Illustrations: Hannah Rounding
In South Sudan there are various ethnic groups that have been living at odds with one another for decades. Once South Sudan became independent, violence quickly broke out between the various groups. In 2013, two years after independence was declared, a bloody civil war broke out between the government and the opposition parties. Even though a peace agreement has now been signed, distrust and conflict are still very much the order of the day. Through its Na'eesh Mabadh cross media project, Free Voice wants to close the gap between the various groups.
Putting together and sharing stories
Na'eesh Mabadh means “We live together” in Arabic. A very appropriate name for a project that is bringing the people of South Sudan closer together using folktales. Folktales are deeply rooted in South Sudan’s culture. They often carry a message about standards and values that are shared by all of the ethnic groups. Sharing these stories can help the people to talk about the problems that are affecting South Sudan right now. Themes that are too painful or too personal to talk about directly or to start a conversation about, can often be voiced by discussing these folktales.
The communities themselves propose which of the traditional stories should be used in the Na'eesh Mabadh radio series. Three different conflict areas are represented: Renk, Pibor and Bentiu. A selection of the stories proposed are made into a radio series, which can be heard throughout the country.
The stories have also been made into a book that is distributed across Juba, the capital. The website, Facebook group and street theatre shows encourage people to join in the discussion and to share their own stories. This is how a unique collection of folktales from all parts of South Sudan has been put together, aiming at creating peace.
Making a difference
The radio series got off the ground in April 2016. The Creative Director of the project is very optimistic about the possible success of the programme: “Whilst I was enjoying a cup of tea in a café, I overheard two ladies and two men talking about the ‘Mother-in-law’ story that featured in our programme. We got talking and I told them about Na'eesh Mabadh. They said that they very much looked forward to hearing the programme on the radio. This made my day. I think we are going to make a very big difference in people’s lives.”
Below is an example of one of the folktales. You can find many more stories on theNa'eesh Mabadh website.
Story about the Birds' Election
Once upon a time there was a birds’ election. Four of the birds said they would lead the rest. They were Crow, Kite, Owl, and Great Blue Heron.
All the birds had a meeting and suggested that the criteria for becoming a leader is that only the small ones should be nominated for leadership. But Great Blue Heron also wanted to be the birds’ leader. This is how Crow became a leader amongst all the birds.
There was a meeting to discuss who should be chosen to be the leader. The four birds above were compared: Great Blue Heron, Crow, Owl, and Kite. Each of them wanted to lead. Great Blue Heron was given a task to divide fish amongst the birds. He decided to do so according to the body size; if you were a small bird you should take small fish. And if you were a big bird, you were given a big fish. Kite protested and said with a loud voice, ”Do you see what Great Blue Heron is doing? He is keeping the big fish for himself!” Kite then grabbed the fish. Both of them were disqualified for unfair distribution and not being patient respectively.
The two remaining birds were Owl and Crow. The birds said, “Owl is moving only at night, how can someone who does not move during the day lead us?”
So Crow was unanimously nominated to become the leader of the birds. They accepted Crow for its compassion, and it is a patient and peaceful bird. If any animal or human being dies in the bush the crow must first remove the eye as a sign of authorization for the other birds to eat.
This is why no one is allowed to kill the crow among the Nuer people.