Nuer dance group during Ethiopian all-tribes cultural event celebration in Gambella town, capital of Gambella regional government, December 9, 2015 (Photo: Nyamilepedia/file).

Nuer dance group during Ethiopian all-tribes cultural event celebration in Gambella town, capital of Gambella regional government, December 9, 2015 (Photo: Nyamilepedia/file).

May 01, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —– Are all Nuer of Gambella refugees really as anti-peace campaigners recently exposed? Was there UNHCR in the world when Nuer lived at Matar, Kurthoony…and Jokow?

These are a few questions that I would like to ask so that those who publicize false information about Nuer will stop preaching groundless history to their children and others people who know nothing about Gambella. I would like to start my article by quoting what Robert O Collins wrote regarding the origin of Anyuak. I took much information from an article of Robert O Collin so that my source will appear accurate.

According to Robert O, Anyuak are a Luo-speaking people of the Eastern Sudanic language family that includes the Western Nilotic Luo in the Bahr al-Ghazal and the Luo of Kenya and the Maasai of Tanzania. The original homeland of the Luo appears to have been the Gezira, the “island” of fertile land between the Blue and White Niles south of Khartoum. What Robert O wrote is also in Grade 4 text book entitle ‘Thok Nath Bok Nguaan and Ruaacni Africa, page 22. The Book was revised by Gatwech Peter Kulang Chol in 2000. Here is the sentence in that Nuer text book, “Bär-Anyuak, Khartoum.”

By the fourteenth century oral traditions firmly stated that a group of Luo led by Gilo detached themselves from the main body, migrating north and east to the Sobat River, where some remained and the main body continuing upstream to settle at the base of the Ethiopian escarpment in the valleys of the Baro, Pibor, and Akobo rivers. They are known today as the Anyuak. That was how Anyuak came to the land they claimed to be their origin homeland today.

Here in the valleys of the Pibor and Akobo the great crisis in Anyuak society had occurred in nineteenth century after many years of Nuer raids that ended in the 1880s in an invasion that destroyed many Anyuak villages and the Anyuak were about to extinct.

Gradually, the Anyuak acquired firearms from Ethiopia. As the Anyuak became proficient in the use of guns, and rifles became increasingly available in Ethiopia, the Anyuak were soon far better armed than the Nuer, who continued to rely on shield and spears. Here, I would still make it clear that Anyuak obtained rifles, NOT as Ethiopians but as Sudanese who bought rifles from Ethiopia, but the Sudan government detached itself from the unstable events along the Ethiopian frontier because of the expense of administering the ‘wild territory’. “The wild territory” is what is called Gambella today. At that time, the main town of Gambella was wild border-NO PEOPLE AND NO BUILDINGS in the present town of Gambella. This was the reason Sudan did not want to waste its resources administering ‘wild land.’

In north of the Sobat the British faced inflexible opposition among the Gajiok, Gaguang and Gajaak sections of the Jikany Nuer who lived along the Ethiopian frontiers that they annually crossed to seek grazing. This Ethiopia frontier meant- Wanthowa, Kurthoony, Jokow, Lare, etc. Lare is a name of a cannibal which was killed with a spear of a man called Lop Nguen after it ate a girl called Par. Par is a daughter of a man called Kuok. Before Lare was killed, Nuer lived at Kurthony, Jokow, Mading, and Banyrial because they feared the Cannibal or Lare.

Question: Was there UNHCR before 1880s when Nuer lived at Jokow and Kurthoony? This question is for Anyuak who teach highlanders that Nuer came to Ethiopia as refugees. This is a deceitful claim because UNHCR was found in 1950s while Nuer lived in their present areas centuries ago. I am sure truthful Anyuak will agree with me here!

That wild land–Gambella, was difficult to reach. The British regarded Gambella as a miserable place. It could only be reached by steamer from June to November and REMAINED CUTOFF THROUGHOUT THE DRY SEASON. From June to November, Nuer used to take their products to the markets because that miserable frontier was use for trading purpose only.

According to oral story, Nuer reached a place which was occupied by government to take their products to the markets and buy millet but the millet in the market was not enough. Millet is tiny in size and round in shape; it can be white, gray, yellow or red and the term millet can be used for a variety of grains. Because the millet that Nuer expected to get in the market was not enough, they (Nuer) literally called the place in local language as Gäm-bἐl which was pronounced by foreigners as Gambel. When those who went to the market returned to Jokow and nearby villages, they called the place ‘Gambel which is today Gambella. At that time, Gambella was considered as part of Upper Nile by Sudan government.

Regarding the tribe that coined the name Gambella, Anyuak claimed that Gambella was named after an Anyuak chief who was over a hundred years old, who lived in a lonely tukul when the first Sudanese customs inspector, Ahmad Effendi Rifat arrived in 1905. I don’t know if the name of that old Anyuak man was Gambella and I have never heard an Anyuak with such a name up to present. If you ask me if there are Nuer with Name Gambele, I can recommend you to search them on Facebook and I am sure you can find them. Let me leave talking about this and make the important point clear here. Though Nuer and Anyuak used to come to the trading border which is Gambella today, they did not settle in it as a living place.

From 1902 to 1917, Gambella was administered by Sudan customs department and British customs inspectors, who supervised the collection of duties on coffee, hides, and beeswax from the districts of western Ethiopia in return for salt and cloth from the Sudan.

By 1920 Gambella possessed a shed and a house furnished with a table and a bed for the customs inspector. This was a time small houses were constructed in Gambella. In that year, few Ethiopians came to Gambella and as of 1920 no Ethiopian official of any importance had ever visited Gambella.

