Hundreds in South Sudan welcome prophet's rod

Rod returns to Sudan 80 years after being looted by British


A ceremonial stick looted by British troops 80-years-ago and seen as a symbol of tribal power for the region was cheered home in southern Sudan on Saturday.

Prophet Ngundeng Bong's stick or "dang" was taken as a trophy after a victory over the region's Nuer tribe in 1929.

His followers say he predicted a Nuer leader would rule an independent south and many in the chaotic crowd saw the return as a potent sign for South Sudan, which has been promised a referendum on independence from north Sudan in 2011.

British academic Douglas Johnson returned the rod after buying it at an auction in Britain in 1999 from the family of the British district commissioner; it was officially received by South Sudan's vice president, Riek Machar, who is a Nuer, the south's second largest tribal group.

As the plane carrying Johnson and the rod arrived, ululating supporters rushed on to the runway at Juba airport, surrounding the aircraft, as Nuer warriors leapt into the air waving sticks and shields.

"The chosen one is coming soon. That man he is here in the airport," said one of the revellers, Chan Keuth, referring to Machar. Keuth carried a banner reading: "No peace in southern Sudan without Ngundeng."

South Sudan fought the north in a two-decade civil war that ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The chosen one is coming soon. That man he is here in the airport

Chan Keuth

A controversial figure

Machar received the rod on the airstrip then led the crowd on a jubilant tour of the airport, ending in the car parking lot, where a white bull was slaughtered.

The vice-president is a controversial figure in the south's former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which is led by southern president Salva Kiir, a member of the region's largest ethnic group, the Dinka.

Machar split off from the SPLM during the civil war in 1991, sparking bitter and bloody in-fighting, before rejoining the movement just before the 2005 peace deal.

Johnson said the prophet used songs and prayer to call for an end to tribal violence in the south. The prophet's pipe and drum have already been returned to the region.

The rod, which is made from the root of a tamarind tree and decorated with copper wire, is due to be taken back to the prophet's former base near the village of Waat.