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Deim Zubeir – Slave route site

Date de soumission : 04/10/2017
Critères: (ii)(iii)(vi)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports
État, province ou région :
Western Bahr Elghazal Region – Raja – Wau
Coordonnées N7.715453 E26.192068
Ref.: 6275

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Deim Zubeir is an historical slave trench from the 19th century Slave trade located in Raja County in Western Bahr Elghazal State, in the Republic of South Sudan. Situated 675 km from the capital Juba and 70 km from the border of the Central African Republic, it is an area occupied by three ethnic groups: Balanda, Baya and Zande. The local community historically referred to this area as ‘Uyujuku’ but the name Deim Zubeir came about after a businessman called Zubeir Rahma Mansur, who came from northern Sudan to collect ivory, got involved in the slave trade business in collaboration with the Turco-Egyptian regime. As Deng D. Akol Ruay wrote in the The Politics of Two Sudans (1994): “The most powerful of these traders [coming from the North] was Zubeir Rahma Mansur, a Jaali who came to Bahr el-Ghazal in 1856. He established a large powerful Zariba[1] at Deim Zubeir (named after him) for the slaveraids.”

In 1866, Zubeir entered into alliance with the Baggara Arabs for safe passage of his slave-caravans through their territory to Kordofan. With an armed band of not less than a thousand men at his command, Zubeir created an empire whose raids in slaves reached probably as many as 1800 slaves in a single year. By 1860 the slave trade reached its peak in Southern Sudan and the African population there was on the threshold of extinction. In the opinion of Joseph Natterer, an Austrian consul in Khartoum, "there are no longer merchants but only robbers and slavers on the White Nile".

Zubeir Rahma constructed a trench and a fortification where slaves were kept awaiting to be transported to various destinations along the Nile northwards. The trench was built underground almost four meters deep and three kilometres long; wood and mud were used in the construction. The trench contains rooms used as prisons to confine the slaves, and on its edge is a tree renowned as a hanging place for slaves who attempted to escape from their captors. The slaves were gathered for the army and to be servants for the regime elites. This happened during the Ottoman period in Sudan 1821 up to 1877. Although the end of this period saw an abolition of the slave trade, traders continued to practice the slave trade clandestinely. The slave route was clear: from Bahr el Ghazal in what is today northwestern South Sudan across Sudan from Elfashir in Darfur to El Obied in Kurdufan and Khartoum, taking the Nile up to Egypt.

This site is also associated with the relationship between Zubeir Rahma and the British colonial authorities. The British at that time held a lot of respect and gratitude for Zubeir Rahma, as he helped them to administrate the areas.

Today, the Deim Zubeir slave trench is located by the present day main road from Wau to Rajain Wau County. It is not well maintained and needs urgent safeguarding to preserve its importance as a cultural heritage site. The tree that was notorious as the site of slave hangings remains next to the trench. The cave needs to be excavated and the prison rooms restored so that visitors can witness the sites history first hand.

Despite the contrasting views between the Sudanese and South Sudanese about the real character of Zubeir Rahma with regards to slave trade activities, the site remains a significant depiction of this painful memory. The Sudanese considered him as a national hero who fought the colonial forces and established his own state in western Bahr Elghazal, denying his involvement as a slave trader. The South Sudanese, however, emphasise his role as major slave trader and this is supported and recognised in most perspectives (local and academic) that reflect his role as a slave trader[2] who built a trench in the area in order to facilitate his slave business. The inhabitants of Uyujuku in South Sudan, firmly believe that Zubeir Rahma was a slave trader.

As a confinement area, the way it was constructed and the narratives about the punishment related to it for those slaves who tried to escape clearly indicate the presence or existence of slavery activities in the area currently known as Deim Zubeir.

[1] A protective enclosure

[2] Ryle, J. et al. (2011) The Sudan Handbook. Quote : “Zubeir Rahma Mansur (1830 – 1913). Slave trader… By 1869, he controlled an extensive slave trading empire in western Bahr al-Ghazal…” pp. 212. James Currey: UK.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

Slavery and the slave trade is one of the greatest human tragedies that came to define human relations in terms of victors and victims, oppressed and oppressors as well as the exploitation of humans by other humans. Its range and magnitude led in some instances to serious population dynamics with mass depopulation and repopulation in other areas. The emotional, spiritual and physical injuries associated with the slavery are still present in the modern world. Moreover, the slave trade was possibly the first act of globalization that saw distances between different parts of the world eliminated due to new inventions in communication and the exploitation of resources like never before.

Many cultural sites associated with slavery have been recognised as World Heritage. While many of these sites are associated with the Trans-Atlantic trade, few sites are recognized in connection to the North Africa, Arab and Asian-led slave trade. Sudan has always been a source and contributor of slaves to these parts of the world and Deim Zubeir in present day South Sudan played a major part in this. It was probably the most important slave source at the beginning of a long route along the Nile to Egypt and beyond.

Criterion (ii): The history of the Slave Trade at Deim Zubeir demonstrates the significant interchange of human values during the 19th century in present Western South Sudan. During this time, inhabitants of Deim Zubeir were frightened of slavery and tried to convert to Islam in order not to be captured as slaves and taken away from their land. Zubeir Rahma managed to establish a state of fear and oppression in the life of the groups who lived in that area and constructed the slave trench in a way that made it hard for those who were put in it to escape, by digging holes and rooms underground. The residents who stand there and watched people being brought to the trench also had their perception of security and normal life affected. In the area, many people became Muslims and changed their names to Arabic names in order to satisfy the oppressor. That is why today the majority of Muslim communities in South Sudan are in the Bahr Elghazal region.

