This is the story of Francis Bok’s journey from enslavement to freedom and the people he met along the way who helped him. Escape From Slavery is a story about the cruelty and dislocation of enslavement in the 21st century. It is a story about a long raging war of racism and religion in the Sudan between the Muslim Arabs of the North and the Christian Dinkas of the South. At the age of seven, Francis Bok was robbed of his childhood and his culture when he was captured and enslaved during an Arab militia raid on the village of Nymlal on May 15, 1986. Children were abused, kidnapped and killed along with adults. He was strapped to a donkey and taken north to Kirio.
For ten years, he was enslaved to Giema Abdullah. Treated like the animals he tended, Bok was forced to sleep with cattle, endure daily beatings, and ate rotten food. Called “abeed” (black slave), he was given an Arabic name – Dut Giema Abdullah – and forced to convert to Islam and perform Islamic prayers daily. During this time he was never allowed to speak to other Dika slave children he would occasionally see while tending the animals. On a daily basis his life was threatened with having his arm or leg cut off.
Twice before he unsucessfully tried to escape. Each time he was severely beaten and threatened by Giema with death. In December of 1996, he escaped to the nearby town of Matari, where he was enslaved by local policemen for two months. But an Arab truck driver helped him escape and eventually he reached Khartoum, the capital. In Khartoum, he was arrested by the security forces and jailed for seven months for conspiracy against the government for speaking publically about his experience as an enslaved man. After being released, he then escaped to Cairo. In 1999, the United Nations resettled him in North Dakota. Since his escape from enslavement, he has spoken out many times in public about his experience as an enslaved man.
He has shared his story with Senators and Congressmen at Capital Hill, alongisde Coretta Scott King, at the Boston Freedom Award ceremony, and testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He is the founder of iabolish.com and currently lives in Boston where he continues to educate himself and speak out against modern day enslavement every where.
Voice Over Introduction
When Francis Bok was seven his childhood, his family, his culture were stolen. He was captured and enslaved during an Arab militia raid on the Sudanese village of Nymlal on May 15, 1986.
I was tired. Several hours had passed since the raid. But my mind would not let me sleep. In the middle of the night we passed through a forest and finally stopped in an open area. They took us kids from the donkeys and sat us down on the ground. Again, they yelled in their language. I said nothing. I saw my friend, Kvol, and the girls Abuk and Nyabol, but we spoke only with our eyes, which were full of fear. Everyone kept quiet except two sisters, one about twelve, the other younger, who were crying. Through their tears they said they had seen their father shot and killed and their mother, too.
A militiaman grabbed the older girl, yelling at her, then trying to shake her into silence. She could not stop crying, he, pulled her to the side, put his rifle to her head and shot her. Right in the head, one shot that rang through the forest! And when that noise finally stopped so had the girl’s crying. The militiaman let her go, and she crumbled to the ground like an empty sack.
I wanted to fly away, but I was stuck to the ground. My stomach was tightened by what my eyes saw. Her little sister began crying even harder than before, her body twisting and pulsing with sobs. She had seen her mother and father killed, and now her big sister was shot dead before her eyes. She was crazy with crying, and our silence only made her crying seem louder.
Suddenly, another one of the militiaman moved quickly to her side. He struck her leg hard with his sword, cutting it off at the thigh. We all stared at this terrible thing that no person should ever see: a big sword slicing off a little girl’s leg, as if it were only the branch of a small tree. Blood squirting everywhere. I remember this, but I cannot remember if the little girl stopped crying.
All I remember is the militiaman pointing to those girls, saying words that made no sense to me. But his message was clear: if you cried, you would be shot in the head… or have your leg chopped off. I clenched my teeth to block my feeling. I was afraid my voice would scream out, and they would kill…me.
Francis was taken north to Kirio where he was owned by Giemma Abdullah. Treated no better than the animals he tended, Bok had to sleep with cattle, eat rotten food, endure daily beating, and was forced to convert from Christianity to Islam. But Bok’s spirit was not broken; he refused to submit to his master, and tried to escape three times. Twice he was caught and severely punished, but in December of 1996 he ran away to the nearby town of Matari, where he was captured and held by the police for two months.
An Arab truck driver helped him escape and reach Khartoum, where Bok was jailed for conspiracy against the government for speaking publicly about his experiences during enslavement. After he was released seven months later he made his way to Cairo. And in 1999, the United Nations resettled him in North Dakota. Since his escape Francis Bok has shared his story with students, with Senators and Congressmen on Capital Hill, he has testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and he is the founder of iabolish.com and currently lives in Boston where he continues to speak out against modern day enslavement.
Voice-over by Trevor Lawrence