By Jon Pen de Ngong
It is probably the longest trending social agenda today. From South Sudan, East Africa and beyond, and as far as the United Nations headquarters, the name of Aluat Ngong Deng (aka Nyalong or Sunday) is spreading like wild fire. Its fire’s fury: furore and fun, which is dominated by rumour and humour, has exposed the South Sudanese and Dinka culture in bad light. This is my take in examining the lessons to be learned from this traditional marriage bonanza.
1- Since the news of the girl’s competition broke about three days ago, folks have been divided along sex lines. The Social Media’s trolls have ignited sexism debate between feminists and male chauvinists. Online and offline, the former is hell-bent on the arguments akin to women’s rights (the so-called ‘bride auction arrangement’) as the male counterparts are countering the hot topic with a defending-our-culture excuse. The war is raging towards the forthcoming period of ’16 days of activism against gender-based violence’.
2- Secondly, the marriage war now narrowing down between the Jonglei’s business mogul, Ruben Kok Alat Kok, and the Eastern Lakes’ deputy governor, David Mayom Riak, has brought to light the invasion and exploitation of our cultural marriage practices by economically wealthy and politically powerful individuals in our communities. Given the amount of wealth being pledged, flashed and splashed about in terms of bride price, economic piracy is eating into our august traditions big time this time!
Personally, I concur with those who call such a bride contest an ‘auction’ because of this reason. In the present-day convoluted marriage settlement among most Jieng folks, the decision on the winning suitor is made after the inspection of bride price pledges from the competitors. This makes the decision-making process skewed towards the man with the highest number of livestock and other forms of property as bride wealth, mostly for enriching the parents, relatives and community at the expense of the would-be young family. Such family gullibility debts go ahead of the newly wed and waylay their unborn children in case of of those with poor backgrounds.
For instance, my betting in the Aluat Ngong’s much publicized marriage is that Ruben Kok would definitely emerge the winner because he has put on top of the girl up to 500 heads of cattle, besides a number of vehicles and a grinding mill in the shadow of his Liberty Commercial Bank, compared to David Mayom’s 200 cows and some other things like plots of land.
Going by the dictionary definition of an auction, ours is a sort of social auction since the economic activity is defined as “a public sale in which goods or property are sold to the highest bidder.” In this case, the bride would definitely go at the highest bidding as it occurred to my friend just a few weeks ago. He lost the girl of his love to his highest paying archrival.
3- Besides, this marriage saga between Aliap and Bor subtribes of Dinka has surprisingly measured the depth of ignorance our people are still wallowing in. By now, one would think South Sudan in general, or a tribe like Dinka in particular, has arrived at the current world’s level of awareness in terms of girl education, or gender equality and women’s rights for that matter. Yes, in most cases, a girl must be the final decision maker in choosing her future husband, which is not now true with our current economically altered traditional setting.
With the ongoing debate on the controversial marriage of this teenage village belle from Awerial, one is shocked at the level of hypocrisy our educated people are exhibiting in such a way that they are sacrificing the rights of the girl for that of the culture. This debate of cultural or community rights above the individual human rights is peddled mostly by the male half of the social divide; most disappointingly the supposedly enlightened lot!
4- As mentioned in No. 2 above, this teen marriage incident has glaringly exposed moral corruption by our political or community leaders — parents not spared, either. It is very regrettable at this age that our leaders would use their ill-gotten wealth to manipulate the poor and desperate families of innocent young girls into selling their children and corrupting the tradition of a people for their individual benefits. Most leaders, from the very top to the bottom, are using their political and economic positions to take advantage of their war-ravaged people; to be specific on the victims, the womenfolk.
Confidentially, to shed a little light on this social vice, a friend once told me that he could not believe seeing a well prepared bed in a side room attached to the office of one big man. I hear it is for the big man’s rest once he feels like. Unfortunately, these could be snares for ladies desperately looking for favours from such leaders!
5- Here, the fifth point on my observation in all this hullabaloo about the village marriage by town heavy weights is the power of the Media, especially the Social Media. The story has alarmingly spread within the shortest time both at home and across the world. Like on the previous arrests of our activists, our communities and their partnering world of humanity have collaborated encouragingly in the defence of the rights of the young girls of South Sudan in the person of the towering and young daughter of Ngong Deng Jalang. Despite the political censorship on our citizens through the suppression of home media, the voices of the voiceless have finally penetrated the ceiling of malice!
In conclusion, this experience should not only leave us, Dinka folks and the rest of the world, condemning either way, but meditating and debating on the areas of improvement on our parasitic cultural practices. For instance, the issue of consulting the bride-to-be after the parents and community have inspected the wealth of the suitors is corruption in the style of disguised rigging. To avoid such blatant ‘bride auctioning’ craze, call it ‘girl rush’ for this ‘social wealth’ (girls), our people must shun marriage publicity and pomposity. I hereby condemn the ongoing love extravaganza and marriage bonanza in Awerial over an innocent, illiterate, young village girl.