Story Publication logo June 6, 2007

Gabriel Bol's tree


Media file: 270.jpg

Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors

Jen Marlowe, for the Pulitzer Center

Gabriel Bol approached the tree slowly. I lingered behind him with the camera focused on him. On his first visit to Ariang a few days ago, the elders would not let him approach the tree. It had to be a separate occasion, they said, accompanied by its own rituals.

Gabriel was born under this tree and his placenta is buried there.

His mother is buried there as well.

Gabriel Bol, David and I had arrived in Ariang the night before and, after a beautiful sunset on the river and a meeting with teachers and talking late into the night (even sampling milk in a gourd still warm from the cow it came from), the elders led us to the tree first thing in the morning. Solemn rituals were performed but then we moved on quickly to be shown the site for the school that Gabriel Bol is raising money to build.

I asked him if it would be possible for us to return to the tree later that afternoon alone. I wanted to catch Gabriel in a private moment in that spot for the film. But I also suspected that he needed a private moment at the tree as much if not more than what I wanted to capture for the film.

He knelt down by the roots, touching the soil, then sat nestled in the roots with his head in his hands. I came closer, hesitantly. I didn't know if he needed to be left alone at that moment or if some comfort and support would be welcomed.

He caught my eye. "It's really very emotional," he said.

I put my hand on his knee. "Your mother would be so proud of you if she were here right now, seeing everything you are doing. She would be so incredibly proud."

Gabriel Bol didn't respond. He sat in the roots of the tree that grew out of his placenta and his mother's grave a moment longer and then straightened up, brushed off his pants and headed to the meeting with the elders to listen to their concerns and needs and distribute mosquito nets.


pink halftone illustration of a hand underneath a floating feather


Peace Initiatives

Peace Initiatives

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues