Disgruntled with Southern Sudan National Anthem (Part I of II)

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Monday, 11 October 2010 05:05
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penn(Kampala) - Our past and present are full of history thieves, dating back to those who edited the version of our national history from 'The Entry of the Arabs into Sudan' to 'The Entry of the People into Sudan', to those wannabes who thumb their chests, "We liberated this country", while they actually were busy stabbing on the back the real freedom fighters, most of whom are no longer alive today. I cannot forget even those who are sneaking their shoddy works of assumed poetry into our unborn nation's history in the name of the national anthem.

Having said that, I have been forced to come back to regular ‘columning’ that I dropped since my last piece here. I have come back because some issues to do with our nation are loudly calling for our rational discerning. Chief among these is how some quack professionals, the self-ordained architects, I mean the hero wannabes, are not only distorting but also extorting our history.

This is worth repeating for emphasis, before I rewind our history and remind the modern historians of how the latest arrivals to Sudan, those who ordained themselves ‘First Class Citizens’, are not only unearthing our oil but also excavating our history for their own consumption-- it is not my own assumption that there is a generation of generals and other pen-pickers squeezing themselves into our future history. By future history, I mean the current events. One of them is the national anthem.

But before I dig deep into the national anthem, I cannot do without apologizing to whoever bears the title ‘General’. I am not generalizing the generals; I am specializing and analyzing on those ones who jump into our non-General affairs with their titles of general in CAPITAL LETTERS. Our constitution has eyes, ears and brain. Of course, we humans download our brains into the book and call it ‘The Supreme Constitution’ just as the Saviour Jesus Christ or the Prophet Mohammed downloaded his mission and vision into a book and have it called The Holy Bible or The Holy Quran. What do I mean here? Our national institutions should respect our national constitution.

Our national (interim) constitution states or even dictates that no armed person should vie for a civil position, unless s/he resigns first. We must heed to this article in the constitution (Honourables and Your Excellencies, please read it again and again) so that after our independence any other ‘George Athor’ (now being forgiven) shall not go for campaign with his body guards and AK47 on his back. That is an example of an abuse of our national constitution. There is even an abuse or misuse of our national anthem. How do you expect a bunch of generals, professionally armed with not only weapons of mass destruction but also words of most distraction (WMD), to sit down and compose a national anthem that would not install a war virus into our future, such as the first line of the current Khartoum's Government's national anthem: "We are the soldiers of Allah..". And without shame, we all, Christians like me included, open our mouths wide to declare that we are the Mujihadeens (holy Islamic warriors) during every formal function. Shame on us, me included. We have just emerged out of war with our swords of war, so why would you appoint them (Generals) to merge the verses of our national anthem with words of war. Remember, we are still in war, at least a war of words with our former masters and future neighbours.

By the way, if you think I am criticizing those who ‘sacrificed’ for over two months to make sacrosanct some words that would make a sensible theme for our anthem, you are as wrong as I am. I am not criticizing the ‘national anthem’ panel of experts; I am just critiquing the national anthem channel of expertise. And mind you, don’t think I have joined the opposing committee just because I have been excluded from the proposing committee, the composing community or editing team (if at all there was), no, I am just saying that that national song is not what it should be. I have no problem with whether the poets or lyricists and their editors have ever tried this in the classroom or whether they did it by age and sage the Sudanese way, my problem is that that song is not what it should be. Why?

One, the advert itself, apart from other literary complexities, told me I was not qualified for the composition of that song. As a poet, I have a belief that “Art”, as Leo Tolstoy still believes it in his grave, “is not a handicraft but the transmission of the feeling the artist has experienced”. Simply, the restrictions on what to write, how to write it, when to write it, etc. did not match with the freedom of creativity or art and kills the spirit of competition. For the best result of art to be realized, there must be freedom, and being in freedom in anything means being random in everything of choice. That is why we want our referendum to be of one’s freedom, because free choice has no strings attached in terms of ‘DOs and DONTs.’ The first ‘Do’ I disliked in the advert of the anthem is that it must be seven stanzas. I think my fellow Christians would bear me witness that the 7-verse hymns that were popular in the ECS church of Dinka congregation during the emotional and spiritual warfare are nowadays avoided during these days of economic welfare. Nobody would wish to sing for seven  or more or even less minutes while standing in the church service slated for one and half hours, just as it would not be bearable for a crowd of businessmen and students to stand up for seven verses of a national anthem in our head-roasting sun of Southern Sudan. It would not only make the singers run out of gas but would also make the composers run out of words which, literature dictates, must not be repeated in later verses. I heard that some general, or a group of the likes, just sprang up from their chairs and dictated, “Let there be a national anthem, with seven verses”. Either they (or I) forgot to add “and each verse with seven lines…” or so for the best rhythm and everything of that kind.

And one of the verses was pre-empted and loaded with our oldest oral tradition, some of which was composed as part of emotional incentives to our freedom fighters during the struggle, or biblical history that is still calling for the verification of those distant past historians or scribes that put the Bible together. According to The Citizen newspaper, the only daily in Juba (August 5), pompous and sumptuous terms of assumption such as “Garden of Eden, Origin of Mankind, the Pride of Africa, blessed with many riches, rivers, valleys, mountains, and the brave people. “ were published as verse two of the seven, praising the land. The advert continued, “…the seven verses MUST be simple in language, have the same tune, brief and concise, and must be in English.”

The last part of the advert “…and must be in English” was bitterly disputed in the Southern Sudanese artists meeting at South Sudan Hotel on September 15 by one still-singing mama who claimed to have been just put among the Southern Sudan National Anthem Committee members but she could not even say her name in English. She said in Dinka, “How about we who come from the village (Lakes state) and do not compose in a language other than our mother tongues? For example, as a member of the national anthem committee, I have been of the opinion that the anthem be in local language.” Her naïve complaint that was even out of the context of that meeting attracted giggles and jitters of whose mother’s tongue our mother wanted the national anthem to have been in. I for one wondered if she was one of the ‘panel of literary experts’ that sat on September 14 at Home and Away (official) Business Centre, where the anthem was mutilated to four verses and finally approved and advertised for tuning, just to hear that the lawmakers discarded it a week later, with some generals still pushing it back and forth with the hope that their names be included in the history as best poets who produced an eternal hymn of the yet-to-be-named country, having already been born in our hearts.

The procedure of collecting, selecting, editing and releasing the final anthem was absurd. For instance, on September 14, I happened to stray into Home and Away with my colleague (an artist) who was invited by another invitee to attend the final session of the releasing of the lyrics (words form) of the ‘final national anthem’. As we wandered around, a stern notice, that should have been placed at the SPLA Military Headquarters’ gate: “Thai Restaurant for SPLA Today”. As we wondered and pondered in dilemma over the ambiguous notice, a Good Samaritan handpicked us to where a crowd of musicians and technicians had now come face to face over the national project that had taken weeks in terms of time and money. I hovered over like a northern spy and in order to escape the undeserved lunch, quit with heavy regrets of why I involuntarily invited myself to the place of literary gurus of Southern Sudan.

*John Penn de Ngong is a Southern Sudanese journalist, a founding editor of The Younique Generation Magazine (a youth-oriented mouthpiece published and distributed in and beyond Sudan, packed with unique techniques, critiques, news, views, interviews, reviews, previews, overviews, etc. by the Southerners, for the Southerners, with the Southernness of the Sudan….). He is also a poet (over 300 poems under one title 'The Black Christs of Africa') and an essayist. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Blog: ustassgroup.wordpress.com