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Wau, originally established as a military camp by commercial slave traders in the nineteenth century, was an ethnically mixed town. Its early residents included some non-Arab, non-Muslim southern African peoples such as the Luo, Fertit, and Dinka from the rural areas around the town, and a substantial number of ex-soldiers and former slaves who had become detribalized, loosing their ethnic ties, speaking Arabic and becoming Muslims.4 Some jellaba (a diaspora trading community so called because they wore the long white cotton jellabiya robe) -- or petty traders who were Arabic-speaking Muslims from different parts of northern Sudan -- came to Wau as agents of wealthy Kordofan and Darfur slave traders.5

During the French-British rush to occupy Fashoda on the White Nile (near Malakal), the French entered Sudan from the west, subdued the local population, and set up Fort Dessaix (now Wau) in 1889.6 Wau also had a Muslim West African component (Fellata, who migrated to Sudan following trade routes to Mecca). The Arabized Baggara cattle nomads, who as raiders of rural Bahr El Ghazal played a part in twentieth century Wau, lived north of Bahr El Ghazal, in Darfur and Kordofan, but did not settle in Wau.7

During the French-British rush to occupy fashoda on the White Nile (near Malakal), the French entered Sudan from the west, subdued the local population, and set up Fort Dessaix (now Wau) in 1889.8 The British dominated Sudan from 1898-1956, and during that time

Wau was [an] island of Arabic and Islam in a non-Muslim sea. Since it was not even located near the Northern Sudan . . . and the steamers could only ply the Jur [River] a few months of the year, the British officials had greater control over the Arabic presence. Wau had never possessed a local language. Numerous northern traders and Fellata . . . . had settled there, criminals from Egypt were sent into exile there, northern artisans had come to live and work for the government, a mosque had been built . . . .9

The Roman Catholic Verona Fathers, mostly Italian, had a presence in Wau, providing medical and educational as well as religious services. The British, to avoid competition and sectarian rivalries, had divided the south into Christian spheres of activity among these Catholics (who were allocated most of Bahr El Ghazal), the Anglican Christian Missionary Society (U.K.), and the American Presbyterians. These missionaries, the British rulers hoped, would proselytize and form a bulwark against the spread of Islam and provide schools and teachers at no cost to the British authorities.10

By 1998, Wau was unhappily and thoroughly ethnically mixed. One source, referring to 1987 when lives were lost in ethnic strife between the Fertit and Dinka in Wau, stated:

No one has ever been >at home= in Wau. Situated on the fringe of the Dinka country, it is surrounded by a host of disorganized and diverse peoples. . . . It was and remains a town belonging to no single ethnic group, deriving its importance only from its position as a commercial and administrative center . . . . Located in the midst of the vast Nilotic plain hundreds of miles from nowhere, it was miserable under the best of circumstances . . . . 11

The Fertit

Western Bahr El Ghazal was the area of the Fertit,12 and Raga, 200 miles west of Wau by a road impassable eight months of the year because of flooding, was the Fertit center and the center of western Bahr El Ghazal.13

The Fertit are not one people. AFertit@ is a name given the many small tribes, including the Kreish (the largest ethnic group in western Bahr El Ghazal), Banda, Binga, all of Bantu origin, who live in western Bahr El Ghazal.14

[T]he term >Fertit= was used by the people of Dar Fur to the north to describe the non-Muslim and stateless societies south of the Bahr Al-Arab [River]. As a label it was associated with inferiority and enslavement.15

Dar (Ahouse of@ in Arabic) Fertit was a source of slaves to internal and external markets into the twentieth century.16 No large state ever existed in Dar Fertit and its inhabitants had always fallen prey to external aggression.17

During the 1860s it was overrun by slave traders pressing up the rivers and overland from the east to plunder the land for ivory and its people . . . . Raided by Azande, Dinka, and Mahdist expeditions . . . the inhabitants of Dar Fartit sought to eke out an existence while at the mercy of their predators.18

The Fertit are sedentary agriculturalists. Some practice traditional African religions and others have converted to Islam or Christianity.

One historically powerful if not numerous group in western Bahr El Ghazal were the families that ruled various small tribes, each with a form of centralized authority typically under a sultan. AThe most eminent vassals of Darfur in the western Bahr el Ghazal were the ruling families of the Feroge, Nuagulgule, Binga, Kara, and some sections of the Kreish.@19 They were Arabized Muslims. The Feroge claimed a Borno (west African) origin and maintained links with Darfur.20

Islamization in western Bahr El Ghazal was a product of its integration into the trans-Saharan trading network, the political and commercial expansion of Darfur, and the establishment of the system of commercial companies= armed camps, zara=ib, in southern Sudan. The region was a major source of slaves during the Turco-Egyptian period (1821-81) and was raided by the Mahdists (1981-98) several times. Islam was adopted by ruling families but remained superficial among the vast majority of their people.21

Because of this veneer of Muslim influence in the area, the British rulers treated it as a Muslim enclave in the south and tried to implement their ASouthern Policy@ to purge Arab and Muslim influences from the south for the protection of the southern non-Arab and non-Muslim peoples. This policy was applied with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Among those resisting the ASouthern Policy@ were the Feroge.22 In the 1930s Isa Fartak, sultan of the Feroge in Raga and well-educated in Arabic and Islam, fiercely resisted British efforts to eradicate Islam and Arabic from Raga and Bahr El Ghazal. Pursuant to the ASouthern Policy@ the British relocated the peoples of western Bahr El Ghazal in 1930, among other things moving the Feroge from their historical seat in Raga to Khor Shamman, a move the Feroge resented.23 Isa Fartak=s conflicts with the British came to a head in 1937 when he argued for an Arabic school in Raga. He was deposed and his brother Tamim was duly announced chief of the Feroge by the British.24

