Southern Sudan: Celebrating our martyrs and hearing their pleas


SPLA soldiers

"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." - Tertullian

(Washington DC NSV) - Today, we celebrate the martyrs who fell in the struggle for justice in Sudan, a struggle that spans generations of men and women who resolved to challenge the prevailing institutions of oppression in their country. Many songs of veneration will be sung, and many encomiums to their selfless heroism will be uttered, and calls to honor them and their memory will be issued by both the mighty and the common folk. That is as it should be, and we are all duty bound, with whatever capacity we possess to remember them and honor them.

But in their exalted glory, the martyrs also ask of us something that goes beyond the tribute songs, the commemorative days and the monuments that we are poised to erect in their honor. Their martyrdom happened in the tough slog of war with fellow comrades, or as victims of a sadistic state executioner or an assassin’s bullet, and in myriad ways and forms. Their earthly heroics are beyond dispute, but their plea is for one more mission; one more excursion in the name of the ideals they lived, fought and died for.  That mission will not be waged in the trenches of the battlefields, or fought with rifles and marching formations. It will be waged in the hearts and conscience of the many women and men that are standing up today applauding them and praising them. It will ask of us more than drum beating and ululating, and instead challenge us to live up to their credo as martyrs.

The martyrs came from the heart and soul of the Sudanese people, and in that sense they are not prophets or saints. To exalt them is not to venerate their person, or to make paragons of virtue out of mere mortals. However, their lives and martyrdom provide a center of coherence for this struggle, both its costs and its aspirations. The huge loss of life that plagued the modern history of our country among both combatants and civilians represents an enormous cost that cannot be sidestepped in the euphoria of victory, no matter how big or small. By definition, the struggle was waged in the name of these multitudes that perished, and their loss regardless of whatever territorial gains or measures of political autonomy are won represents a huge tragedy.

It is that tragic loss that lies at the root of the challenge facing us who are alive, and that is to anchor our flailing ship upon the example of these martyrs, and accept their call for one more mission. It was the Carthaginian early Christian author Tertullian who said that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He meant to stress the fact that the sacrifices of those killed in the cause of his faith would germinate and grow to be the foundation of the persecuted Church. In the same way, the martyrs who died literally watered the roots with their bloods, and their example can and should be the foundation upon which the long suffering people can rebuild.

However, this seed is not an abstraction or a wonderful piece of prose to throw around during our celebrations. It has tangible application to our personal role as individual agents in this process of revolution, change and turmoil engulfing our country. The seed must find residence in our conscience so that we understand that the heroism of our patriots is not parochial, tribal, racial or religious. It must dwell inside us so that we understand that the sacrifices they fought for were for all folks and not just our kin, and that celebrating them can only be credible if we are willing to exercise those ideals they raised high in their heroism.

The martyrs we are celebrating came from all corners of Sudan, and go back throughout the span of our history. The contemporary martyrs from the Anyanya period and the SPLM/A obviously occupy a vivid presence in our popular imagination because it was not so long ago.  In the context of Southern Sudan, they come from all the communities inhabiting that part of Sudan. They represent the diversity of that region, and in their collective resting place, they have formed a powerful choir trumpeting admonitions and pleas to us. They call for our unity as a people; for fairness to prevail among us; for our government to be inclusive; for our children to be availed with a chance to go to school; for some of us to cease indulging in the vice of corruption; and most importantly, for this PEACE that we are enjoying to be consolidated.

Consolidating this peace would be the greatest tribute we can pay to them, because while the brave martyrs were content to die for the cause, they did so in the hope that no more young men and women follow in their footsteps. The only way to ensure that is for the living to live their lives propagating the principles and virtues that these great mortals died for.

*Parek Maduot is a contributor to The New Sudan Vision. He can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .