Deim Zubeir

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Deim Zubeir[1]
Deim Zubeir[1] is located in South Sudan
Deim Zubeir[1]
Deim Zubeir[1]
Location in South Sudan
Coordinates: 7°43′N 26°13′E / 7.717°N 26.217°E / 7.717; 26.217
Country  South Sudan
State Lol State

Deim Zubeir, from the Arabic ديم الزبير [“Daim az-Zubayr”], commonly translated as the “Camp of Zubeir”, is the historically established but highly controversial name of a town in the Lol State of the Republic of South Sudan,[1] located in the Northwestern part of the country, some 70 km from the border with the Central African Republic, near the Biri tributary of the River Chel.[2]

Due to different transliterations from the Arabic, the name components are also spelled Dem, Dehm, Daym or Daim, and Zubair, Zubayr, Zoubair, Zoubeir, Zoubayr, Zobeir, Ziber, or Zubier, respectively.

The historical remains of the slave camp have been designated a potential UNESCO World Heritage Centre site.[3]


Turkiya (1821-1884)

Little is known about historical developments at the location before the second half of the 19th century. According to the pioneering scholar of Sudan history Richard Leslie Hill, it was called “Bayyu”,[4] before the Northern merchant warlord and slaver Al-Zubayr Rahma Mansur established a Zariba – a fortified slave trade station – there as the headquarters of his personal domain around 1857[5] and had it named after himself.[6] The Oxford-based US-scholar Douglas Johnson writes that the camp

was built on the strategic site of Gbaya where the north-south caravan route from Dar Fartit to Zandeland joined the east-west route to the Nile via Wau, Meshra el-Rek, Rumbek, and Shambe”.[7]

While slave-raiding had been practised by Southern Sudanese warlords before,[8] it was taken by Zubeir to unprecedented large-scale levels. According to another pioneer of Sudan academia, Richard Gray, "by 1867 it was reliably estimated that 1800 slaves a year were being despatched northwards by Zubair".[9] It is widely assumed that altogether as many as 400,000 people were enslaved in just fourteen years. Many thousands are assumed to have been killed as they resisted.[10] In 1871, at the height of his power, when Zubeir controlled much of the Bahr el Ghazal region as well as what are today parts of Chad and the Central African Republic, he was visited at Deim Zubeir by the pioneering botanist and ethnologist Georg Schweinfurth. A blog series by the Smithsonian Libraries summarises the impressions of the German scholar and abolitionist as follows:

He found it to be a small town of many thousands of people, including Zubayr’s army, government officials, and traders and their armies, all with their wives, concubines, children, personal slaves and their families, plus a group of religious authorities (ulema). To survive, this parasitic community raided surrounding villages, stealing cattle and food crops and taking slaves not only for service in the zariba but also to work the traders’ own farms back in northern Sudan and, of course, to sell to foreign markets. Schweinfurth reported seeing four classes of slaves, all subjected to 'unbelievable degradation and cruelty': adult men, who served as soldiers; boys ages seven to ten, who carried their guns and ammunition; women, 'passed like dollars from hand to hand' as wives, concubines, and household servants; and both men and women to do field work and care for animals. He also reported that Zubayr’s court was 'little less than princely.' ”[11]

In 1873, the Ottoman rulers of Sudan acknowledged Zubeir’s power and granted him the title of governor over Bahr El Ghazal. When Zubeir was detained indefinitely in 1876 by the Khedive in Cairo, his son Sulaiman took over and renamed Deim Zubeir into Deim Sulaiman (also transliterated into various spellings like Dem Soliman etc.). However, in 1878 and 1879 his forces were defeated by an Egyptian army under the Italian Romolo Gessi, which was supported in turn by local Southern forces.[12] Sulaiman surrendered and was executed. Gessi moved into Zubayr’s former residence and set up headquarters there.[11] When the Russian-German explorer Wilhelm Junker visited the place in April 1880, Gessi still had kept the name Deim Sulaiman for it. Junker recorded that:

"Soliman Bey Ziber had undoubtedly greatly strengthened the place, especially in recent times. Around the whole zeriba runs a double and treble palisade, 26 feet high; within this enclosure the several courts are separated by matting almost hard as boards, and behind them are grouped the high and spacious dwellings sur-mounted by conic roofs. Soliman's residence, now occupied by Gessi, was built in the style of a two-storeyed house in Khartum ; there were also several other strong brick structures, besides magazines well suited for their purpose."