After independence in 1956 the Feroge families, including the Fartak, continued to dominate local politics in western Bahr El Ghazal; Isa Fartak was restored as chief of the Feroge. Successive post-colonial governments reversed the British ASouthern Policy@ and pursued assimilation with its twin components of Islam and Arabization. They established many schools and mosques, private Islamic organizations flocked to the region, and Muslim groups were promoted for government services and political representation in this part of Bahr El Ghazal.25 During Nimeiri=s rule (1969-85), the Feroge leader AAli Tamim Fartak won election and became a member of the People=s Council. He won again in 1986, this time as a member of the National Islamic Front.@26 In the 1986 elections, in the south the NIF captured only one Upper Nile constituency and one Bahr El Ghazal constituency. Ali Tamim Fartak won the Bahr El Ghazal constituency by a mere 158 votes.27

The ethnic, cultural and political polarization of western Bahr El Ghazal was evident in the first civil war and increased in the current war. Some Arabized, Islamized people of western Bahr El Ghazal were attracted by the NIF=s militant Islam as a means of vindicating their role and presence in a sea of non-Arab non-Islamic southerners. The central government mobilized Muslim groups in Bahr El Ghazal against the SPLA, viewed as a Dinka army, arming private militias and exploiting their historical animosities with the Dinka.28

Ali Tamim Fartak continued in power in Wau after the 1989 NIF coup. He was in the Committee of Forty that ran Sudan in the aftermath of the June 30, 1989 coup.29 He served as governor of Bahr El Ghazal then Western Bahr El Ghazal from about 1992/93 to 1998. He remained involved in southern politics as a top National Congress (NIF) member.30

The Dinka

The Dinka are the most numerous ethnic group in Sudan.31 Their territory covers about one-tenth of the one million square miles that make Sudan the largest country in Africa.32 Dinka land is a rich savannah, segmented by the waters of the Nile and its tributaries, in Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile, with some Dinka in Kordofan.33

The Dinka comprise twenty-five mutually independent tribal groups of common language (Dinka), physical appearance (very tall, slim and black Africans), facial scarification (usually Chevrons on the forehead), ethnocentric pride, and cultural uniformity in which cattle play a central part in their economic, social, religious and aesthetical life, as they do for other Nilotes such as the Nuer. Cattle provide dairy products, other food, and bridewealth, homicide, and other compensation. Cattle are not just assets; they are honored.

The traditional Dinka religion (with a belief in a Divinity and other lesser powers) is practiced although an unknown number have converted to Christianity (the Catholics proselytizing in Bahr El Ghazal and the Anglicans in the Bor area north of Juba) and a smaller number to Islam.

Rural Dinka society is transhumant. They migrate in the dry season (November-April) to rivers and other water sources where they fish and water the cattle. Rains start in April-May, and as the rains flood the low-lying areas the Dinka migrate with their cattle (tended in large cattle camps by boys and young men) to higher grounds and ridges, where they cultivate. As stores of grains harvested in the prior year are finally consumed, the Ahunger gap@ begins, lasting from April until the September/October harvest. During the hunger gap, milk from cattle is a main source of Dinka nutrition. The physical environment is extremely harsh. In the dry season, the soil dries up, in some places forming deep cracks in Ablack cotton@ clay soil. Disease-bearing insects abound. In the rainy season, heavy and stormy rains lead to overflowing rivers, floods, swamps, mud, and malaria.

4 Sikainga, Slaves into Workers, pp. 53-54.

5 Richard Gray, A History of the Southern Sudan 1839-1889 (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 67.

6 Sikainga, The Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, p. 21.

7 Robert O. Collins, Shadows in the Grass, Britain in the Southern Sudan, 1918-1956 (New York: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 178.

8 Holt and Daly, A History of the Sudan, p. 70.

9 Robert O. Collins, Shadows in the Grass, Britain in the Southern Sudan, 1918-1956 (New York: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 178.

10 Sikainga, Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, p.194.

11 Burr and Collins, Requiem for the Sudan, p. 74.

12 Sikainga, Slaves into Workers, p. 35.

13 Collins, Shadows in the Grass, p. 180. Raga was no garden spot. In 1998, it was reported that river blindness was spreading there; 95 percent of its estimated 400,000 population was said to have the disease and 20 percent (80,000) were said to be already blind. Sudan Update, January 13, 1998.

14 Sikainga, Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, p. xiii.

15 Ibid., p. xiv.

16 Ibid, p. 33.

17 Ibid, p. 122.

18 Collins, Shadows in the Grass, p. 180.

19 Sikainga, Slaves into Workers, p. 8.

20 Sikainga, Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, p. 85.

21 Ibid, p. 106.

22 Collins, Shadows in the Grass, p. 180.

23 Sikainga, Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, p. 88.

24 Collins, Shadows in the Grass, pp. 189-90.

25 Sikainga, Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, p. 123.

26 Ibid., pp. 120, 89.

27 James Chinyankandath, AThe 1986 Elections,@ in Peter Woodward, ed., Sudan After Nimeiri (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 86.

28 Sikainga, Western Bahr Al-Ghazal, pp. 123-24.

29 Human Rights Watch interviews, Martin Marial, May 3, and Wunrok, Bahr El Ghazal, May 5, 1998.

30 Ali Tamin Fartak demanded that Riek Machar quit his government post as head of the South Sudan Coordinating Council after Riek formed a party, the United Democratic Salvation Front Party, from his ex-rebel political group. ASudan=s breakaway politicians urged to quit government jobs,@ AFP, Khartoum, January 24, 1999. Riek declined to quit.

31 The Encyclopedia Britannica, World Data Annual 1993.

32 Francis Mading Deng, The Dinka of the Sudan (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1972), p. 1.

33 Ibid., pp. 1-2.

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