Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Working Guide to Graves in Lakes State.

This is a bit out there.  I am have a blossoming interesting in graves in and around Rumbek and I want to indulge it. This could just be morbid curiosity but think this came from a wider interest in the architecture and built environment of Rumbek. Grave stones, being solid stone, survive better than a lot of other things.

The graves of big men come in all shapes and sizes. Go to Maper in Rumbek North County and you can see the grave of Wol Athiang, a famous chief of the Pakkam subsection of Agar Dinka. There is no grave stone, it is a tree with posts where cattle had been tethered before being sacrificed. (See a photo). For something more flash, on Freedom Square in Rumbek, there is the grave of Gordon Muortat a prominent southern politician. This is a modern construction, large, painted white and with no cattle posts. Really impressive is the grave of Arol Kucuol in Cueibet, a Gok Dinka town in the west of Lakes State. He was an important chief from the time of the British up to his death in the 1980s. His enormous stone grave is literally surrounded by sacrificial posts and is still an important focal point for public and political events in Cuiebet.

The Grave of Arol Kucuol, Cueibet

But walking round Rumbek (and other smaller towns, like Pacong in Rumbek East County) you will find other graves. Some of them are for important local people, not paramount chiefs, but important enough to have a big grave stone. These are within family compounds, but since most compound are open (do not have walls) its easy enough to see them.

There are other graves, which seem almost entirely forgotten about. In Rumbek, for example, there are two on the road from the main market to the cattle auction, half sunk into the ground, they are walked over daily by thousands of uninterested feet. another I have seen one partially incorporated into the wall of a house, or on a small path through the old centre of town. For the large past the graves seem to be unmarked, or the marks have been eroded. Who is buried under them?

Actual ‘graveyards’ are not common in Rumbek. I don’t know if there is one that is currently functioning. I don’t know where people are usually buried. A few weeks ago, I discovered an old, overgrown graveyard on the road to Wau, a little bit out of town. One of the graves nearest the road has an inscription that survives, the name is  ‘Thamthom Pirepi”, he was born in 1955 and died at the age of 24. After a few enquiries I discovered that this is the area where an old greek family has ‘ancestral’ land – I now suspect it is an old Greek cemetery (there is a history of Greek traders in South Sudan).

That’s it for now…I'm still on the lookout for more graves


  1. Interesting post and I like the photo - it doesn't look like the same one I visited in 1981. There was I believe only one Greek trader still living in Rumbek in 1980. The name Thamthom Pirepi is very strange.

  2. I am told that the land near there belongs to a Greek trader and his sons are still in Sudan, one of them is apparently a doctor in Khartoum. I want to go and speak to him and try to find out. I know, "Thamthon Pirepi" is an odd name. At first I wondered if this was Dinka-ised Samson (because there are no S's in Dinka), but Pirepi just has to be a Greek name...I think?? And the fact that it is in an area associated with Greeks...

  3. The Greek trader I met was called John Mikis; any others I was told had gone some years before. Pirepi doesn't show anything on Google that's relevant and nothing Greek - it doesn't sound Greek to me - there's only a mountain in Kenya. Samson is possible....

  4. Hi Chris...I went back and had a look at some of the other looks like they are all foreigners (or non-Dinka). Its hard to get a close look...mainly because the graveyard is now used as a public toilet! But I saw another grave with a name of someone who sounded Equatorian. I was also mistaken about the dates...Thamson Pirepi was not born but died in 1955...which means the graves are earlier than I thought. I am going to ask the the local chief about it...

    I have no immediate plans to go to Warnyang but maybe when I am back in the dry season...