You are here : Home > Land & People

Land & People

General Background

Abyei is the homeland of the Ngok-Dinka people, comprising nine tribal sections of Abior, Achak, Achueng, Alei, Anyil, Bongo, Diil, Mareng and Mannyuar.

Abyei in Dinka literally means one of the indigenous fig trees called 'Abyei' and there are many other places in Southern Sudan that are also called 'Abyei'.  

The Ngok-Dinka of Abyei are generally known as western Ngok and form part of a larger ethnic, linguistic and agro-pastoralist group known as 'Padang' Dinka. The vast majority of the Padang Dinka resides in the region of Upper Nile (Abaliang, Dongjol, Alor (Ruweng), Pan-Arou, Ageer, Ngok Lual Yak, Rud, Luac, Thoi, Paweny, Ahoal (Ghoal), Nyarweng, Nyiel), with a lesser number residing in Bahr el Ghazal region (Luac and Kuac).

The Ngok-Dinka were living along the River Ngol in early 18th Century, almost a century before the Baggara arab tribe arrived to Muglad, which was settled then by the Chatt and Dagu tribes.  This was also the time Mohammed Abu Likaylik of the Funj Sultanate conquered Korodofan.

The first Ngok-Dinka contact with Misseryia was probably in the 19th Century (Handerson, 1939:76; Browne, 1806). This was illustrated further by Deng (1985:9) in a recorded interview with Paramount Chief of Humr Baggara, Babo Nimir, when he traced the generations of their chiefs in their current settlement in Muglad to around 100 years ago. (Deng, 1985:9).

Further more, Ngok-Dinka oral history trace their first contact with the Misseryia Arabs (Humr section) to the Turko-Egyptian period, which started in 1821. Ngok Dinka folklore emphasized their contact with Arab pastoralists from the Riziqaat of Dar Fur region and Hamar of northern Kordofan much earlier to the belated contact with the Humr section of Misseryia Arabs.

History of Administration of the Abyei Area

The British colonial administrators established their contact with local community and   leaders of Ngok Dinka since the start of the twentieth century while Abyei area was still being administered as part of Bahr el Ghazal Province in southern Sudan. In those years, parties of Misseryia slave and cattle raiders used to carry out attacks against the Dinka communities in the southern borders. Hence, the British Colonial authorities took the measure to shift the administration of specific Dinka lands to Kordofan in northern Sudan. ' It has been decided that Sultan Rob (Arob), whose country is on Kir river, and Sheik'a Rihan of Toj (Twic), mentioned in the last Intelligence Report, are to belong to Kordofan Province. These people have, on certain occasion complained of raids made to them by southern Kordofan Arabs, and it has therefore been considered advisable to place them under the same Governor as the Arabs of whose conduct they complain' (Sudan Intelligence Report, No. 128, March, 1905: 3).

The Dinka areas that were moved administratively were initially part of Bahr el Ghazal Province. The officials who were resolute in their efforts to put an end to the slave trade thought that peaceful co-existence between those different communities could be achieved much easier by subjecting them to the same provincial administration.
'The Dinka Sheikhs, Sultan Rob and Sultan Rihan Gorkwei are now included in Kordofan instead of the Bahr El Ghazal' (Bahr El-Ghazal Province Annual Report, 1905:111).

The Acting Governor of Bahr el Ghazal, W.F. Sweng, had also recorded that: 'In the north the territories of Sultan Arob and Sheikh (Rihan) Gorkwei have been taken from this province (Bahr el Ghazal) and added to Kordofan'. (Reports on the Finance, Administration and Condition of the Sudan, 1905:3) 

Traditional Borders Between Ngok-Dinka and Misseryia areas

Naturally, the territories of the Ngok Dinka and Misseryia are marked by ecological differences, which reflect the variations in the social and cultural life of the two ethnic groups. Both communities have traditionally recognized and valued their boundaries long before government authorities acknowledged the boundaries. The arbitrators rebuffed Messiryia leaders when they raised unreasonable claim of entitlement to some part of Ngok-Dinka land after the deterioration in relationships between the two communities in mid 1960s. The arbitrators reaction as was expressed by their head late Nazir (paramount chief) Moneim Mansour of Hamar Arabs of northern Kordofan was that: 'Why are you Babo (chief Misseryia Arabs) after a soil as dark as the Dinka? What do you want from the dark soil of the Dinka?'you are a people who simply go after grazing areas in the three months of the dry season. How can a person of three months' residence dispute the land with the settlers of all seasons?' (Deng, 1986:  240).