With regard to demographics, Junker observed:

"so great a mixture of tribes has resulted from the Arab rule, that it is no longer possible to lay down accurate frontiers between the several populations." [13]

Deim Sulaiman remained the official capital of Bahr El Ghazal, while Wau became the commercial centre. According to Father Stefano Santandrea of the Verona Fathers, the first buildings of burnt-bricks in the province were erected under the rule of Gessi as well as the first school, "to which 17 chiefs were already sending their children. They were receiving instruction (in Arabic) together with over 100 children of the local troops". Santandrea also reports that "a splendid new mosque was being built, and Gessi won many hearts by this act".[14] According to French records, the town housed many shops and its chraftsmen were famous for their skills.[15]

Gessi's successor as Ottoman governor (Bey), the Englishman Frank Lupton, revived the name Deim Zubeir instead of Deim Sulaiman after his arrival there in December 1881.[16]

Mahdiya (1884-1898)

In March 1884 a joint campaign by Mahdist rebels and local Southern forces defeated the Turkish-Egyptian rule in Bahr El Ghazal.[17] Lupton Bey surrendered to the Dervish army at Deim Zubeir on April 28, 1884.[14] In the following decade, the settlement was largely left to itself[18] and "reduced to an ill-presided collection of tumbledown buildings of raw bricks",[19] but was then elevated to the global stage of imperialist competition around the "Scramble for Africa":

At first, a Belgian military expedition under Felix Foulon reached Deim Zubeir in 1892 and signed treaties with a number of local chiefs.[20] A second mission from Belgium under Xavier-Ernest Donckier de Donceel marched towards Deim Zubeir in April 1894,[21] but retreated from Mahdist forces before reaching its destination.[22] According to Father Santandrea, another Belgian colonial officer, Florent Colmant, "wanted to satisfy a long-cherished wish of seeing with his own eyes Deim Zubeir", reached the place on the withdrawal with some 80 troops on 24 December and left the next day:[23] "he only saw half-ruined houses of sunbaked bricks."[14]

Two years later, French military missions under Victor Liotard penetrated into Bahr-al-Ghazal from what is now the Central African Republic,[24] and took possession of Deim Zubeir in April 1897.[25] Santandrea noted with reference to the account of one member of the French mission that they found "an abandoned place, where one does not even see ruins, except traces of a trench (ditch) about 100 metres by side".[14] The colonial officer Adolphe Louis Cureau founded a new post and renamed Deim Zubeir into Fort Dupleix.[26] His successor Liotard had a new fortified building erected.[14] This was done with regard to the strategic importance[27] of the location as a key hub for the expeditionary force of General Jean-Baptiste Marchand in its quest to expand France's control of territory up to the Nile.[28]

Following the Fashoda incident and the Franco-Egyptian treaty of 1899 which ceded Bahr El Ghazal to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the French forces left the post in 1900.[29]

Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1899-1955)

According to the German Bishop Franz Xaver Geyer of the Comboni missionaries, the first British officer to arrive in Deim Zubeir for the annexation of the area was Major William Bulnois in 1901.[18] Two years later, Deim Zubeir became the capital of the Western District of Bahr al-Ghazal .[30] Geyer noted that the first inspector to head the post was an Egyptian officer, who was soon succeeded by the Scottish Lieutenant David Comyn.[18] According to Father Santandrea, Comyn "found only one building worth mentioning, namely the newly erected fort of the French".[14]

When Belgium's King Leopold II ordered a "scientific" mission to Bahr El Ghazal under Charles Lemaire and Louis Royaux in 1902, the expedition's vanguard led by Captain André Landeghem reached Deim Zubeir in February 1903. However, the Condominium government of Sudan prevented the mission from moving on to the copper-rich area of Hofrat en Nahas and Landeghem returned to the Congo Free State, the Belgian King's personal colony.[4]

While Bishop Geyer visited Deim Zubeir in 1905, Comyn was assisted by a Syrian medical doctor, an Egyptian police officer and a scribe. The number of “irregular troops” at the time was around 120, recruited mainly from the local population.[18]

A doctoral thesis by a South Sudanese historian found that the introduction of tax collecting under Comyn in 1904 was particularly unpopular, since harsher conditions were applied than in neighbouring districts. Locals who could not pay taxes were forced to do road construction work instead.[31] In 1906, Raja became the capital of the Western District of Bahr al-Ghazal instead of Deim Zubeir.[30]

Deim Zubeir residents at the time included a substantial number of ex-soldiers and former slaves, who had lost their ethnic ties and converted to Islam with Arabic as lingua franca.[30] Refugees from what is now the Central African Republic settled in Deim Zubeir during this time as well, but were displaced by the British-led colonial administration back to French-controlled areas in 1912.[32]

