This collection of articles first appeared in The Pioneer weekly newspaper. Its founding editor, Atem Yaak Atem, invited me to contribute a weekly column of historical pieces that we decided to entitle “Past Notes and Records”. Back in the early 1980s when we were colleagues in the Regional Ministry of Culture and Information I had written a series of articles called “The Streets of Juba” for The Southern Sudan Magazine, which Atem had also founded. In those articles I gave brief biographies of some of the famous South Sudanese after whom some of Juba’s main streets had been named, and in many ways “Past Notes and Records” is a continuation and expansion of that earlier series.
The pieces are intended to inform and to stimulate discussion and debate. The history of South Sudan has been a neglected subject. Much of the academic history about South Sudan has been written about foreign rulers rather than about South Sudanese communities and individuals. The history of South Sudan and South Sudanese was not included in the Sudan school syllabuses and is usually excluded from the general political histories of Sudan. There is still no reliable textbook on South Sudanese history for use in its schools. South Sudanese may know something about the past of their own communities, but few have had the opportunity to learn much about the broad history of their nation or how it fits into the wider region.
The columns in this collection were originally addressed to a South Sudanese readership, and it is primarily for that readership, both at home and abroad, that they are republished here. This book is neither a comprehensive overview of South Sudan’s past, nor a record of the most important events or historic personalities. It is more like a selection of snapshots from a family album. The re-discovery of the past and the writing of history is a never-ending process. This booklet is only a beginning, a small offering to mark South Sudan’s achievement of independence. It is an open invitation to South Sudanese to research and write more about their own past.
Dr Douglas H. Johnson is a scholar specialising in the history and affairs of Sudan and South Sudan. He is a Fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. Dr Johnson’s contacts with the two countries go back to more than four decades ago, beginning with time as a graduate student of prophecy among the Nuer people in the 19th and 20th centuries. His field work concentrated in central Upper Nile Province. In mid-1970s young Johnson joined the Regional Ministry of Culture and Information in Juba as assistant director for archives, a position in which he collected and classified documentary material from provincial capitals of the Southern Region. The files were later housed in Juba. Over the years, the historian has tirelessly worked with institutions and recently with the Government of South Sudan for the establishment of a national archive in Juba. Dr Douglas Johnson became a member of the Abyei Boundary Commission following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the Sudan’s armed conflict in 2005. He is an author and editor of several books on Sudan and South Sudan. Among these are The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, Nuer Prophets: A History of from the Upper Nile in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, The Upper Nile province Handbook (editor). The last tome has been reissued as a paperback by the African World Books, the publisher of this volume.