Vice President of S. Sudan in fight over Prophet Ngundeng's rod.
A crowd looks up to see the rod (dang) as Riek Machar holds it Up while Douglas Johnson looks on, Juba, May 16, 2009 (photo J.G.Dak)
Prophet Ngundeng's stick or "dang" was looted from the religious figure's home town of Bieh by British troops in about 1929, after they assassinated his son, Guek Ngundeng. A scholar of Sudanese history, Douglas Johnson, returned the rod after buying it at an auction in Britain in 1999 from the family of a British colonial official. Johnson, the author of a history of prophecy from the Upper Nile in the 19th and 20th centuries, says he bought the rod with the intention of returning it to the family of Ngundeng and the Lou Nuer. But today Machar, the vice president of South Sudan's interim government, telephoned the regional capital from Unity State at 11:00 am to halt the press conference, which was being held by James Lony Thiciot together with other grandchildren of the prophet Ngundeng about the return of the stolen rod from London. The grandsons and granddaughters of the prophet demanded to have custody of the rod rather than Machar and his family, whom they accused of having politicized Nuer culture, promising to reveal more in written information to media centres. Gordon Buay, a Nuer-speaking politician based in Canada, in a written statement called on the southern government to return the divine rod "to its rightful place in Bieh," saying this is the decision required by the prophecies of Ngundeng himself. Though Machar on Saturday said the dang would be taken to Bieh, which is the prophet's headquarters in a place called Wec Deang in Waat of Jonglei state, his opponents also object to Machar's role in the ceremonial events surrounding the return of the object. Machar, who led a coup within the SPLA rebel command in 1991, has presented himself as part of the fulfilment of Ngundeng's prophecies. He received the rod at the airstrip Saturday, leading a jubilant procession before a white bull was slaughtered in the airport parking lot. However, today the grandson Thiciot emphasized that Nuer culture does not allow Machar, whom he labelled as still a minor (unscarified), to spear a traditional cow brought for clenching the return of Ngundeng's rod. Machar, who as SPLA zonal commander in Western Upper Nile in 1987 had decreed a ban on scarification and on the practice of removing children's incisors, does not bear the traditional tribal cuttings. Hence Thiciot pointed out that, according to Nuer culture, the Vice President is not yet initiated to manhood by facial cuttings done in front of elders and young girls. But according to Machar, Thiciot is an SPLA officer who has no right to interfere in political affairs that concern the whole people of southern Sudan to whom the returned rod belongs, and it must be kept in the national archive that will soon be constructed. The archive's director, Professor Sevenino Mati, died a few days before the return of the historic rod. (ST)
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