Criterion (iii): Deim Zubeir is a site that has witnessed first hand the slave market, and provides a living testimony to the history of slavery and the slave routes in the middle of the 19th century. Vestiges of its trenches, fort and the tree where escaping slaves were hung bear testimony to the people who were trapped in bondage against their will at this site.

Criterion (vi): As a site that evokes and protects memories and emotions related to the slave trade, Deim Zubeir is associated directly with key historic events. Deim Zubeir holds significance not only as a cultural site of interest for the physical location where the slaves were held during their gruelling journey into Northern Sudan and on to Egypt but it also reflects the memories related to this challenging time in human history. The site gives an opportunity to remember this historic moment and is again unique given the absence of sites that mark this same period of time in the same area despite its importance as one of the most used slave routes.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

From both historical and oral history sources, the Uyujuku area is pointed to as clear evidence of the slave route in South Sudan. The presence of built structures in the form of the trenches and fort further attest to its use as a place of confinement. Most of the structures and the trench have not been interfered with since abandonment and so are intact and authentic. The site’s importance has been recognised locally and the Payam administration [local administrative unit] has demarcated and established a buffer zone around it. Although additional excavation is needed to further explore the construction of the trench and get a clearer idea of what is taking place beneath under the ground, its integrity and authenticity are intact.

Although theoretically protected by a buffer zone, the site is being neglected and abandoned. There is no proper supervision in place in form of a site manager or a management plan. The community requests that the site be officially excavated, researched, interpreted and maintained so future generations will also know what took place at this site. The state authority has plans to excavate the site and designate it as a recognised historical site. This would grant the Payam Authority the responsibility to supervise the site and keep it safe from destruction. The chiefs of the community in the Payam are also involved in collecting information and data about the site, including how it was affiliated with the former inhabitants’ lifestyles and cultures. However, additional support is needed from historians and anthropologists to look into the shape and content of the trench, which is currently underground and unexcavated.    

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

Shimoni Slave Cave - Kenya

Human trafficking thrived until the mid 19th Century. The antislavery campaign finally put a stop to slave trade in 1970 although elements still remain today. The Shimoni Slave Caves are a stark reminder of the scandalous trade in natives sourced from the Kenyan Coast and Ukambani. This historical site is found in Shimoni Village, an area in Kwale, Kenya that fronts the Indian Ocean and lives on fishing and tourism. At the height of the infamous slave trade, the big slaving dhows from Arabia came down on the monsoon winds to the East Coast of Africa, returning with slaves who were captured by Arab caravans in the hinterland often after burning and ransacking whole villages in the most brutal circumstances, and then eventually shipped to the infamous slave market in Zanzibar for onward shipment. As Charles Miller writes of the trade winds Kaskazi and Kusi in his epic, The Lunatic Express, merchant sailors from India, the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean used the winds in their trade with Coastal inhabitants. In addition to elephant tusks used to make ivory, rhino horns that were a popular aphrodisiac and spices, "slaves and concubines were easily obtained on the Coast". Shimoni caves served as a holding pen in which slaves would wait for two to three weeks before being shipped to Zanzibar. From there, they would be shipped to Yemen, Arabia and America. According to the National Museums of Kenya, Shimoni was initially the place where residents from the interior hid when running away from the slave hunters.

Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions - Ghana

Between 1482 and 1786, a myriad of castles and forts were erected along the over 500 Kilometre long coastline of Ghana between Keta in the east and Beyin in the west. Back then, Ghana was called the Gold Coast due to its vast quantities of gold and these strongholds served as fortified trading posts offering protection from other foreign settlers and threats from the African population. Placed strategically as links in the trade routes established by the Portuguese in the 15th Century, who were the first settlers on the Gold Coast, the forts thereafter were seized, attacked, exchanged, sold and abandoned during almost four centuries of struggle between European powers for domination over Gold Coast. As early as the 1500s, the settlers’ interest turned to the slave trade in light of the growing demand for human labour in the New World (the Americas and the Caribbean). From holding gold, ivory and other wares, the castles gradually imprisoned slaves, who were reduced to yet another commodity. The majestic fortresses along Ghana’s breath taking coast housed dark dungeons, overflowing with misery and despair right up until the slave trade was gradually abolished, in turn by each of the colonial powers in the first half of the 1800s.

Up to 1,000 male and 500 female slaves were shackled and crammed in the castle’s dank, poorly ventilated dungeons, with no space to lie down and very little light. Without water or sanitation, the floor of the dungeon was littered with human waste and many captives fell seriously ill. The men were separated from the women, and the captors regularly raped the helpless women. The castle also featured confinement cells — small pitch-black spaces for prisoners who revolted or were seen as rebellious. Once the slaves set foot in the castle, they could spend up to three months in captivity under these dreadful conditions before being shipped off to the New World. The  Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions was inscribed as a serial World Heritage site in 1979.

Deim Zubeir has a very different setting to these comparable sites and it is unique in that it is a man made trenched establishment covering a vast (3km) area in the hinterland. It has similar significant local, and international, meaning to the other African sites as marking and commemorating a site of historical importance in relation to the slave trade. Moreover, there are no other sites inscribed on the World Heritage list that are relevant to this particular Slave Route travelling north towards Egypt and yet it was a much used route.