History June 30, 2018 at 02:30 am

Meet Francis Bok, the modern-day abolitionist who was enslaved in Sudan in 1986

Farida Dawkins | Contributor

Farida Dawkins June 30, 2018 at 02:30 am

June 30, 2018 at 02:30 am | History

Francis Bok

Francis Piol Bol Bok was captured as a slave in 1986, at the age of seven. He was consequently enslaved for ten years before escaping and traveling to the United States, where he now lives and works as an abolitionist, advocate and author.

Francis Bok…Suicdekng-DeviantArt

Bok was born in South Sudan in February 1979, as a member of the Dinka tribe.

Arab guerrillas raided a South Sudanese village named Nyamlel on May 15, 1986.  Bok, who was in the village to sell eggs and peanuts in the market on behalf of his mother, overheard others saying that they saw smoke and heard gunfire from surrounding villages. Afterwards, militiamen on horses, armed with machine guns invaded Nyamlel and shot the men living in the village.  Bok was subsequently taken by Giemma, an Arab man.

Giemma was a member of an Islamic militia in the northern part of Sudan that conducted attacks on villages with inhabitants who practised Animalism or Christianity.

Bok was given a place to stay near Giemma’s livestock and was forced to tend to the herds of his captors, taking the animals to graze and drink water. While tending to the herds, Bok would see other Dinka slaves, but he couldn’t communicate with them because they spoke Arabic – a language he couldn’t speak and because they were apprehensive about communicating with him.

Eventually, Bok was forced to convert to Islam. As his experience as a herd’s boy grew, he was able to complete his job unsupervised from Giemma and his son, Hamid.

At the age of 14, Bok tried to escape slavery twice, unsuccessfully.  His first attempt earned him a whipping with a bullwhip. His second attempt almost cost him his life. Nevertheless, Giemma spared his life because he was reliant on Bok’s work.

It would take three years for Bok to try to recapture his freedom. This time he escaped to Mutari, a neighboring town. When he went to the police department for help, he was jailed for two months. He was able to escape again by taking the police department’s donkeys to the well then abandoning the donkeys and blending in with the people at the marketplace.

Bok met a man named Abdah, smuggled him to Ed-Da’Ein in a truck filled with onions and grains.  Bok stayed with Abdah and his family for two months before Abdah purchased a ticket for Bok to travel to Khartoum.

When he arrived in Khartoum, Bok was able to enlist the help of a stranger who helped him get to the Jabarona settlement.

Bok settled with the people from the Aweil area of North Bahr al Ghazal, but soon found himself in trouble when he began to recall his experience as a slave. Slavery in Sudan although rampant, is swept under the rug and anyone found to be talking about it could be imprisoned.  Bok was jailed for seven months.

Upon his release, he decided to leave Sudan.  He arrived in Cairo, Egypt in April 1999 and was directed to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where he was able to secure connections and learn some English at the church.

On September 15, 1999, Bok applied for United Nations refugee status.  Several months later, he was granted permission by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to move to the U.S.

On August 13, 1999, Bok flew to New York City then Fargo, North Dakota.  Bok held several jobs before moving to Ames, Iowa – where there was a large concentration of Dinka natives. While living in Ames, Bok was contacted by the founder of the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) in Boston, Massachusetts.

Bok was heavily persuaded to move to Boston and arrived there on May 14, 2000.  The AASG sponsored Bok and provided him with an apartment to live in.

Afterwards, Bok was awarded opportunities to speak at a church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, be interviewed by The Boston Globe, and give a first-hand account of being a slave in front of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In 2002, he witnessed the signing of the Sudan Peace Act.

Bok is now an abolitionist and author; his autobiography, Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America was published in 2003.

Bok has spoken at various churches and universities in the U.S. and Canada.  On April 28, 2001, he assisted in the formulation of iAbolish.org. Bok also works in the first AASG office in Kansas while working with Sudan Sunrise, an organization based in Kansas that aims to restore peace in Sudan.

Bok and his wife Atak have two children, Buk and Dhai. They reside in Kansas.

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