Thousands of women and children were taken into slavery during the decades of Sudan’s civil war, mainly from Northern Bahr El Ghazal and the Nuba Mountains. Slave-taking was revived in 1985 by the National Islamic government of Sudan primarily as a weapon against counterinsurgents in the South, and secondarily a way to reimburse its surrogate soldiers for neutralizing this threat. In 1989 the government created the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), militia trained to raid villages and take people as slaves. PDF recruits were allowed to keep whoever they captured, along with booty of grain and cattle. One study documents 12,000 abductions by name, while NGOs offer estimates ranging from 15,000 to 200,000. The slaves were often moved to large towns in the north on week-long journeys during which the women were repeatedly raped, and then sold to new masters who used them without pay for farming and sexual services. The peace process brought these PDF abductions to an end, but inter-tribal abductions continue in Southern Sudan. In addition, Sudanese children are used by rebel groups in the ongoing conflict in Darfur; Sudanese boys from the country’s eastern Rashaida tribe continue to be trafficked to the Middle East for use as camel jockeys; the rebel organization “Lord’s Resistance Army” has forcibly conscripted children in Southern Sudan for use as combatants in its war against Uganda; and the institution of chattel slavery continues in southern Darfur and southern Kordofan.
I was visiting my younger sister’s home near Warawar when I was captured. It happened two years ago during the dry season. The soldiers came early in the morning. Everyone was asleep. My sister and I woke up with the sound of gunfire. We ran out of her tukul as fast as we could. But we did not get very far. We were surrounded. There were a lot of Arab soldiers all around us. Some wore uniforms, others wore jellabeyas. They had come at night on camels and horses. Six soldiers grabbed me. I struggled with them and tried to get away. But they beat me with a big stick. I had to submit. You can see the scar on my back. I got that wound during the beating.
They tied my hand together with a rope and led me away to the bush. They raped me in the bush, one after the other, all six of them. After that, I had to walk beyond the River Kiir with the other slaves. My hands were tied to a long rope. My sister was tied to it too. Along the way we were beaten and raped. We walked for four days. Then we reached a place where the soldiers divided us and the cows and goats amongst themselves.
I was given to Musa. My sister was given to a man named Ibrahim. Musa was a good friend of the leader of the raiders, Mahmoud Issa from Zeri. Musa had a body guard and was responsible for distributing slaves and cattle amongst the Popular Defense Force This meant that he was away from home a lot. Musa took me to his home in Gos. I had to do housework for his wife. She is an Arab woman named Howah. She is a very bad woman. She always loved to hit me with a big stick, even when I was ill. She made me sleep outside in the courtyard. There was no shelter over my head. Only when it rained did she let me sleep in the covered cattle pen. Sometimes Musa would come to me at night, and take me to the cattle pen for sex. Whenever Howah discovered that her husband was missing at night, she would give me a good beating on the next day because her husband had come to me and not to her.
I had Musa’s baby. He is now seven months old. Musa called him Ahmed, but I call him Thiop. Musa called me Howah, so he had two Howahs. The worst part about being with Musa and Howah were their threats to kill me. Whenever they told me to get water from a far place, or do some other hard labor, they would say that they would cut my throat if I didn’t obey. Musa would threaten me like this when he wanted to have sex with me. My sister’s throat was cut by her master. Howah’s children told me they saw her body when they were going to the well. They said she had tried to escape, but was caught.
My sister had a very strong will. I remember that she always showed displeasure when the soldiers called her Fatima during the walk to the North. I was so afraid, I thought I have to get away from there. I knew that Musa loved Thiop and would never let him go, so I wanted to escape with him. One day, I was told by a woman who was cultivating in the fields that a trader was looking for slaves to return to their homes. I decided to escape and ran with Thiop to the forest. There I came across a Dinka man who took care of me and helped me find the trader. He brought me back here. I like being back, and hearing my own name again. I also like it because no one calls me ‘slave’ or ‘nigger’ anymore… Now I will go to Warawar to try to find my children and my father.
Narrative as told to Christian Solidarity International, January 1999, in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan.