of Darfur Province, referring to the role Sudan could play as an Afro-Arab bridge, wrote that “the Ngok Dinka, on the Bahr el Arab, had joined Kordofan Province at the re-occupation and had played precisely such a role as intermediaries between the Humr Baggara and the Dinka of Bahr al Ghazal” (see his book, The Sudan Republic, p. 164). Henderson also commented on the anomaly of the Ngok situation on the

North-South border in another context:

Tidy-minded persons-British and Sudanese alike-were always suggesting that the Ngok be transferred to Southern administration. I resisted this partly because it would have been impossible to draw a fair boundary between them and the Humr, but chiefly because their presence in Kordofan provided an invaluable buffer-state and meeting ground and gave the Northern administration knowledge of and sympathy with the Nilotics. Further West, the Malwal and Rezeigat were perfectly at loggerheads. To the East, the transfer of the Rueng to the Upper Nile Province had given rise to endless friction. But the relationship of the Ngok was excellent with the Humr on one side and the Twij or the Hijeir [Rek], and vice versa; they all always approached Kwal in the first instance to act as an intermediary. I regarded [Kwol] as a most outstanding ruler and his people as a completely adult race.6