Who are the Juba Greeks of South Sudan?

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    South-Sudan’s lost white tribe: the Juba Greeks

    Saturday, 15 January 2011

    By Juba

    SUDAN (AFP)

    "The Greeks of south Sudan are a tribe. We are not Dinka, we are not Acholi, but we are south Sudanese," George Ghines says proudly as he recalls that it was traders like his family who first founded the regional capital Juba.

    "I am the last of the Mohicans," he adds sadly, acknowledging that after the ravages of 50 years of conflict between north and south, he is the only pure-blooded Juba-born descendant of the original Greek settlers who still lives permanently in the city.

    Born in Juba, the scion of the family that first settled in south Sudan in 1905 and whose own father settled in the town nearly two decades before the end of British colonial rule, Ghines attempted to exercise his right to register in this week's landmark referendum on independence for the region.

    "It was difficult to register because they have never before seen a white south Sudanese," Ghines said.

    "They didn't believe that a white Sudanese exists and fulfils the criteria."

    It was during the first two decades of the 20th century that Greeks first arrived in south Sudan in numbers.

    The territory's then British colonial rulers encouraged them to settle for their commercial skills and they founded Juba as a commercial entrepot across the White Nile from the then British military headquarters.

    "They brought people here who were very entrepreneurial. They didn't want them to be French or Italian or any other colonial power," said Ghines, who himself runs a Juba-based restaurant and business consultancy.

    The traders built their homes in a neighborhood the British called the Greek Quarters, now known as Hay Jellaba.

    "You have all the buildings with the Greek columns. Of course it is now in a very bad state because of 50 years of neglect," Ghines said.

    At its height the community numbered a little under 10,000 out of a total of 22,000 across the Sudan.

    The Juba Greeks boasted the whole raft of institutions built by Greek diaspora communities around the world -- an Orthodox church, a library, two social clubs.

    One Greek club retained its name until just two years ago, although by then nearly all of its clients were south Sudanese without any Hellenic ancestry, staff at what is now the Paradise restaurant said.

    But it is what has happened to the community's cemetery that really irks Ghines.

    Litter is strewn across the overgrown grass and creepers that conceal the graves, and the cemetery has clearly been used as an impromptu lavatory by the junior officers who sleep out under canvas behind the adjacent police station.

    "I haven't been here for two years. There is a lot of garbage and the vegetation has grown a lot. I am very sad and extremely embarrassed," he said.

    "These people were pioneers and I believe that these people deserve much better than this image that you see today.

    "Unfortunately the Greek government is completely negligent. We don't exist. It is really sad."

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