Jolien Veldwijk – Peacebuilding Initiatives Rotating Header Image

Martha Lek Makur


One of the inspiring women we met at the second Peace workshop in Barpakanyi is Martha. She was one of the leaders during the singing and the other women seemed to listen to her. She wears 8 particular marks on her head. A lot of Dinka men in the Rumbek area have circular marks around their head, but hers are triangular and located on her forehead. She explains how it is common in Yirol, the area where she was born; to have girls ‘marked’ when they turn eleven years old as a sign they have become an adult.

Martha’s husband paid 100 cows to her family in Yirol and then brought her to Barpakanyi. When she realised she was going to become a victim as one of eight wives, she decided to build her own house.  With pride she explains how she made her own bricks from mud and together with her children created her own brick building, not very common in her community. She decided she did not want a roof from grass and asked her husband for a cow. From the proceedings of the sale from the cow she bought an iron sheet, timber and nails to construct the roof she did want. After the house was finished, her husband brought the other seven wives to show them the new house and to tell them he was going to stay with her from now on. The wives started fighting with Martha, because they thought that the husband favoured her and built her this house. But the husband explained the situation and encouraged his other wives to also build their own homes.

Martha describes her living circumstances during the war. She did not have access to necessities such as fruit, salt, soap, mattresses, and clothes. The people lived for 22 years in hiding in the bush. Everyone was fighting, including women and children. When she was pregnant, she had to keep the water near her, because she could not run. With the water she kept and leaves she found near her hiding place, she managed to survive. Because of her experiences in the war, she sees her home and the health of her children as a blessing, and even though life is still not easy, she has big plans for the future. She plans on building and opening her own little shop to sell the vegetables she has cultivated together with her children.

Next to a massive mango tree, cows, goats, and chickens, Martha also has a small garden on her compound. She explains how she taught her children how to cultivate vegetables. During the dry season it is very difficult to grow crops, because the water pump is very far away, but as soon as the rains will come, she hopes to start again with her garden. She cannot participate in the farm project, because the farm is too far away.

Martha plays a big role in the Bridge event on International Women’s Day. She will put on her best clothes and serve water to the women who have come from far. She will also lead the women in her group in singing. She believes the event is very important because, if the men don’t do it, the women will need to bring peace to each other. Because of the big gathering men will have to listen to what they have to say and so will the international community. Together they will sing, dance and shout to claim peace for their country.

Part of the Peace workshop was creating images of peace. Martha’s image of peace is seeing the women from all the fighting clans and opposing communities together in one place, wearing the same clothes and be one, without diversifying themselves from each other because of their ethnic heritage. There will be no jealousy anymore, because there is enough water and food. Her vision for women in her community in the future is that women see themselves separate from their husbands, independent from their husbands. Women need to learn, with help from income generating activities, how they can make their own money to support themselves and their children. She finishes our conversation with the following proverb: ‘If you lay your head on your husband’s shoulder, you will fall down when he moves.’

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