25 May 2019

 

"Girl-Child Auction" That Never Was In South Sudan

"Dinka culture does not practice and encourage auction of Dinka Girls as claimed by some feminists, media outlets and activists: A case of Nyalong Ngong Deng from Awerial County of Eastern Lakes State."

02 January 2019      
 By Ustaz Abraham Mabior*
Dinka culture does not practice and encourage auction of Dinka Girls as claimed by some feminists, media outlets and activists: A case of Nyalong Ngong Deng from Awerial County of Eastern Lakes State.
In the past few months of October, November, and December 2018, the alleged auction of Nyalong Ngong Deng went viral on the social and international media outlets, preached and entertained by some feminist campaigners and civil society-based activists. The misconception of the marriage that was labeled as auction as well as the girl being considered underage was furiously condemned at local, national, and international levels and the government was urged to investigate the matter.
 
As far as freedom of speech and expression is concerned in South Sudan, it is not bad for one to express his or her viewpoints on the prevailing social, political and economic issues besetting the nation. However, what is required is a professional code of conduct that guides the freedom of speech locally and internationally. With no doubt, I have been a feminist by practice and advocacy, nevertheless, I am so cognizant about my professional conduct that does not allow me to invade the privacy of any community member or organization.
 
With regards to expressing one’s views, it should be noted that keeping your argument in check with one’s privacy is a prerequisite of freedom of speech. This means that a writer, an activist, or any other concerned person in the community or outside should not interfere or invade one’s privacy just like the case of Nyalong Ngong Deng and her families.
 
I would like to acknowledge that freedom of expression is fundamentally important, but it requires every profession to consult the concerned elders or community before making any information public. The feminist activists who tirelessly fought against the marriage of Nyalong did not even consult the family or elders of that community where Nyalong hails or the legal authority of South Sudan regarding the alleged girl’s auction that took place in South Sudan recently.
 
Based on my argument, I have observed and noted with concern regarding the attack of the privacy of Nyalong and the wrong term ‘auction’ used to describe the marriage process. In the first place, the term auction was wrongly used in the context of Nyalong in particular and the entire Dinka community in general. In purely cultural terms, I view it as an insult to the community as well as being a misplaced expression by the public and independent activists and freelance writers to go against community’s culture.
 
According to Oxford Dictionary, auction means a public sale in which goods or property are sold to the highest bidder in an open market. Based on the current and previous perceptions of the activists and the wider community as well, they now believe that marriage of Nyalong Ngong Deng was officially announced on social media particularly on Facebook by the parents. That means it was an auction opened to the general public aimed at selecting the best bidder to take Nyalong as his wife after managing to pay the prescribed bride price that was put to be 500 cows, 3 V8s, and 10,000 us dollars.
 
As far as my argument on Nyalong’s case is concerned, I would like to politely clarify not as a family member but as a concerned South Sudanese from Dinka tribe who is so proud about my culture that is being tainted by such negative perception. I would like to categorically put it that Nyalong Ngong Deng was not officially auctioned off for marriage in social media against her will as claimed by some media outlets and feminist activists.

In purely Dinka matrimonial terms, marriage is a union between the couples on one hand, and their immediate families on the other hand who agree on certain cultural terms and norms. This implies that any decision taken with regards to its cultural practices such as the case of Nyalong is based on the collective decisions that accommodate all the views of every family member. This means that the marriage of Nyalong was not done in isolation of her views and the viewpoints of her siblings, close and distance relatives.
 
In this setting, it is mistakenly preconceived that Dinka girls in South Sudan are treated as commodities and property to be priced in order to get wealth in form of bride price at the expenses of the poor underage girls. To my best knowledge and to the experiences of other concerned members of the Dinka community in South Sudan, it is against Dinka culture to auction off human being in public media leave alone the auctioning of a girl such as the alleged case of Nyalong.
 
It has never happened and cannot and will never happen in the history of Dinka as asserted by the media outlets.
 
Of course, marriage is a common habitual practice, which is based on the decisions of the parents of the broom and the bride and is non-questionable according to our cultural obligations and practice.
In a similar vein, another assertion explicated by the activists which amounts to invading of Nyalong’s privacy and her families is the issue of underage that was said to be16 or 17 years old. In fact, it is one of the legal duties of the government of South Sudan to protect the underage girls from being married off.
 
However, the case of Nyalong substantiates the fact that the parents are convinced of their daughter of not being underage by the time of the marriage, yet the activists and other media houses insist that she was underaged of 17 years old. By insisting that Nyalong is underage hitherto, she is not your daughter whom should have full knowledge of her age.
 
