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

Thursday, 1 September 2011

After Independence

It’s been almost two months since Independence day and The Government of the new Republic of South Sudan have made some very tangible changes in that time. What is life like (so far...) in the newly independent country?

One of the most noticeable changes has been the introduction of a completely new currency: the South Sudan Pound has replaced the old Sudan Pound. I got my first South Sudan 5 pound note on the 20th July, a few days after it was introduced. We were initially going to be given 3 months to exchange all the old currency for new (at a rate of 1:1), then it was two months, and last week it was announced we had 1 day to change everything. Then on the 27th August, Lakes State was declared free of the old currency

I was the first person in my family (with whom I am staying) to receive the new money. When I brought it home it was closely inspected and handled by everything. It was then washed in water as a test of its strength! Which was declared by all to be good. The transition has been remarkably quick and I haven’t heard any complaints – certainly seems much more successful than the last time a new currency was introduced and all the old money was taken from traders and ordinary citizens and burnt on Freedom Square!

The second major change has been a Presidential decree announcing a new set of ministries, ministers and assistant ministers. The espoused idea is to improve political representation in South Sudan by having a more ethnically/regionally balanced cabinet (there are various analyses of how successful/true to that goal the ministerial appointments are on sites like The Government in Juba is also being ‘slimmed down’ and more decentralisation is happening. That means that the State Government of Lakes based in Rumbek is getting bigger and new ministries and positions are being created.

We also have a new dialling code, +211 The networks have not been functioning well in the last few weeks prompting rumours (mostly unfounded) that Khartoum has cut various network connections to the South.

However, for most people, the most pressing issue in the last few months has been the soaring prices of food and commodities in the market. Some, but not all, of the reasons for this are connected to Independence. South Sudan imports almost all of its food and commodities. Since before independence the border with the North has been closed and trucks have not been coming. The other traders, importing from Kenya and Uganda are facing exorbitant taxes (official and unofficial) on the road as well as inflated exchange rates of South Sudanese Currency and dollars/East African currency at the border. The cost of this is falling on the consumer and prices are sky rocketing – with good doubling and in some cased quadrupling in price over the past few weeks