‘Wan’ simply means ‘one’ in Tok Pisin, as in ‘wan, tu, tri, foa and faiv…’
If you are counting something, then you have to add ‘-pela’ to the number, i.e ‘wanpela poteto, tupela poteto, tripela poteto, foapela…’
By the way, ‘Em i gat tupela tang’ which means ‘He is hypocritical.’ But I digress. Back to ‘wan.’
‘Nambawan’ means ‘the best’.
‘Yumi wanbel?’ ‘Are we in agreement?” (‘Are we of one belly?’) By the way, ‘belhat’ means ‘angry,’ (not hot-headed but hot-bellied.) And ‘bel i bagarap,’ is defined as ‘to have an upset stomach’ or ‘to need to go urgently to the toilet.’ But I digress. Back to ‘wan.’
Your ‘wanblut’ is your blood relative and your ‘wanhaus’ is someone who lives in the same house as you.
Your ‘wanpilai’ is your playmate but your ‘wanples’ , (literally ‘one-place’), is someone who comes from the same village as you.
‘wanpes’, (literally ‘one-face’), means ‘looking the same’, as in ‘Tupela meri i wanpes.’ ‘The two women look alike.’
Your ‘wanskul’ is your schoolmate and your ‘wanwok’ is your colleague, as in ‘Wanwok bilong mi em bilong Madang.’ My colleague comes from Madang.’
And then we come to ‘wantok’, (literally ‘one-talk’), defined in the dictionary as ‘countryman, one who speaks the same language, a person of the same ethnic group, a kinsman, a close friend, a mate.’
‘Wantok’ sounds such a positive word, a bit like ‘motherhood’ and ‘apple-pie.’ However, it could be argued that it is the biggest force for under-development that this country faces. The same was true, to an even greater extent, in South Sudan.
‘Wantokism’ means favouring your ‘wantok’ above all others. Nothing wrong in that, you might think.
Certainly amongst the Dinka, your priority was always towards your ‘wantok’, starting with your own family and moving out to your clan and tribe. So if ever you found yourself in charge of poorly–controlled funds, or the appointment of staff, you knew where your loyalty lay. Your cousin gets the job.
The trouble with that is that once your cousin is behind his undeserved desk, performing badly, if at all, because he doesn’t have either the skills or the motivation to do the job, how do you get rid of him? The short answer is that you can’t. You can’t discipline a ‘wantok’, much less put him out of a job, because that would damage the family, the clan or the tribe. So any kind of performance management or accountability goes straight out of the window.
In Rumbek, the Ministry of Education for Lakes State was housed in a rickety old house that, in colonial times, had been the house of the headmaster. There had been no maintenance done on it since those days. The walls were cracked, the glass-less window frames were rotten and the rain came through the roof and dripped onto Linda’s desk. Somehow, the annual budget for maintaining the building never seemed to materialise.
The front door of the Ministry of Education, Rumbek, 2013
There were two other houses that belonged to the Ministry and they were just outside the main compound. It took two minutes to walk to one of them, ninety seconds to walk to the other. Sometimes documents had to be taken from one building to the other, so there was a need for messengers.
Every time there was a change of Minister, (there were two in the sixteen months we were there), the new Minister would appoint his sisters and his cousins and his aunts, not to mention his wives and his multifarious in-laws, as messengers. When The Minister was, subsequently, either dismissed, disgraced or redeployed, the new man would come in and do exactly the same. He wouldn’t bother sacking the people appointed by his predecessor, however, because they were all still Dinka, after all, even if a bit more remotely related. They were in fact, still ‘wantoks’.
The cumulative effect of this was that when we were there, there were 105 messengers on the Ministry payroll!
Most of them never turned up for work. Some were not even living in South Sudan any more. Some were reputed to have already died.
Two of the 105 at the front door of the Ministry.
Faithful followers of this blog might, justifiably, ask why this is the first time I’ve written about this. Well, now that I am safely beyond the reach of Major General Matur Chut Dhuol, the truth can be told.
Major General Dhuol was, and still is the Governor of Lakes State, of which Rumbek was, and still is, the capital. He spoke no English, and, to all accounts, was barely educated. He had, however, proved himself to be a ruthless, and much feared, military leader during the war. He was appointed by the President to bring order to what was seen as a pretty lawless state. His strategy was to basically ignore any concept of human rights or the rule of law and to give the security forces, (particularly the secret police), free rein to do whatever they wanted. When he banned alcohol throughout the State, guess where the truckloads of confiscated beer ended up. No prizes for the right answer.
There were four, heavily under-utilized, ‘tourist hotels’ in Rumbek, mainly used by aid agency staff and the occasional visitor passing through. In each of these hotels, except one, the security forces had demanded that a room be made permanently available to them for the entertainment of their lady companions. The owner of one of these hotels, an Indian, who had been reluctant to agree to this arrangement, was called to the security headquarters one day for interview. He was then locked in a latrine and given the opportunity to reconsider his response. When he agreed, he was released. The secret police had the keys to apartment 24.
Shortly after we arrived, the manageress of the hotel that had refused to allocate a room, a white Kenyan woman in her early twenties, was beaten up by the security police and had to be bundled onto a plane and flown out of the country for her own safety. The next manageress was less obstructive and keys were again made available.
In terms of my weekly blog, I was ninety-nine percent sure that the South Sudanese security services would not have had the technological expertise to monitor internet traffic, but you never know with technology. Being a devout coward, I wasn’t going to put it to the test by writing anything that might have earned me a visit from Major General Dhuol’s heavies and an unwelcome sojourn in the black hole of the infamous Langcok prison, into which many people were known to have been put and from which some never returned.
It is significant that nearly two years after his appointment, the Major General had signally failed to bring law and order to Lakes State. To all accounts, the lawlessness and the killings are as bad as ever, if not worse, and the general public is so alienated about the human rights violations and the heavy-handed, and thoroughly illegal, tactics used by the security forces, that there is no cooperation between the people and the police, so the chances of establishing any kind of law and order, slip ever further into the far distance.
To cap it all, several of the reports that have come out of Rumbek recently have suggested that a lot of the killing and highway robbery that has been occurring in and around Lakes State, has been carried out by relatives of the Major General himself.
That will, of course, explain why no-one has been arrested and no-one will ever be put on trial.
Rule No 1 is “You never shop a wantok!”