News / Africa

South Sudan Archivists Battle Rats, Termites, Time

South Sudan's archives, including photographs, documents, books, and papers are seen inside a tent in the capital Juba, May 18, 2012.
South Sudan's archives, including photographs, documents, books, and papers are seen inside a tent in the capital Juba, May 18, 2012.
Hannah McNeish
JUBA, South Sudan — As South Sudan approaches its first anniversary as a nation next week, officials are working on creating an archive to begin defining the nation’s history of struggle for independence.

In a steaming hot tent in South Sudan’s capital, papers that have survived rats, termites and almost five decades of civil war burst out of overstuffed sacks and litter the floor between mountains of files that contain a new nation’s entire history.

Archivist Yusef Fulgensio Onyalla heads a team tasked with turning these documents and shards of paper into archives.  They cover everything from maps and constitutions to cases of suspected witchcraft and the magazine subscriptions of former British rulers.

He is determined to preserve the history of South Sudan.  The country split from the north last July after almost 50 years of civil war that killed some two million people and forced the population to fight or flee.

“These documents are very important for us to write South Sudan’s history.  Before the war, we were taught all Sudan’s history, but there is nothing specific about South Sudan,” said Onayalla.

In 2007, two years after a peace deal ended the war, Onyalla led a team to rescue hidden documents found in places like dank basements and damaged by bats, cockroaches and rain.

What was salvageable is now housed in a large white tent -- donated by the U.S government -- and sitting next to one of the capital Juba’s busiest streets.  It was meant to be a temporary storage place, but these historical documents continue to suffer because of a lack of funding and the political will to go through them.

“A lot of deterioration happened like you can see here.  There were some files here and some termites attacked them and then we brought the spray to kill the termites and we lost a lot of important documents,” Onyalla noted. "Where termites once munched, nesting rats are now shredding."

It is a race against time before creatures and climate swallow South Sudan’s past.
These papers are becoming increasingly important, as the new nation battles Sudan about unresolved issues of disputed territory and oil-rich borders that, in its first year of statehood, briefly took the new nation back to war.

Onyalla says that maps have been found this year that show the boundaries of southern districts -- documents that the government hopes might help it win its case about land claims at arbitration if talks with Khartoum don’t succeed.

Thomas Becu, who returned from Uganda in 2006 and started archiving, thinks that it is vital for the South Sudanese to learn about their own history to build a national identity from the rubble of bloodshed, poverty and separation.

"It is my hope to see that it's really well preserved and really well recovered.  I think it will benefit not only the South Sudanese and the whole world to know, this new nation, where it belongs to, and what are their internal problems, maybe before independence," said Becu. "And after independence also."

Nicki Kindersley is one of three advanced history students from U.S. and British universities on a six-week project to try to clear the tent.  She rifles through these forgotten, crumbling documents to discover history on a daily basis.

“This is an incredible chance to do a national archive project and it's just such a shame that it stops and starts, and you start seeing some of the fabulous info that’s in there, but then you worry that some of it will be lost,” Kindersley stated.

One of the aims of the project is also to try and encourage the fledgling government -- starting from scratch to create basic institutions and a legal framework -- to pass legislation on record keeping.

Kindersley says this would grant archivists access to military and local government records from the war and central government records from 2005 to make sure that South Sudan’s history does not disappear again. “Otherwise, we risk having the same problem as we did during the early 1980s where we have lots of different centers with papers, that if anything goes wrong will be firewood, basically,” she said.

Until then, archivists sweat it out for hours a day, digging through reams of history, scanning and boxing it to ensure that South Sudan can understand its past before dictating its future.

You May Like

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godfrey Tsvuura from: Harare
August 01, 2012 11:05 AM
Very disheartened by the situation in South Sudan. I am an Archivist by Profession. Please responsible authorities, may you see the importance of keeping archives. Archives help to build the nation's future. In most cases, archivists are looked down upon and archival services taken as backyard function. very disheartened, may God help the Archivist who shape future society.


by: Courage from: Accra
July 12, 2012 2:06 PM
it is most disheartening to read such things. Am a records officer and it breaks my heart read all this especially in Africa. This should also also be a priority of regional and sub regional bodies.(AU, ECOWAS)We cant afford to loose our records.


by: TermitesHQ from: http://termiteshq.com
July 08, 2012 12:36 PM
There is a similar situation in Timbuktu, Mali whereby the historical record over several hundred years is at risk due to conflict and neglect. Most of the potentially priceless relics and archives are stored by families in trunks and cases where little is done to protect them from the elements.

Pests like termites can be a significant problem when the storage conditions are not ideal. An iron box may be helpful in keeping out rats, but not termites. In fact, not long ago a man in India lost around $200,000 to termite damage that occurred in his bank lock box. It shouldn't be difficult, when people pay attention, to detect and devise ways to kill termites in the setting mentioned above. http://termiteshq.com/how-to-kill-termites/

Regards.


by: Maria Leelavathi
July 06, 2012 2:44 AM
Am reminded of a portion of the book SHAPING A FREE SOUTHERN SUDAN (page 231) by Severino Fuli Boki Tombe Ga'le where he writes that the President of the Sudan African National Union (SANU), Mr. Joseph Oduho gave him all Movement's recent documents - in heaps, like paper thrown into a waste paper basket saying, "You are exprienced in office work and an administrator; you take care of them".
Again on page 235 while writing on SACDNU (SANU) Documentation he writes: "The documentation had been kept up to then in such a haphazard way that to read them was next to impossible. I set out to make an index. i bought over 60 filesand sorted out the documents into different headings. I picked out confidential files which could not be accessible to all and sundry and bought two iron boxes for their safe keeping. I began filing and paginating, adding references where necessary."
Today with improvements in technology and with a good team of committed archivists which have been together, i hope the documentation and archiving will be accomplished.All the best to the team. Perhaps they can be given an iron container with AC fitted?!

In Response

by: Fred from: VA
July 06, 2012 1:01 PM
Do they have access to scanners and solar power?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid