Back to His Roots

In Arts & Culture by Ramciel Managing EditorLeave a Comment

The gentleman in the attached photos is Atem Bior Atem, famously known by his oxen name, “Atem Aduldul”. But don’t let his traditional attire fool you. Atem Bior is a great veteran; he was my battalion mate during the liberation struggle of the SPLA. He was famously known as Atem Fanan because he was a composer and the lead singer of the First Battalion of the Red Army of Zalzal Two Division of the SPLA. Comrade Atem Bior was among the first Red Army forces discharged from Dimma and sent to help liberate the Equatoria region in 1988.

Comrade Atem Bior composed many famous revolutionary songs, which aroused emotional and cognitive responses that shaped and altered the experiences of the Red Army fighters. During the training and exercise, Atem’s songs generated beneficial physical and emotional responses, creating a sense of synchronicity and cohesion and instigating zeal and bravery in the Red Army fighters. Remember, revolutionary songs as part of military activity not only helped to generate eagerness in the fighters but also directly contributed to the triggering of beneficial physical and psychological responses.

Hence, songs were intrinsic to drill exercise, and joint singing unified soldiers in physical expression and ideology to persevere, endure hardships, and fight adamantly. Through songs, Comrade Atem attempted to promote mental, moral, and physical manhood in the fighters, increase their combat efficiency, and regulate the soldiers’ emotions in line with their revolutionary duties. The following is one of the revolutionary songs Atem composed:

When the Red Army of Gredal is discharged, we will capture Sadiq;

The bourgeoisie [will be kicked] out, and Dr. John [will be installed] in;

The Red Army of John is coming,

You better respect us in Sudan, you uncivilized Sadiq el Mahdi,

Sadiq and Suara Dahab will be banned,

The old Sudan will be demolished,

As declared by Dr. Garang,

New Sudan will be captured by Kalashnikov of the Red Army of Gredall!

Comrade Atem’s songs were not just about artistic innovations but about songs that evoked bravery, combat, and rebellion. What made Comrade Atem unique was his deep thunderous voice, complimented by his Dinka Twii accent. While sitting in the parade ground situated in the mountainous part of Ethiopia to sing our revolutionary song, our lead singer, Atem Fanan, would send his deep, croaky voice, waking every living creature would be awake. The morale songs composed by Comrade Atem were very powerful and they determined the high spirit of the soldiers. The following is such a song:

You Sadiq el Mahdi

Sudan is our country

Dr. Garang is our president

Our land is being messed up by the bourgeoisie

That we don’t know the situation of our country.

Ya Dr. Garang, bring Kalashnikov to the Red Army of Gredall

Sadiq will run!

To this day, many Red Army veterans still remember quite several of Atem’s songs even 36 years after they were composed.

After getting the job done (liberating the country), Comrade Atem has transitioned from the military back to his traditional roots. Currently, he is one of the famous artists who produced many albums using modern musical equipment. You will find many of his songs on YouTube. Comrade Atem is a devoted traditionalist who takes pride in his culture and traditions. As a proud member of his ethnicity, Twii, Comrade Atem is spreading cultural understanding to the community through leadership, willpower, devotion, and enthusiasm. For instance, Atem acquired his song ox, (picture attached), according to Comrade Reuben Mayen Garang. After the acquisition of his magnificent beast, Atem’s clansmen welcomed and blessed the ox by killing one hundred cows. This honor killing of cattle is known as “rioŋ”, “biɔl” or “buɔl” in Dinka dialects.

While there are fake veterans who are arrogantly displaying ranks claiming to be generals, though they had not even seen, let alone attended, a training center of the SPLA, veterans like Comrade Atem are quiet and humbled, downplaying their achievements. Comrade Atem is one of the veterans who has successfully transitioned from the military back to his cultural roots.


The author, William Mayom, who lives in Canada, can be reached at He is the author of two books, The Proud People and Learning the Heard Way

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