The German-born missionary Karl Kumm reported in 1910 that the area of Deim Zubeir was heavily infested with tsetse flies.[33]

In 1923, under Provincial Superior Father Angelo Arpe,[34] the Verona Fathers sent a Southern Sudanese catechist, Baptist Mufighi, to Deim Zubeir in order to prepare for the opening of a missionary post there:

"This was a major step for the Verona Fathers. In early times, the mission had been very hesitant about doing evangelistic work among Muslims. Mufighi began a school in Deim Zubeir but faced much opposition from the strong Muslim community there. When Baptist gathered children for his school, Tabaan, the man in charge of the Muslim school, ordered Baptist's school to be closed, and all the children sent home. Mufighi refused. He declared that he must be arrested first, and so presented himself to Major Wheatley, the District Commissioner. Wheatley ruled that the new school should be allowed."[35]

The Comboni mission station was then founded in 1926[36] and extended by a mission of the Comboni Sisters in 1936.[37] Comboni Father Santandrea, who served in the Deim Zubeir mission from 1948 to 1955,[34] counted a population of some 500 in the settlement and its neighbourhood with a variety of ethnic affiliations that merged through common inter-marriage.[38]

Sudan Independence (1956-2011)

When in August 1955, during the months leading up to Sudan’s independence of 1 January 1956, a mutiny broke out in the Eastern Equatorian town of Torit, one of the mutineers was Camillo Kamin Sharf al-Din, a 23-year-old soldier from Deim Zubeir. After the bloody revolt, he fled to Kenya and then Uganda, before joining the Anyanya rebel movement in 1963.[32] Meanwhile, as the military regime of General Ibrahim Abboud expelled most missionaries in 1962 and 1963 from the Southern Sudanese region, apparently only one priest remained in Deim Zubeir[39], Father Angelo Matordes, the superior of the mission, as well as Sister Prassede Zamperini.[40]

In 1964, the New York Times reported that the government in Khartoum had received an “official report” about a Deim Zubeir resident who had been arrested and executed without trial or investigation over allegations of giving food to rebels.[41] Scottish journalist Cecil Eprile wrote in a book that the dead body of Albino Bambala, a schoolteacher in Deim Zubeir, showed marks of brutal torture, according to relatives who buried him in February 1964.[42] Bambala’s name is included in the online project “South Sudan: Remembering the Ones We Lost”.[43]

In a similar incident, church circles reported that at the same time the catechist Baptist Mufighi, who had laid the foundations for the establishment of the Comboni mission, was tortured and killed by Security Police for suspected support of the Anyanya rebels. According to these reports, public commemorations were banned and his family prevented from burying the body. The mission was closed a few days later in the wake of the general expulsions of the last missionaries.[35]

In October 1964, the president of the Sudan African National Union, Joseph Oduhu, reported that the Catholic church in Deim Zubeir had been looted by soldiers of the Sudanese Armed Forces. He also accused an Army Captain of raping a schoolmistress.[44]

According to the Catholic Diocese of Wau, most residents of Deim Zubeir fled during that year to Tambura, near the border with the Central African Republic, and the mission was abandoned.[45] While there were also reports that Anyanya insurgents committed atrocities against recalcitrant civilians as well,[46] it is not known whether such indiscriminate action took place in the Deim Zubeir area, too.

After the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement between the regime of Jafaar Nimeri in Khartoum and the Anyanya rebels, demands grew louder to rename the town. Most prominently, in 1979 the pioneering Southern Sudanese journalist Atem Yaak protested in an article:

the real problem with the map [...] is why certain names should continue to appear in modern maps of the Sudan. I am referring in particular to Deim Zubair and Said Bundas. The names which make the paper, on which they are written stink, should be erased from the map of the Sudan.”[47]

Soon after the 1983 mutiny of Bor, the area of Deim Zubeir was once again affected by war. According to Douglas Johnson, attacks by the insurgent Sudan People’ Liberation Army (SPLA) “on Fertit areas were part of a strategy in the mid-1980s to attack civilian populations seen as hostile, which was partially due to the inability of the guerrillas to hold territory”.[48] SPLA assaults on the neighbouring town of Raja around Christmas-time in 1987 and on settlements along the road between Wau and Deim Zubeir caused mass displacement of civilians.[32]

