THE BIG STORY: THE PERSONAL AS WELL AS POLITICAL CRISES IN CATTLE CULTURE CONFLICTS THAT HAD EMBROILED OUR GROOMED LEADER IN THE CLAN COMPETITION TAKES AN UGLIER TURN IN A STILL MORE INTENSE CRISIS WITH THE PROPOSED FATHER-IN-LAW’S FRAUDULENT DEFAULT OF THE CONCLUDED BUT UNCONSUMMATED MARRIAGE PROPOSAL OF BLOOD-LINKED CLANS, EACH IN PURSUIT OF FERTILITY OF HUMANS AND CATTLE AND SEEK ANY CHANCE OF ENRICHING THEMSELVES THROUGH THE BONANZA OF OUTSIDE DONOR EXPLOITATION; THE MACRO CULTURE CONFLICT ILLUSTRATED PERFECTLY IN THE MICRO CULTURE CRISIS AROUND THE PIVOTAL FIGURE OF AJAK—A DINKA/BOR RE-INSERTED FROM ABROAD INTO THE MILLENIA OF NILOTIC STRIFE
February 9, 2011
And there should be wonder about the conflicts in Nilotic cattle cultures?? Right now, I am here on a Mission to Heal in a peace overture between the competing Murle and Dinka and I am seething with intent to kill. The crises are not just abstract and distant as often happens when “we do not have a dog in that fight.” I do. I have at least one big bull, and a lot of “tobacco” as well. And it has all been taken and run with, defrauding the one fellow who is most likely to be the pivotal leader to help achieve peace in this region and in the process, the funds, good will and support donated by all the local extended family of a Dinka/Bor Lost Boy and his even larger extended family abroad, all of whom are ripe for plucking in the ingenuous desire to help.
Ajak is in court today. He went to Bor to see a lawyer. The stakes are higher now than when we were here a year ago in the similar dynamic tension of the concluding “bridal negotiations” in which the representative “ambassadors” of Ajak’s smaller Dinka/Bor clan were pitted against the ever-expanding clan of Dinka Jonglei who smelled money for the plucking as they saw the American doctors and expensive TV cameras behind Ajak and accelerated their demands to “Shoot the Moon.” It was on that basis last year that as I was here and addressing the group of alleged in-laws which Ajak had described as the equivalent of signing into a lifelong subprime mortgage. When we were making our formal presentations to each other under the tree in Bor last year, an English-speaking relative of the Dinka Jonglei behind the “FOB” stood up and read on tape a short but presumptuous speech. “You will know us and you will satisfy ALL our demands; my name is John Ajok Achol.” And he then sat down to a general applause and head shaking as a larger number of distant relatives of Tabitha who had come running since our first visit to Bor when they heard that the Suitor Ajak had a connection with a Golden Pipeline to America and everyone should come on the run to fleece this American Golden Goose and strip them of everything they have before the marriage could be consummated. Even while they were eating my bull which was designed for the climax of the wedding feast, the greedy and egregious gouging that had already been going on for months since Ajak had announced his intentions, escalated to a higher order of magnitude when we appeared as guests with a film crew covering us. On camera, the FOB announced: I do not know you, therefore you are a friend of Ajak’s; where then are all my cattle which you must provide?” I told him he was eating the only cattle I had ever had and that was the last of my purchases in support of a prolonged feast he seemed to be enjoying without fulfilling the purposes for which it was donated. I also pointed out, that like Moses, I was first associated with eh Eastern Jonglei at Duk Payuel, so according to the same logic, I was aligned with the FOB family and was owed cattle as much as any of those who had recently “piled on” never having met the potential bride Tabitha or even heard that she existed, but now found her to be their very favoritemost third order step niece twice removed.
That Ajak and Tabitha might be in love and had promised to be together, as Patricia Edmonds had written, was quite beside the point. In fact, it was the pressure that came from those intentions that kept driving up the price of the dowry well beyond the usual 50 cattle and now became a shouting bidding like the floor of the Chicago mercantile exchange in which the sing song auctioneer held out for still more and better cattle with the FOB’s men having scouted out the cattle already delivered and negotiating trade ups for those they thought were sub-prime. I had told Ajak as he was despondent with his head in his hands under the colorful cloths hanging down from the roof of the bridal hut, that the presence of us as his Western friends at the climax of his marriage negotiations was far from enhancing his chance of success and might well torpedo it, so I said we would exit stage right as quietly as we had come and I offered him US one hundred dollar bills as the further “tobacco” required to keep the negotiations going. So we left having filmed the feasting, but never having met Tabitha who was sequestered away and in danger of being kidnapped, according to Ajak—a fear we had considered exaggerated, but it turns out to be exactly what happened next. She phoned on cell phone when he got a new phone card and said not to be discouraged, that all would work out in the end, despite the ever accelerating demands when so much had already been committed for the mortgage of an entire future for the whole clan. She did not know just how greedy the FOB and clan could be, or if she did, it was irrelevant as her wishes.
