There are an estimated 465,000 people living in modern slavery in Sudan (GSI 2018). Between 1983 and 2005, the central government of Sudan enslaved tens of thousands of black South Sudanese Christian and traditionalist people. It was part of a genocidal war against South Sudan, with a simple aim: to force South Sudan to become Arab and Muslim.
Abuk Alieu Yom was abducted by slave raiders as a child. When she arriaved in North she was sold to a man named Abdullah who forced her to work in the house and subjected her to beatings. She was renamed and forced to pray like a Muslim. Abuk was forced to undergo female circumcision and marry. She was eventually able to escape with the help of a slave retriever.
I am from Adieng in South Sudan. I remember that when I was taken, I had a brother named Alieu who was old enough to walk, and my mother was pregnant again.
We all went to Catholic church. I was a member of a group called the “Alleluia Dancers.” I liked church, because I heard about Jesus. But after I went to the North, there was no Jesus.
I was captured near Aweil Town. My family was there to visit the market. When the slave raiders came, my family ran one way, and I ran the other. I never saw them again.
The raiders put me on horseback with another Dinka person, Garang. There were 5 Arabs with us. The raiders beat us when we cried, asking, “Why are you crying?” On the way north, we were joined by another group of Arabs, but they didn’t have any Dinka people with them. Maybe they killed theirs.
When we arrived in the North, they sold Garang and me to another man, named Abdullah, who lived in Meiram. He was unkind. He forced me to work, cooking and washing the cooking utensils. Garang was the only other Dinka person there, and he was soon sold to somebody else. Abdullah hit me all the time. Maybe because I wasn’t his child. He didn’t beat his own children.
Abdullah had a wife, and a boy and a girl, both younger than me. They were unkind too, but not as bad as him. His children gave me the scars on my legs.
Abdullah renamed me “Hawa.” He didn’t want me to have a Dinka name. He also called me “abd” [slave] and “jengai” [a racial epithet]. But he forced me to call him father. When I refused, he beat me terribly.
Abdullah sometimes forced me to pray like a Muslim. But he didn’t take me to the mosque. He only took his own children. Then later, in the house, he would ask me to pray alongside him. He forced me to be circumcised at the same time his daughter was. During Ramadan, I cooked food for his children, but not for him and his wife, or for myself. I had to sneak food while he was away. It was hard. I always hoped Ramadan wouldn’t come.
One day, Abdullah brought me two Arab men, and asked me to choose one for a husband. I cried, and wouldn’t give him an answer. The next day, he brought a third man, and told me I was his wife. I forget his name now; he came temporarily and then left. This happened three different times. Maybe the men were paying him. I don’t know.
I thought of escaping, but I didn’t know the way home. There was no way.
The slave retriever was the first person to tell me that the war was over. I met the slave retriever in the village. He came with me back to Abdullah’s house, and talked with him at a distance. Then he came to me and said, “We are going.” Abdullah asked me if I wanted to go, and I said “yes.” He was angry, and said, “Why do you dislike me?” I didn’t answer. I didn’t want him to become angrier and change his mind.
I thought, “I’m free!” and I was happy. I’ve come home to Dinkaland, and I will look for work to do freely. No one will force me. I will go to church again.
Thank you very much for bringing me back from slavery, for coordinating all this, and for the gifts of a goat and survival kit.
Narrative provided by Christian Solidarity International