Disgruntled with Southern Sudan National Anthem (Part 2 of 2)

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Sunday, 17 October 2010 17:40
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"Phrases like “black warriors’ may not make sense to our grand children 50 years later, or may be an embarrassment to a school mixed with Arabs, Africans, Americans, Europeans, etc. children, who will have been citizens of this country in that distant future. Or are we not aware that our country being as in this biblically rich lyrics, “an Eden, a land of milk and honey and hardworking people”, and also oil, will be peopled with different modern races one day?" argues Penn de Ngong in this last installment (See the first part here). 

penn(Kampala) - I am not allergic to the army in anyway because I am a secondary soldier who is supposed to receive salaries if not ghosted by name the usual way. Your Excellency, do not bother trying to understand this, but please understand that 'SPLAing' everything that makes up this nation makes our army lose its dignity. I am trying to avoid involving SPLA in embarrassing situations such as the humiliation one of our commanders caused our students and Sudanese community in Uganda some years back. It is said that a general attended a formal school ceremony of his children and upon being given a chance to speak rose majestically, punched the Uganda air with one Tyson blow and screamed, “SPLA Oyee! SPLA Oyee!”

Every Ugandan was fooled except one, of course, none other than his younger son (like son like father) echoed the war cry. It  then made a story of the week.

And if you think the addiction of 'oyeeing' every speech is a concoction by sad satirists like this one, then let’s go back to our National Anthem of Southern Sudan, entitled: South Sudan Oyee!

Before you ask someone whether this writer is committing treason, let me ask Your Excellency, is Oyee! a civilian cry! A military war cry? It is not in the dictionary, neither is it well defined in the google search machine. It is just some informal surprise interjection. Every word in a song or poem must count. I know Oyee! is a great word to us. But that we cannot define it to our children and their children’s children who may not know how it came about . Or they will think we did not know things during our days.

It is not only that but also the jumpy use of the name of our 2011 nation is mind-boggling. The song’s title is South Sudan (Oyee) but the content is either Cush, Eden or South Sudan in the lyrics. This begs a serious question of law. What is the name of our today’s country?

Of course Sudan, and the region ‘Southern Sudan’, not South Sudan. Southern is a geographical adjective (description of the region) but South Sudan is a country, not yet allowed by the CPA till January 2011. And since we are making an anthem that will either be sung or be sunk into a new history next year, we are like singing a lullaby (baby song) of an unborn baby, of which the name is a prominent problem. And if that committee, and their successive successors in this profitably prolonged project (which was done in Uganda or USA by one person) thinks South Sudan is going to be the name after another referendum of naming the new nation, why throwing in Cush, Eden, etc.?

Are they trying to indirectly set another agendum of debating the name before the referendum? The name of the would-be new country being another topic next day. 

My argument is squarely on the use of words for the sake of words. Literarily, it is allowed to use allusion, that is, borrowing allegorical terms from other sources to imply the main topic, such as Eden, Cush, etc. but not when they stir up public confusion and debate. It is to be observed that the committee should have considered the lifespan of some English words. Language being a dynamic (changing) system, words, like human beings, have their own lifespan; in medical terms, an expiry date. For example, phrases like “black warriors’ may not make sense to our grand children 50 years later, or may be an embarrassment to a school mixed with Arabs, Africans, Americans, Europeans, etc. children, who will have been citizens of this country in that distant future. Or are we not aware that our country being as in this biblically rich lyrics, “an Eden, a land of milk and honey and hardworking people”, and also oil, will be peopled with different modern races one day? Words such as ‘warrior’ will be an offence to a peace-loving generation to come.

Since the advert calls for uniform rhymes and rhythms, I have found it difficult to keep the same metre of some lines that lack end rhyme schemes such as the second line of the second stanza: “Arise, shine, raise your flag with the guiding star” with its sister line of the third stanza: “Let's stand up in silence and respect…”. With the first being longer and wordier than the second line, it becomes impractical to merge the intention of the lyric writer and the tune composer of the same song. I would rather the committee puts another advert with the competitors doing both the lyricking (wording) and the tuning (voicing). The method employed by Southern Sudanese National Anthem Committee was equally impractical those days to our older nation builders such as USA, Uganda and Kenya. The committees had to be resolved and the song privatized and advertised to make it cheaper and quicker.

One thing in common with revolutionary anthems like the Uganda’s and the America’s is that they were composed by individual nationalists just in one day. That is how William Kakoma of Uganda came up with the current 3-versed Uganda National Anthem, and the US’s Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of the USA’s ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. The 4-versed poem was written in 1814 and had been undergoing maturity stages until recognized in 1931 by the US Congress as the official national anthem. What does this mean? We should not panic if we do not have a unanimously accepted national hymn by January next year, as with or without it, the nation will still be born. But it is better we sing it.

Finally, it's worth noting how some mediocre visionaries are unprofessionally forcing their names into the history. For example, by the time the final draft was released to the public by the committee, some Hon. Lt. General had already sent his version of the refused poem (Sept. 6), and The Citizen copied and pasted it as a centre-spread feature with a justifying alarming title: South Sudan National Anthem! Every reader was shocked to see a speech directed to the deceased heroes in a style of ‘Hail Mary’ rosary being called national anthem. I am always disgusted during our national days when one of Their Excellencies is called upon to read a poem, which eventually turns into a long boring speech. As if that is not enough, the same paper published on the front page on August 7, “1952 Poem revived for National Anthem”. Before one even asks the relevance of the 1952 old man’s opinions (entitled: The Time of Slavery is Past: Song of Late Chuol Chot Per in 1952) on the political development in Sudan, one would wonder why and how the poem was picked before the official date. Another disgusting one on the same front page carried “Equatorian Song of 70s by Gabriel Gatwech Puoch…”

And if really it is not the act of smuggling some relatives into the history of this country, why would somebody publish a poetaster such as exactly quoted thus: “All the Southern, all the Southern, all the Southern all the South, Help and well spray my tiding for the golden future, ring shall, Beneath from our noses and hardness from our backs swept ring and spark, Shall rust for ever fuel will no more shall crack…”? 

And the boredom continues with similar crap being published everyday in the name of our National Anthem. Now let me quit but not without asking: If such things are intentionally done, would we blame those who term us not yet ready to go it our own way? The mess is all about nepotism, tribalism, favouritism and every ‘-ism’ sort of development virus, the new way to set a thief to catch a thief nowadays. As per the name of the new country, check my argument published in The Younique Generation magazine (ustassgroup.wordpress.com), to be posted on this website sometimes later. Watch out against our history thieves!

 *John Penn de Ngong is a Southern Sudanese journalist, a founding editor of The Younique Generation Magazine (