In June 2001 the SPLA overwhelmed Deim Zubeir, which as a garrison town was a considerable loss for the government in Khartoum.[49] The rebels claimed to have killed 400 government soldiers.[50] The BBC Monitoring Service at the time noted reports that the SPLA also “bombed a military camp for the displaced in Deim Zubeir”.[51] Their offensive prompted a mass exodus of the civilian population, including families of soldiers, from Deim Zubeir and surrounding areas heading north and north-west into government-controlled areas.[52] About 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) fled towards Timsahah and about 8,000 towards Ed Daein.[53] After their military victory, the rebels also announced that they had renamed the town into “Deim New Sudan” after the vision of SPLA leader John Garang for a Sudan of unity in diversity.[54]

When the Khartoum government prepared for a counter-offensive to recapture Deim Zubeir, “the SPLA allegedly warned a security official with UN Operation Lifeline Sudan that the SPLA had used antipersonnel mines in October 2001 to defend the airstrip at Deim Zubeir”.[55] In November 2001 the government army took over Deim Zubeir again, with support from one of its proxy militia, the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF).[56] Subsequently, those pro-Khartoum forces engaged in a military campaign to expel the SPLA rebels from the area, which resulted once more in mass displacement of civilians not only to northern Bahr el Ghazal, but also to Western Equatoria.[53]

In the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and the SPLA, Deim Zubeir was designated as one of the five assembly places of the Sudanese Armed Forces in Bahr El Ghazal.[57] Following the CPA, displaced people started to return to Deim Zubeir as to the whole region, especially since the road to Wau was de-mined.[58] A 2009 field-study by the London School of Economics (LSE) found that some Deim Zubeir residents

were mostly concerned with wanting the town’s original tribal name ‘Uyuku’ back. At the same time, some residents wanted to join Aroyo County near Aweil in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal while others wanted to stay with Western Bahr el Gezal because they speak a similar language (Luer).”[59]

On 31 January 2010, Bishop Rudolf Deng of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wau reopened Deim Zubeir parish.[60]

In March 2011, shortly before the independence of South Sudan it was announced that the Western Bahr el Ghazal State Government had launched a Television station in “Uyujuku (Dem - Zubeir)”.[61] Uyujuku is the Kresh name for the town of Deim Zubeir.[32] The Catholic Comboni missionary order uses the wording “Uyu-Juku (formerly called Deim Zubeir)”.[62] However, as there have been persistent calls by South Sudanese intellectuals to rename Deim Zubeir,[63] it remains unclear whether the name has been officially changed.

South Sudan Independence (since 2011)

Soon after armed conflict between pro-government forces and rebel militias broke out in South Sudan at the end of 2013, Deim Zubeir and the neighbouring areas were once more affected by war. In early 2015, it was reported that youth rioters broke into World Food Programme (WFP) stores in the town and stole bags of food after protests against the rations they were receiving.[64] Many more IDPs arrived from Raja after clashes in June 2016 and April 2017. In August 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that the population of Deim Zubeir was 54,000 people and included 18,000 displaced who had fled not only from Raja, but also from Korogana and Sopo.[65]

At the same time, Deim Zubeir apparently once again also became a strategic hub for Sudanese militias, namely the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) from Darfur, as the final report of the Panel of Experts on the Sudan from December 2016 reported to the United Nations Security Council that “some sources informed the Panel of the existence of JEM bases in the Raja area and in Deim Zubeir.”[66]

Potential UNESCO World Heritage site

On 3 October 2017, the government of South Sudan submitted the name of the historical site of the slave camp to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to be included on its first ever Tentative List of potential World Heritage sites.[3] The UNESCO report details the following:

"Zubeir Rahma constructed a trench and a fortification where slaves were kept awaiting to be transported to various destinations along the Nile northwards. The trench was built underground almost four meters deep and three kilometres long; wood and mud were used in the construction. The trench contains rooms used as prisons to confine the slaves, and on its edge is a tree renowned as a hanging place for slaves who attempted to escape from their captors. [..] Today, the Deim Zubeir slave trench is located by the present day main road from Wau to Rajain Wau County. It is not well maintained and needs urgent safeguarding to preserve its importance as a cultural heritage site. The tree that was notorious as the site of slave hangings remains next to the trench. "[67]

In its statement on authenticity and integrity, UNESCO adds:

"The chiefs of the community in the Payam are also involved in collecting information and data about the site, including how it was affiliated with the former inhabitants’ lifestyles and cultures. However, additional support is needed from historians and anthropologists to look into the shape and content of the trench, which is currently underground and unexcavated."[67]

Historical artefacts from Deim Zubeir are known to be scattered across European museums. Artefacts taken as a trophy by Romolo Gessi were sold by his widow to the Museum of Ethnography and Prehistory in Rome. Parts of the collection were later transfered to other museums in Italy.[68]


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Coordinates: 7°43′N 26°13′E / 7.717°N 26.217°E / 7.717; 26.217

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