chapter  3
10 Pages

Original Preface, 1977, revised 2008

During the days from May 8 to 10, and from June 8 to 12, violence broke out between the Ngok Dinka and the Humr Arabs, resulting in a tragic loss of nearly two hundred lives. To a cursory observer, this was simply a tribal conflict, but a closer examination reveals a complex North-South political dimension that is sensitive, politically explosive, and worthy of serious attention. The hostilities were triggered by a rather isolated and seemingly insignificant

incident involving two Dinkas and an Arab. The Arab had requested that the Dinka assist him in freeing his calf, which was stuck in the mud. After an unsuccessful attempt, the Dinka gave up and wanted to proceed on their journey. The Arab felt insulted by this and accused the Dinka of planning to return later for the meat. The Dinka, in turn, felt insulted by this accusation. A fight ensued, which resulted in the Arab stabbing one of the Dinka to death. This started a chain of group revenge that was only temporarily halted by a peace agreement in which representatives of both sides undertook to keep the peace themselves. After a month of tension and apprehension, the uneasy truce was disrupted

on June 8 by an Arab, once again setting the scene ablaze with another chain of attacks and counterattacks. This ended with the Arabs ambushing three trucks carrying large numbers of unarmed Dinka passengers from northern towns. Among the nearly one hundred Dinka who were killed in this ambush was

Mark Majak Abiem, a Khartoum University lecturer who was on his way home, ironically, to conduct field research into the history of Arab-Dinka relations in order to complete a Ph.D. degree at London University. As his position was a rare achievement and a source of pride for the Dinka, the manner of his death was most embittering to them. The national and even international value of Mark, as contrasted with the indiscriminate circumstances of his death, is underscored by a letter dated June 30, 1977, addressed to the author by Professor Richard Gray of the London School of Oriental and African Studies, who was the supervisor of Mark’s doctoral research. Dr. Gray wrote:

I have just heard the really terrible news about Mark Majak Abiem. For a few days I hoped against hope that it was merely a horrible rumor, but I

gather from Sudanese here in London that the news of the tragedy has been confirmed. I also hear that you are now in the area. This is just a note to say how

very much we shall treasure the memory of Mark. Although he was only with us for such a relatively short period, he had already impressed all of us who had had the pleasure of teaching him, and we here are convinced that he was one of the most promising research students we have ever been privileged to have at the School. I think you will realize, therefore, that we are deeply conscious of what you and all his family feel, and of the tremendous loss which his death represents for the Sudan, and indeed Africa as a whole. I would be extremely grateful if you could pass on to his relatives our

deepest sympathy and some understanding of the international reputation that Mark had already created for himself.