Retold by Atem Yaak Atem
Someone without an advice-giver
This one and what follows it are true stories. They happened in the first half of the 20th century. The stories became proverbs and popular even during the life time of the persons associated with them.
Once in the last century, there lived a man called Awuol Bol Deng. He was known by his nickname of Awuol-Akuong-Awuɔ̈l-Akuɔŋ. He was a member of Pareng Clan of Kongor Wut (collection of clans) in what was known at the time as Bor District. Awuol, a friendly and peace loving person, was universally admired for his wits and as the author of many memorable sayings. To this day, Awuol’s aphorisms are still in currency among the people from the area, at home and all over the world. A wise saying, in Dinka is called kääŋ-kaang plural kɛ̈ŋ-keng.
When Awuol moved out of his parent’s ancestral home to raise his own family, he built his homestead at Majak, then a virgin land west of Kongor, which was at the time, an administrative centre of what later became known as Kongor People’s Rural Council in the 1970s.
Majak village is about 8 kilometres to the west of Kongor and on the edge of the world’s largest swampland, the Sudd. Wildlife seasonal movement from west to east and back, used to traverse this area. This migration still happens although the traffic has significantly reduced over the years due to the proliferation of illegal or even legitimate firearms that have become a real threat to wildlife.
One day as he was relaxing in front of his luak after a hard day work on his sorghum farm, Awuol couldn’t believe his eyes when he raised his head. A gigantic rogue elephant bull was walking slowly, majestically and confidently towards the east. He had just begun his long, lonely walk towards the Boma Plateau from Majak or from wherever he had left the parade. And nobody had the answer to the why, when or the how, of his decision. A bickering within the clan? Perhaps. Anyway, the journey that would take him through the densely populated villages of which Majak was on their outer margins, later proved to be tragic. As the destination was over a 200 kilometres to the east, that meant the elephant would have to traverse a series of human settlements separated by a stretch of more than 15 kilometres between Majak and Manyang at the eastern end. From Manyang onward he would enter a huge expanse of wilderness separating the area from the plateau, Upper Nile Province’s only highland.
Was Awuol daydreaming? No. He was bewildered. He had found the answer to the puzzle. And he must share it with his wife, who was the only person around at the time.
“Ye akön cïn wën wuun jäny een?” (rendered into English it would literally run: doesn’t this elephant have a cousin1 to warn him?) Awuol wondered aloud.
For sure, “This elephant had no cousin to advise him [against the risk he was taking]”, he told his wife, adding “Please, quickly get me my assegai”.2
Awuol’s question was followed by an order to his wife to get him his assegai2 that was inside the luak. After receiving his weapon, he sped to the scene of the drama to ensue soon. From experience, Awuol was aware that he was not going to be taking part in the hunting (spearing the animal). By the time of his arrival at the scene of action, the victim had already been fell down, fatally wounded with tens of spear wounds on the jumbo’s body.
Awuol’s role then would be to get a share of the carcass3. He knew too well that by the time of his arrival the animal would have already been down. When he arrived he wasn’t surprised to find that the jumbo was already dead from the many wounds he had received from the men of the village.
When Awuol arrived at the scene, men were busy cutting and sharing the elephant’s meat among themselves.
Awuol, the sage, was convinced that the elephant had met his end because the animal didn’t have a cousin to advise him about the danger of taking the route that led him to a heavily populated cluster of hamlets.
From that time, the saying “He has no cousin to advise him (timely and rightly)” became an aphorism among the people from Awuol Bol’s area and beyond. It is assaying that is expressed after someone has committed a blunder which would have been avoided had there been someone to provide a prudent piece of advice on the matter in question.
1Cousin to warn him: this is a reference to the old custom which makes a cousin, usually on father’s side, act as a keeper of a close relative who in turn receives advice from the one he counsels. That relationship included a man giving advice to a relative to desist doing what was deemed to be harmful, practically or morally unacceptable.