In this context, if I may ask, what proves that Nyalong was underage by the time of her marriage? Who among the activists or advocates that possess Nyalong’s birth certificate? Or who happens to be one of the immediate family members, father or mother to prove this claim to the general public that Nyalong was underage? I am sure, none of the activists would raise his or her hands up to provide the distinct evidence with regards to Nyalong’s correct age.
 
Surprisingly, the activists went far to post the pictures of Nyalong and her family on social media against her consent. Such inacceptable remarks to expose one’s age, pictures of her and the husband to the media without her consent or the consent of the family is a clear violation of family’s right to privacy.
 
In reality, it violates one’s rights to privacy and diminish the facts on which Dinka cultural practices are traditionally based. In fact, the falsification and rumors that went viral on social media at local and international arena caused more harm than good to the Dinka culture in particular and other Nilotic tribes who practice this episode in general.
 
Notwithstanding, it is true that Dinka girls just like any other girls from Nilotic communities in South Sudan and elsewhere in the world are not taken for granted. However, a prescribed payment of dowry is customarily required and arranged based on mutual understanding reached between the two families.
 
In the same note, what matters is not the dowry to be paid to the parents but the future of the girl whether the suitor is the right person to handle and take care of the girl or not.
 
In reality, Dinka community is not a bride price-minded community for your information. It is a community that is proud of its exceptional culture and the issue of the bride price comes the last option. As such, this is not just a coin practice of the present generation, but it has been in existence since time immemorial which are in line with the Dinka cultural strategy to respect and observe the fervent and ancestral obligations.
 
This points to the fact that Dinka culture is unique, and we see no reason why they should be erased by our confused generation of today which is about to lose its cultural impulses in substitution and appreciation of western and eastern cultural orientations.
 
By and large, Dinka is one of the tribes in South Sudan which places more emphasis on respect of its cultural values in all spheres of life. Indeed, Dinka community strictly observing its cultural obligations without causing harm and disgruntles its entire membership.
 
Needless to say, Dinka community, just like any other tribe in South Sudan, values and gives every member of its composition equal status of respect, recognition, behavior, irrespective of gender, religion, economic, and political affiliations.

In the same breath, Dinka still accords equal prominence and sympathy to its members both inside and outside South Sudan with regards to cultural and economic run-through. Substantially, little education we have acquired, or we are still acquiring should not make us lose our cultural principles on the ground that we should negatively criticize our cultural commitments.
 
Given this fact, it should be borne in mind that the members of Dinka community have their own cultural decisions and practices which do not come out the blue, but they are based on one’s respect, obedience, and close observance of cultural entities. This calls for activists and other human rights to strict to the norms of their professions in a manner that respects other people’s cultures.
 
Indeed, the image of the Dinka as a community and its cultural obligations are tarnished and stained by those who translated the marriage of Nyalong as an auction as well as being labelled as an underaged girl married against her choice. To base my arguments on prevailing facts, it could be acknowledged that most of the world cultures are dynamic, diverse, and unique in their own accords based on the cultural protocols to which they are exercised.
 
Centered on my experiences, I have travelled to some European, Asian and African countries, however; I found out that their cultures are practiced and respected based on the directives and decisions of the respective communities in which their cultural commitments with payment of dowry is still a preconditioned solitary. In fact, some families prefer the wedding of their daughters while others opt for dowry payment just as like what had happened to Nyalong and her family. Why does that cause an alarm or criticism to the local and international media when the parents of Nyalong opted for dowry payment?
 
In every region or community, cultural practices differ, and people should react without interfering in one’s privacy like posting images of the girl and the husband in social media. In the west, one’s privacy is a concerned issue that people should not joke with and it is punishable by law. Why is it not in South Sudan particularly in the case of Nyalong and her husband, Kok Alat? This puts the big question mark on us as south Sudanese intellectuals and the feminist activities that we are not culturally mature and intellectually mellow to respect our cultures.
 
Conversely, I may admit that there are some cultural practices which are harmful to our intellectual and personal growth that we need to change. These include scarifications on men’s foreheads, removing lowering teeth as well as marrying off the underaged girls which all need to be outlawed.
However, to do this it needs us to go slow by establishing schools and other income-generating activities in those communities and then sensitize the people about the importance of education. By doing so will help us adjust to our cultural orientations that are gender-discriminatory rather than going to the media and openly criticizing their practices in a more radical approach that cannot create a positive impact at all.
 