According to Michael Tibbs (2003), the last colonial administrator for the area 'The distance from Muglad to Abyei is some 150 miles. Two hours south from Muglad there was a rest house at Tebeldia. Then there was a long stretch until Antilla, here there was no building, but there were some large shady trees. From here it was some 50 miles or two hours' drive south to Abyei. The country just south of Tebeldia as far as Antilla was 'goz' country. This was really a 'no-man's' land between the Misseryia and the Ngok Dinka. It was grazed, by the Misseryia and the Dinka according to the season. On the last stretch of the road after Antilla, the countryside changed, the road was intersected by streams (ragaba), luaks (Dinka settlements) appeared and Arab country gave way to Dinka territory'. Consistent with this description of Abyei area, Cole and Huntington, (1985:Ch.7, 2-3) describe Abyei town as '

These were the boundaries adopted in 1974 when a decree was passed to administer Abyei area from the office of the President of the Sudan.

Root Causes of the Conflict betwwen Ngok Dinka and Misserya Arabs

Ngok Dinka of Abyei, had suffered greatly during the Turko-Egyptian Rule (1821-1885) and The Mahdist State (1885-1898) because of their proximity and exposure to slave traders from northern Sudan. A leading historian on Sudan, observes in this period that 'today's lurid crop of massive insecurity, enslavement, repression, and genocide was first sown generations ago, and has been nurtured by successive Khartoum governments ever since.' Daly (1993:1). The Baggara (Misseryia Arabs) fully participated in organized slave raids in Ngok Dinka area of Abyei and also in other parts of southern Sudan (Beswick, 1999). According to the same source the Misseryia were permitted to pay their taxes to the Turko-Egyptian administration with slaves. When the Egyptian authorities tried to close the Nile route as a result of international pressure to end the slave trade, the Misseryia allied themselves with the most powerful northern Sudanese slave traders, among them, al-Zubayr Rahma, who built a slaving empire in Bahr el Ghazal. A traveler had noted as late as 1925-6 that slave raiding in Kordofan continued on a large scale on the 'Arab-Negro frontier' of southwest Kordofan (Beswick, 1999). Even after three decades of nominal Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1927, the area of Ngok Dinka remained a ground for slave hunting (SIR, 1927).

After the British Colonial administration left in 1956, successive northern Sudanese administrators have consistently favoured Misseryia at the expense of Ngok-Dinka for racial and religious reasons. Precisely, the northern Sudanese authorities often pursued counter-insurgency policies during South-North conflicts to deepen the rift between Ngok-Dinka and the neighbouring Misseryia Arabs (Baggara). Those discriminatory policies have caused conflict to erupt in the area to an unprecedented scale. Ngok-Dinka were subjected to endless atrocities. A few examples will suffice to show the government involvement in the violence. 

  • During the 1965 hostilities between the Ngok Dinka and the Humr Misseryia, the government security forces sent to the fighting scene at Ngol (about 50 miles north-east of Abyei town) failed to act neutrally and instead sided with and assisted the Humr Misseryia. That incident resulted in the death and displacement of many Ngok-Dinka civilians.
  • In the course of the hostilities referred to above, the government forces and authorities assisted the Misseryia to massacre over 200 Dinka civilians including women and children at the towns of El Muglad and Babanussa. The Dinka people ostensibly sought protection in the police stations before hordes of Misseryia Arabs could set all of them on fire in front of the government authorities.
  • On September 17, 1970 the Ngok Paramount Chief, Moyak Deng and five others were shot dead by a military squad.
  • In May 1977, government security forces conspired and collaborated with some armed Misseryia tribesmen and ambushed three trucks carrying nearly two hundred unarmed Dinka passengers travelling to Abyei area. That brutal and indiscriminate act led to the death of more than one hundred Ngok-Dinka people.
  • Following the formation of the SPLM/SPLA the whole northern Bahr el Ghazal including Ngok Dinka area experienced killing of civilians, massive cattle raids, forced displacement of rural population, destruction of properties and abduction of children and women into slavery at the hands of the government sponsored Murahleen Arab militia. By the end of October 1985 the majority of Ngok Dinka had abandoned their rural livelihoods and migrated to other parts of Sudan. According to community survey, the population of Ngok Dinka that was displaced was estimated to be more than 80 per cent.

Culturally, the people of Abyei continue to identify with of South Sudan. The Dinka of Abyei Area took part in the first war of 1955-1972 between the North and the South.  Attempt were made in the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 to allow the Ngok Dinka decide their future in a Referendum, but the government of President Nimiri could not implement the clause in the agreement that gave the people of Abyei Area the right of choice.

When the second civil war of National Liberation led by the Sudan People's liberation movement and the Sudan people's Liberation Army (SPM/SPLA) started, the people of Abyei area were in the forefront.  The resolution of the conflict and hence the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) gave the people of the south including Abyei their political rights.  The Abyei Protocol that was signed on 26 May 2004 paved the way for a peaceful co-existence for the Ngok Dinka and their neighbours, the Missiriya Arabs. This Protocol gives hope and better future for both communities. The SPLM/A and the people of Abyei Area are committed to the implementation of the (CPA) including the Abyei Protocol.