2Assegai (tɔŋ): the rural Nilotic men, mainly among the Nuer, Shilluk and Dinka, own and carry two types of spears: the spear with a blade of different sizes, is mainly used for cutting, meat for example. Then there is what is called fishing spear or what the Dinka call bith is mostly used in fishing. All of them are fixed to long, slender shafts. The two types are used both as weapons as well as fancy tools, just like walking sticks.
3Elephants used to be hunted primarily for their tusks (single: tuŋ akɔ̈ɔ̈n), then coveted for making different types of bangles and bracelets used for decorative purposes by both men and girls and young women and for sale to foreign merchants resident in the major towns of Southern Sudan during the colonial times.
The first two men (women were not allowed to take part in hunting even of less dangerous animals) to throw their spears and landed on the elephant were entitled to own the two tusks; the right one would go to the first man while the second man would take the left tusk. The tusks would be sold at a cost that would make the two men rich in cattle, the currency of the day, and measure of personal wealth. With the establishment of the British administration of Sudan from 1898-1956, hunting elephants was outlawed in general, allowing the communities the kind of hunting that was akin to culling: only old and bull elephants were allowed to be hunted and the numbers of the elephants to be killed were also limited.
Acting on advice
In the 20th century there lived a man called Mayau Atem Mayau, a member of Padol-Padɔ̈ɔ̈l) Clan. Like Awuol Bol, the main character of the previous pop tale, Mayau was from Kongor Wut. While Awuol’s fame rested on his witticism, Mayau was known over the land for his wealth in cattle and his children who had celebratory status; the son, Mayen was one of the leaders of the young men of the area’s cattle community while Mayau’s two daughters, Adhieu and Akuol were known for their physical graces as well as upright character. Mayau’s home was in Pakur-nhial village, about a kilometre east of Kongor.
But Mayau had a problem of a kind: he had a high-pitched voice. Since that didn’t hurt or inconvenience anyone, people even those closest to him either ignored or tolerated that idiosyncrasy. Throughout his life Mayau went on with his life without giving a thought to his unusually foghorn type of voice. Except one day. Mayau was a plaintiff: a high stake case which had to be settled by the District Commissioner, DC, a white man whose office was in a town known as Mading by the natives but to the outsiders it was Bor, was pending. These variable names still play trick with people’s memory to this day. The DC was scheduled to sit in judgement in what was called a court centre which was headquartered at a place known locally as Pawel-Pawɛ̈l, aka, Kongor-Kɔŋɔ̈ɔ̈r.
On the eve of the arrival of the DC in the area by car, Mayau’s cousins descended on his homestead. The host was a little taken aback. Were the relatives coming to break some unpleasant news? Why at that time of the day when people all over the village would be busy receiving cattle returning from grazing and to be tethered for the night?
As members of the extended family who equally took the home they were visiting as their own, they sat, without having been beckoned, and made themselves comfortable.
“Mayau, are you going to court tomorrow, aren’t you?” asked one of his cousins.
“Yes” was Mayau’s response.
“Then you have to be careful. The Turuk people don’t like people who talk loudly. You must change” concluded the cousin as he stressed the verb “change”.
Mayau agreed and the group turned to other worldly matters.
The next day the court sat. Mayau was ushered in while the DC was sitting surrounded by senior chiefs and other notables. As the plaintiff Mayau was shown where to sit, facing his adversary. An announcement was made that the proceeding would begin. Mayau was given the chance to speak first. All eyes turned to him.
Mayau: began to speak but he was completely inaudible. Nobody heard a thing out of what he was saying or murmuring, to be exact.
The DC (with impatience implicit in his voice): “What is wrong with the man? I can’t hear what you are saying. Speak Up!”
Agamlong1– agamlöng (who is also in the dark repeats) the DC’s statement for clarity and effect.
Mayau (as a loud as he could): Bäny yan e rit! Yan e rit!2
The entire courtroom burst into laughter as Mayau’s statement was being interpreted to the DC who also joined the crowd with a smirk.
1Bäny yan e rit would literally translate into “Sir, I have been altered (made to change)”.
2Agamlong: an auxiliary who used to repeat statements from public meetings, courtrooms and other meetings, mostly to effect, interest and clarity.