On February 16th 1981 I was in Rumbek. I had been invigilating the exams for first and second year students which would allow them to progress to the next year. I was also dealing with all the papers to mark which was depressing because even the better students had felt the need to cheat.
The exams had been held early in response to events which started a couple of weeks before. I had been teaching 3B when there was a disturbance outside, and after a minute or two the students in the class decided it was serious. The Dinka students rushed out of the class first to join in, so everyone else trooped outside to watch. The fight was between Dinka from the area around Yirol against Dinka from the area around Gogrial. The initial view of students hurling stones and brandishing sticks at each other and tearing across the dusty ground was impressive. Everyone believed the Dinka wanted to get the exams abandoned and there were accusations that they had been incited by one of the teachers with allegiance to one side. Later in the town square I saw 40 or 50 Gogrial students under police control, while the Yirol ones were in the police-station. About 10 students were in hospital, one said to be on the operating-table. Teachers had tried to intervene but were threatened. We were told that 105 students had been held in prison along with one teacher, but that 35 would be let out soon, and that any students let out would be sent straight home.
Then a week later I heard about a battle to the north between Agar Dinka of the Pakam clan and the Nuer with a lot killed (maybe 36) and 100 wounded. This was in retaliation for a fight a month or so previously when, I had been told, "at least 50 Nuer were killed"; unfortunately this time the Nuer turned up with guns bought from the Murle, who had some grievance against the Dinka as well. A Nuer student I knew told me that there was an Agar in the school who was being very provocative and had turned up accompanied by other Agar with spears in the dormitory, and the Assistant Commissioner of Police took all 28 Nuer students to his house for the night. The next day I heard shots in the souk; it seemed it was a family dispute between Agar over a girl and they went to sort out the wrong-doers with pistols. The police fired in the air and closed the souk with tear-gas. Against all this violent background, local tribal chiefs made an appeal and they decided to go ahead with the exams over the weekend and get them done with.
However the night before this day the Gogrial students were once again afraid of being attacked and had gone to the police. The police arrived in force and found hoards of weapons, sticks and iron bars in the dormitories. They rushed through the last couple of exams without informing me, and by the afternoon trucks had started to turn up to ship the students home. All the first and second year students passed. I started to turn my mind to helping my final year students to prepare for their exams.