Thousands of women and children were taken into slavery during the decades of Sudan’s civil war, mainly from Northern Bahr El Ghazal (where the narrator was liberated) and the Nuba Mountains. Slave-taking was revived in 1985 by the National Islamic government of Sudan primarily as a weapon against counterinsurgents in the South, and secondarily a way to reimburse its surrogate soldiers for neutralizing this threat.
In 1989 the government created the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), militia trained to raid villages and take people as slaves. PDF recruits were allowed to keep whoever they captured, along with booty of grain and cattle. One study documents 12,000 abductions by name, while NGOs offer estimates ranging from 15,000 to 200,000. The slaves were often moved to large towns in the north on week-long journeys during which the women were repeatedly raped, and then sold to new masters who used them without pay for farming and sexual services. The peace process brought these PDF abductions to an end, but inter-tribal abductions continue in Southern Sudan. In addition, Sudanese children are used by rebel groups in the ongoing conflict in Darfur; Sudanese boys from the country’s eastern Rashaida tribe continue to be trafficked to the Middle East for use as camel jockeys; the rebel organization “Lord’s Resistance Army” has forcibly conscripted children in Southern Sudan for use as combatants in its war against Uganda; and the institution of chattel slavery continues in southern Darfur and southern Kordofan.
Yei was captured and sold as a slave to Abdullah who tried to force him to convert to Islam. When he refused, Yei was sent to a cattle camp.
I was caught together with my mother Abuk Acueri Yei. It was three years ago at the beginning of the rainy season. I tried to run away when the attackers came. I damaged my eye while I was running away through the bush. My master was Abdullah. He lived in a village called Acharob. Abdullah gave me the hat which I still wear. He would become very angry with me if I ever took it off. He wanted me to become a Muslim. I was called Naim, and he sent me to a khalwa, together with other slaves.
I rejected my new name and didn’t like to visit the khalwa. Because of this, my master beat me severely and sent me to a cattle camp where I had to stay. Some of my master’s other slaves who had been captured before me had to wear hats too. Some of them were recruited into Murahaleen army after spending some time at the khalwa. A man who had come to visit my master pierced my ears. He accused me of not listening properly to him. My mother was also released today. She stayed with a different master and I only saw her again on my way back. One of the sub-chiefs told me that my father is around.
Narrative as told to Christian Solidarity International, January 1999, in Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Sudan.