In March 1932 Anyuak from the Baro Salient crossed the Akobo, where they were joined by Sudan Anyuak, and marched seventy miles into the Sudan to attack the Murle south and east of Akobo Post. Here they killed the men, captured eighty women and children, and seized hundreds of Murle cattle which were quickly sold off in Ethiopia for rifles. Representations were made at the British Foreign Office and energetically followed up in Addis Ababa. The Sudan government demanded compensation for the men killed, the return of the women, children, and stock, and that the Ethiopian governments made every effort to establish its authority in the Baro Salient. A conference was held at Gambella between A. G. Pawson, governor of the Upper Nile, Ras Mulugheta, governor of Gore, and Fitaurai Haile Mariam, the acting governor of Sayo Province. Agreement was immediately reached and compensation paid forthwith by the Ethiopians.

The captives were ultimately returned. The importance of the Gambella Agreement was the assurance of Ras Mulugheta to establish Ethiopian administration along the frontier. Ras Mulugheta recommended to the emperor Kanyazmatch Majid Abud as Ethiopian Frontier Agent assigned to carry out the terms of the Gambella Agreement and to assert the power of the Lion of Judah over the Nuer and Anyuak of Ethiopia. That was the time Nuer and Anyuak became Ethiopians, but few Nuer and many Anyuak refused. Because Majority of Nuer agreed to be Ethiopians, Majid was very happy and he went north to Jokau, and crossed into Jikany Nuer country, where he claimed all the Gajiok and the Gajaak grazing in Ethiopia as subjects of the emperor, and announced his intention to collect tribute as a sign of their submission and as confirmation of Ethiopian authority over its territory.

As part of the Ethiopianization of the frontier, Majid had appointed Koryum Tut, a Gajaak Nuer chief living at Kurthony as Fitaurai on the north bank of the Baro. Koryum Tut traveled to Addis Ababa, where he was hosted and presented with a robe of honor and a shield and thereafter worked diligently to convince his fellow Nuer of the benefits of being Ethiopian subjects, but almost all Anyuak refused to be subjects of Ethiopians. Due to this, a large number of the Baro Anyuak on 26 May 1934 attacked soldiers of Kanyazmatch Majid and Majid was seriously wounded and he went back to Addis with his troops. He did not return to Gambella due to instability in different parts of the country.

When Italians controlled Gambella after Ethiopia failed to incorporate Gambella into the country, Major Colacino had mobilized the Nuer into a loyal Italian army. Colacino said, “It was as only by our conquest we have aroused sympathy towards Italy on the part of the Nuer and they look at us with hope and trust. It is necessary to protect and cherish our Nuer as well as the Sudanese Nuer. I would like to emphasis what Major Colacino said, “Our Nuer and Sudanese Nuer”. Here he meant that there are Nuer of Gambella (i.e. Nuer of Ethiopia today) and Nuer of Sudan that he called Sudanese Nuer at that time. Major Colacino further said, “We should enroll under our banner thousands and thousands of these magnificent Nuer . . . warriors at heart, frugal, dignified, solid, faithful, and grateful.” At that time Nuer together with Italians defeated British from the town. Major Colacino love Nuer as troops of a new Italian African army in Gambella. Different from this, Major Colacino had less faith in the Anyuak whom he described as ‘unreliable, deceitful, garrulous, empty-headed, and completely given over to idleness and lust.’

By 1945 Gambella was overrun by some sixteen Amhara officials and a hundred police. In the spring of 1945, a business profits tax was imposed by the Ethiopians at Gambella which, like the monopolist policies of the Italians, was designed to force out all non-Ethiopian merchants. In the succeeding year a large Ethiopian force marched to Gambella. Trade at Gambella came to an end in January 1947 when Ethiopia ordered that all merchants must obtain passports in person from Addis Ababa to trade at Gambella. Those who remained in Gambella were the indigenous people of Gambella- Nuer, Anyuak, Majang, Opo and Komo together with highlanders who their children still live in Gambella up to present.

On 24 April 1956, a Sudanese delegation consisting of Sayyid M. O. Yassein and the permanent undersecretary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs met in Addis Ababa with the Ethiopian vice-minister for Foreign Affairs, Blatta Dawit Ogbagzy and, from the Ethiopian Finance Ministry, Ato Menassie Lemma, and agreed to hand over Gambella to the Imperial Ethiopian government on 15 October 1956. Thus, the Baro Salient remained firmly in Ethiopian hands.

In short, Ethiopians Nuer lived in the land of Gambella long before Gambella was handed over Ethiopia government in 1956. Therefore, those who claimed that Nuer of Gambella are refugees are anti-peace promoters and both regional government and federal government should deal with them. We, Ethiopians Nuer, had strongly condemned the killing of innocent highlanders as a revenge for two South Sudanese girls who were accidentally hit and killed by a car driven by highlander who worked for ACF just for having common skin-color with the driver. This brutal act is also condemned by some South Sudanese refugees at the camp. In addition to this, Ethiopians Nuer had condemned the highlanders of Gambella for mobilized their follow men and killed Two-Ethiopians Nuer who had no connection with the murderers at Jewi camp. We also condemned anti-peace campaigners for dishonoring current governor of the region and reported it on ESAT TV that the president is a South Sudanese refugee and for stoned his vehicle. On behalf of Ethiopians Nuer, I finally would like to express my deep gratitude to Ethiopia National Defense force and Ethiopia Federal police for protecting the region from both external and internal threats. I would also like to thank Ethiopians Nuer for not responded -unjustified retaliation of both South Sudan refugees and Gambella highlanders.

May God restore Gambella back to its glory!

Bol Bouny is a concern Ethiopian Nuer Living inside the country. You can reach him via


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