In fact, my conversation with one of my professors who happen to be from the west gave me an overview on how some of our cultures need to be approached for change. The professor told me that African cultures are very rich and unique in this contemporary world.
 
However, with regards to marrying a girl based on the decisions of the family and the community requires a mannered approach to revisit what that particular culture perceives about it before taking any action. She told me that every community culture rises above the law and it is very hard to break the culture using the law that is adopted by the state in which its authority comes from the community itself.
 
By gauging her comments and arguments, I was made to believe that the professor is right and preventing the local people from what they are depending for livelihoods amounts to torturing their well-being in this present-day hostile environment where poverty is widening its horizons. With the family of Nyalong being isolated from the towns and none of her family member is educated, they can survive through other means such as dowry payment to their beloved sister which is an inevitable to Dinka culture.
 
It is true that all girls in Dinka fetch a lot of cattle herd unless a girl is termed as slay queen in that respect in which people undervalue her in relation to unbecoming behaviors attached to her characters.  Such a term of a slay queen carries a lot of meanings that are against the Dinka cultural norms. For this reason, she does not longer deserve equal respect and status with the girls who are officially married and honorably given to their respective husbands with a more blessing and best wishes from their beloved families on both sides.
 
In this spirit, some western cultures do not treat girls as property to be sold, simply because some of them are better off with life unlike the developing countries. In fact, some of the western cultures are worth-appreciating while others may not be applicable to our context due to weak leadership, wide spread poverty, high rate of illiteracy, lack of sensitization of the members of the communities, just to mention a few.
 
Nonetheless, taking radical changes in the community’s cultures may cause more harm than good to the community especially in a current situation where most of the community members standstill on a battle-ready due to the presence of firearms in the hands of the untrained youth who need to be mobilized and enlightened about the danger of some cultural practices.
 
Being cognizant that Dinka girls are not offered for sale in the public forum as claimed by some activists, it remains critical that the case of Nyalong was taken out of context. To my understanding, she was ready to be married and the approach of the first suitor attracted the attention of the other who might have had interest in her. As such, the second and the third suitors also joined the open indoor dialogue on the basis of parent-to-parent discussion as it has always been done in the Dinka way of life.
 
As time and conversation went on, the competition ensued in which the best suitor known as Kok Alat from Bor Community of Jonglei State emerged as the winner to marry Nyalong Ngong Deng, based on the decision reached by consensus on both sides. Grounded on the cultural arrangements of marriage, what is wrong with this marriage process?
 
As a matter of fact, such cultural arrangements of the marriage have been in existence and will continue to be in the future history of Dinka. This is considered to be a normal procedural arrangement of marriages rather than now being translated as an intentional auction of human being just tarnish the good image of Dinka community. The rest is history. Stay blessed.
 
 

*The writer is a student of Master of Education of Comparative and Global Studies in Education and Development at The University of Hong Kong, PRC. He is also the author of the forthcoming Book entitled: ‘Intervention in Education in Emergencies: Practical Tools for investing in Human Resource Development, Peacebuilding, and Conflict Mitigation’. He is reachable at mabiorrioc@gmail.com 

Posted in: Opinions
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02/01/2019, 1:43 PM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
To appreciate this, understand that by culture a Dinka man does not get married just because he has fallen in love but because it is his turn to do so as prescribed by birth-rights. Does love have a place then in Jieng/Dinka marriage? Very much so. All mature Jieng men have a right to court girls (unmarried young women) from different clans and to boast amongst his peers of the love some of his girl-friends have for him. The same goes for the unmarried female who will accept as many advances as she likes from men of different clans, though in her case, the Jieng being a polygamous society, such advances can also come from married men. As relatives and friends of both male and female are actively involved in these courtships on behalf of the principles, unsuitable couples are weeded out of potential future husbands or wife. The final verdict or selection of the suitable girl comes when the elders of the family declare it were time for the young man to get married because his time was due. In such family meeting, attended by even the children, one of the "girl friends, selected by the youth of the family may also be found suitable by the elders. And since the girl is already in this courtship/cordial relationship, she would be likely to welcome the declaration of the serious intention of marriage; and provided that her family have no serious objection, the marriage would take place. However, there are many cases where young men and young women in love will find a way around these arrangement by elders to marry the one they love; and these include elopement or getting purposely pregnant to persuade the families from submission. While some elders may be enraged, they will eventually give in when a child gets involved, for a child is 'blood' from the two the two clans. So it is not all this black-white love business found in the Western Society.
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