A Dinka song from southern Sudan. The situation is the civil war between the Khartoum government and the Anyanya movement which began in 1958, soon after Independence. In the early stages of the war, the northern army was ruthless in responding to southern discontent. This song, though, is more than just a protest about government violence. It is an attempt to understand violence, calling on God and the ancestors in ‘the Court convened between the clouds’ for an explanation and a response.

How does the spoiling of the world come about?
Our land is closed in a prison cell!
The Arabs have spoiled our land,
Spoiled our land with bearded guns,
Guns which thunder and then even sound beautiful,
Like the ancient drums with which buffaloes were charmed
Until their horns were caught.
Is the black colour of skin such a thing
That the government should draw its guns?
The police pacing up and down,
Gunners causing dust to rise,
Cowards surrendering to the arm?
A country we took back from foreigners,
A country for which we fought together,
And the English left our country!
Only to be attacked with bren-guns –
What a cieng! (1)
O what a cieng!
South of Deng, son of Kwol,
What the government is doing
Is not a good thing,
Waving their bren-guns
Like frying sesame seeds,
Counting their shells
Then saying, ‘One million shots
Have not subdued the Ngok.’
Our case is in Court:
Our case is in the Court with the people above,
The Court is convened between the clouds:
Acai of Pajok
And the Flesh of our flesh
Have a cause.
They seated the Court
And called God,
Then said, ‘God, why are you doing this?
Don’t you see what has become of the black skin?’
The Court adjourned,
Our maternal aunt came
With the Divinities from above
And the Flesh;
They sat on the ground of the sons of Biong.
A storm of dust rose in Abyei,
Cyclones reached the sky:
Family of Arob de Biong, nothing can be done.
Who knows what the government is pregnant with?
Even if they flatten us with bearded guns,
Whom can we wish for?
This we shall always consider…

from The Dinka of the Sudan (1972),
by Dr. Francis Deng
C.B.S. College Publishing


  1. Cieng has no English equivalent but refers to human behaviour, laws, customs and culture generally.