by Martin Marial Takpiny
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The author of this life story, Prof Martin Marial Takpiny, requires little introduction to many South Sudanese readers. Now a retired senior citizen in Australia as well of his native South Sudan; the son of a traditional Dinka chief; school teacher; former legislator; provincial commissioner; twice a political detainee; university don; and finally, an internally displaced person, together with his family, the author has seen it all: bad and good days, glory and humiliation, pain and happiness, at different times and places during his many years as a public servant; an era characterised by turbulence caused by Sudan’s brutal and long civil wars of 1955-1972 and 1983- 2005. The two armed conflicts pitted the insurgents from what is today sovereign South Sudan against the central government in Khartoum which they accused of exercising a system of rule based on exclusion and discrimination based on creed and race.
The writer and the readers of this book should consider themselves lucky. Had the author of the book you are about to read delayed for another three years in committing to paper his life story, the chances are that these particular experiences would only have continued to reside in his memory. Unfortunately, due to diabetes that has affected his sight Prof Marial will not be able to see the colours, the lines that he wrote, the shape and size of this book, not to mention reading these lines I am writing.
It is true that with the help of a willing assistant to patiently listen to and take dictation, record and transcribe the account of his life, production of the same could be possible. However, it is likely that the retired educator who is sensitive in regards to the rights of other fellow human beings, would have considered the tedious task an unnecessary demand on the time and energy of anyone undertaking it. Besides that consideration, there is also a world of difference between a work that one does as sole narrator, pouring thoughts and ideas into paper or whatever medium, “unrestrained”, in an unobtrusive and quiet environment that encourages creativity. On the other hand a product from interviews and dialogue tends to be structured, “predetermined” and “public” and therefore likely to lack in spontaneity or depth of feeling.
This deviation is necessary. Prof Marial is one of the very few South Sudanese public figures who understand and appreciate the importance of their experiences as a resource to be shared with others whether they are peers, members of the younger generation, fellow South Sudanese or others, now and in the years to come. More importantly, in a previous conversation with me, the author made it clear that he was motivated to write his recollections in order to leave them to posterity, as his legacy and to inform the reader of the world that is hardly recognisable today and whose traces are gradually and surely disappearing, on their way to be lost forever.
By choosing to write his memoirs, as one of the South Sudanese who have made an indelible mark on their society as a teacher, the former teacher is in the lead in doing what only a few from his generation and peers have done: publishing a memoir. And although those high flying personalities I am alluding to- those who have gone without publishing personal accounts- are many, few are cited here. Notable “absentees” include Joseph Oduho (a former school teacher and politician like Marial), Clement Gutia Mboro, former administrator and politician, Daniel Jumi Tongun, former civil servant and a participant in the 1955 Torit mutiny. (Uncle Jumi, as he was popularly known to many South Sudanese held another record of a kind: longevity which took him beyond a 100 year watershed). Other pioneers-mostly party leaders and government ministers before Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956-whose life stories would have contributed to the history of that time. The names which easily come to mind, not necessarily in that order, are those of the now deceased politicians, among them Buth Diu, Luigi Adwok Bong (the first and the last citizen from Southern Sudan to have been ceremonial head of Sudanese state), Alfred Barjok, Aggrey Jaden, Bullen Alier de Bior, Benjamin Lwoki, Gordon Apeec Ayom, William Deng Nhial, Ezbon Mondiri, Gordon Muortat Mayen, Parmena Bul Koch. (Late Hilary Locale, a politician and an outstanding intellectual is said to have left a manuscript of his autobiography).
The author is being modest by stating at the onset “I haven’t done something spectacular in life to let somebody write about me”. As a public figure or any other human being for that matter, Martin Marial Takpiny, as far as I know, has not been involved in any hair-raising exploits or scandals that normally attract media headlines. As a loving husband, father to six daughters and a son, a doting granddad and senior citizen of Australia as well of his native South Sudan, his life, similar to that led by other good family people, falls into the category of the expected; that life within the confines of the narrow and the straight can be described as boringly normal. Not surprisingly, the norm rarely attracts the interest of the reading public hungry for salacious gossips and prurient (mis)deeds by the society’s high and mighty. However, it should not be forgotten that writing and reading are not all about entertainment; we read primarily to be informed. Any form of knowledge derived from the experiences of other people, like the episodes in this book, often contribute to intellectual nourishment. This book contains nuggets of information about the past, some not available even in much of documented history of South Sudan- the time covered here.
Marial’s life story is essentially a journey into one of South Sudanese traditional societies of the 1940s and 1950s. His boyhood recollections of the life in the Dinka village or cattle camp of the time take the reader to the little known and less documented ways the people lived at the time. Although the author does not claim to be writing social history of his people, some of the events he has narrated introduce the reader, especially the younger generation and non-South Sudanese reader, to how life was like before formal education and modernity had seeped into African societies anchored on traditional belief systems and practices which governed most aspects of people’s lives such as dealing with misfortunes, illness or death.
Publisher: Africa World Books
The information and views set out in this publication are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publishers. Neither the publishers nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the nature, veracity or accuracy of the information contained herein or the use which may be made thereof.