Shilluk People in front of an  Imperial Airways Aircraft - Malakal circa 1936
Shilluk People in front of an Imperial Airways Aircraft - Malakal circa 1936

May 21, 2016
By: Jwothab Othow

Sudan Tribune website published on 15 May 2016 an article by Dr Francis Ayul Yuar titled: “Dinka Padang Borders with Shilluk in Upper Nile”. The article was an attempt to establish that the group of Jieng (Dinka) sections who of late called themselves “Dinka Padang” occupied the eastern bank of the White Nile to the exclusion of the Shilluk in 12-15 century AD from Wunthou (north of Renk) to Fangak.

To prove his point the author claims that the Shilluk “settled in their today west bank” in the 18th century AD. The author did not cite any reliable references to prove his point on the claimed dates of the settlement of neither the Dinka nor the Shilluk. This paper is to refute some of the outrageous claims he made albeit in the name of history.

Shilluk settlement

The Shilluk nation is a well-established kingdom with known hierarchy of kings and one queen who reigned from the moment the tribe settled in the current Shilluk land in the 16th (not the 18th) century. The migration of the Shilluk was also connected with the dispersion of their brethren the Lwoo tribes from Wij-Pac resulting in the current Anuaks, Luo of Kenya and Bahr el Ghazal, Acholi, Thuro, Chat, etc. Therefore, the date of that migration is not a matter of guess work, as the author is trying to do, but confirmed by the oral traditions of these tribes that span many countries in the East African region.

The claim by the author that the Dinka were in east bank since the 12th century does not give an explanation to the well-known settlement of the Anuak along the Sobat River until they were displaced by the Nuer in subsequent waves of migration. The author quotes Dr Lam Akol’s 2010 paper and avoided to quote his most recent book titled: “Collo Boundary Dispute”, 2016, which dealt with the fight between Collo (Shilluk) and the Bel on page 11. The Bel have been established as Anuaks and when Collo defeated them at the time of Reth Dhokoth Bwoc (1679 – 90) they moved southwards joining their kith and kin along the Sobat river. The version of the author is a tall order in a number of respects. It suggests that the Shilluk fought the Dinka, a preposterous claim supported by neither the Collo nor the Dinka oral history. It also suggests that it is the Dinka who defeated the Funj Kingdom driving them “to their present home of Blue Nile State”. If this were to be true, then the Dinka could not have come to the area in 12 -15 century AD as the author claims. The Funj Kingdom or the Black Sultanate as it is also known, was established around the present day Khartoum in 1504 AD; the 16th century. Which Funj then did the Dinka defeat in 12-15 century? The Funj Kingdom dominated the area around Khartoum and the White Nile to Sennar (where the capital was later moved) and beyond for three centuries until they were defeated by the Turks in 1821. When Collo came to the area they dealt only with the southern fringes of the Funj Kingdom. The two kingdoms existed side by side until 1821. Furthermore, if it were true that it were only the Dinka who were on the eastern side of the White Nile, the author must explain when and how were the Dinka displaced by the Shilluk on that side of the Nile.

The author misses the point by quoting P.M. Holt out of context. History tells us that there are two theories on the origin of the Funj. Holt is a proponent of the theory that the origin of the Funj was Shilluk but the latter are categorical that they found the Funj in the area and displaced them. No doubt the Sultanate had some royal rituals similar to those of the Shilluk royal court but this was due more to cultural influence than to common origin. Similar Lwoo influence is found in the Buganda Kingdom in Uganda.

Latjor Migration

Despite the precise date the author posits as the date Latjor migrated to Nasir area through north of Melut, he got it all wrong. Reliable historical evidence tells us that Latjor moved through the western fringe of Shilluk land and crossed north of Melut around 1821. He proceeded eastward but was reported to have lost his direction. Then he and his group decided to come backwards and settled at the present day Paloic (Pa-loj) where they spent some years before resuming his journey around 1835. This was the time of Reth Awin Yor whose reign also saw the waves of migrations of the Nuer from Liech (Bentiu) to east of Bahr el Jebel. Shilluk oral history including songs confirms this last date. Reputable authorities on Nuer and Dinka migrations such as Professor Raymond C. Kelly (the Nuer Conquest, 1985) and Bimbashi H. Wilson (The Dinka of the White Nile, 1903) attest to these facts. That Latjor found some Dinka in the area where he crossed the White Nile in the 19th century is consistent with the Shilluk history on the movements of the Dinka into that area.


The author exposes his real intentions when he averred:” Any distortion of these empirical facts is nothing but fallacies cooked by few intellectuals of Shilluk with the intention to rewrite the history of South Sudan a fresh (sic)”. He arrogates to himself the monopoly of “facts”, which can never be a trait of anybody who claims to be a historian or student of history.

My advice to the author is that not any written material is a reliable source of history, the same way that not any elder is a reliable story teller. To be taken seriously one must get information from reputable sources and check and crosscheck any information one gets. Cobbling together irreconcilable pieces of information can hardly pass as history.

Shilluk Kingdom is now five centuries old. It is rich in culture, history and governance. One must be very careful when attempting to challenge its history.

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