The FOB took the money and ran. He accepted an alienate bid ALSO, from another Lost Boy who was returning with outside support and Tabitha has now gone off with him leaving Ajak devastated of course, but also ruined financially. It is one thing to defraud the government, another to embezzle from the church and mission, but—HEY!—you bastards also have a thousand of my dollars you have defrauded from my support as well, and I demand blood!
MICRO TO MACRO MAGNIFICATION
Isn’t this just about every struggle here in basis? In order to get not just survival, but successor progeny, fertility is a requirement. Nubile young women are a commodity in short supply if there is a high infant mortality and a still higher rate of PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) untreated. With wealth one can acquire a whole stable of the likely fertile women and that decreases the availability for the average striving yearning young men who also hope to be “Big Men” and wealthy—so that people will see at a glance how Big they really are just by counting their very visible bank account standing around polluting the infants’ drinking water and denuding he environment adding a veneer of cattle feces on the landscape—“Look, He has five brides’ worth! He is truly a Big Man!”
And, now, some tall Dinka scoundrel is parading around behind the ill-gotten gain of over 201 cattle by fleecing a trusting love-struck returnee Lost Boy who was attempting to play by all the old cattle culture rules with eh borrowed resources of his adopted home base in North America. One could have recourse to the courts of law—in a failed state, like the Old West of young America where the only law was produced by Joseph Colt, the law of the land is the AK-47 in abundant supply and in lot of eager hands with “nothing to lose.”
Which resulted in twelve casualties and ten deaths on a single day at the beginning of my last visit to the Dinka/Bor less than a full year ago. And I had thought that in the New Republic of South Sudan we were going to try to establish a few of the rudiments of a higher civilization that included the rule of law and the equable distribution of justice and basic needs support beginning with a health bridge to peace. So, that is what is going to be attempted here at what to our group does not appear very “micro” given the magnitude of the crime, as a start on the “macro” issue of peace and justice among clans and competing tribes.
So, Ajak is having recourse to the courts of justice, however rudimentary they may be in Jonglei Province, the largest state in a not-as-yet-come-to-be new nation. Today is his day in court. The crime is not a very subtle one, so that at the filing of the complaint in Bor, the subject being a breach of a marriage contract—something that they know from long experience and the currency in which any such transactions are made—cattle herds—the FOB was arrested and jailed. That satisfaction was brief since he was jailed on 1/27/11 and released on 1/28/11 and he could retreat to his Eastern Jonglei allies and friends who all mystically seem to have misplaced the cattle that were distributed in the allegiance each of them had hoped to capitalize. So to achieve restitution of the huge losses, which, of course, are devastating to all the family and friends who contributed to Ajak’s marital bliss, one would have to take on the entire clan of the Eastern Dinka and that would mean a civil war since they will bring up prior wrongs they have suffered which still have not been redressed, and old scores will have to be settled before the new one can be considered, and the whole society would have to come to resolution of millenia of wrongs righted—a bit like Islamists still protesting passionately about injustices or calamities inflicted upon them a millennium ago. We can use past suffering to leverage our claims for current reparations.
That may be what we are doing here and trying to come in ignorant of all past scorecards. This was going to be the triumphant role of Ajak as he led the Murle heath care reconstruction and the health care bridge to peace—and now he is in Bor in court being told he may not even be available to go to PiBor with us in the fulfillment of the very high expectations for the promised health care, if this personal entanglement within the Dinka clans trips up his availability. This is also why I have been keen on getting Eastern Dinka as well as Dinka Bor to be part of the delivery of the health care to the Murle of PiBor and the other tribes still to be included in the net, and perhaps have them stay longer than the white visitors who drop in by plane but are not the ones organizing, delivering and assuring continuations of the health care peace bridge.
I am an anthropologist at ground zero. And I am a participant/observer. I have a dog and a dollar in that fight. Even from a distance, I could find myself moved to avenge both Ajak’s and my losses. That is how we all got into this eye for an eye dead end box to begin with. I am not minimizing Ajak’s (or, for that matter, Tabitha’s) losses. Perhaps more than should be written and certainly more than they might know, I can identify with being taken advantage of when exploitation trumps any love or charity in forces at a higher level beyond immediate control. Which may be why both Ajak and I are the right folk to be heading the charge into the enemy lines. When he returns from “his day in court” we will assemble our team for the sporting competition of the Jonglei Marathon among rivals and load up the supplies to be forwarded to “the other camp.”