King Gbudue was a royal Azande leader and arguably the most prominent person in the recent history of the Azande people, who are an ethnic group of North Central Africa. They are resident in the central and western parts of South Sudan’s Equatoria regions.
His real name was Mbio, which means “a kind of small antelope”, but he renamed himself “Gbudwe”, also known as Gbudue, meaning “to tear out a man’s intestines”.
He was unusual among Azande kings in the sense that he preferred to lead from the front. He was also said to possess a magic whistle, which according to oral sources, guaranteed victory if blown before a battle.
During his rule, King Gbudwe hated and despised both Egyptian Arabs and whites, dismissing them all as “dirty little crop-headed barbarians”. — He also hated doing business with them. However, the three European powers whose spheres of interest met in Azandeland – the British, the French, and the Belgian king Leopold’s Congo Free State, were all eager to claim a portion of Azandeland and didn’t particularly care for his position.
In 1904, Gbudue was persuaded to lead an attack on some forts which the Belgians had built in his territory, even though – because of his policy of hostility towards all foreigners – he had still not managed to acquire significant numbers of firearms. The Azande assault was beaten off with heavy losses.
In the aftermath of his defeat to the Belgians, many of his vassals who had sworn mutual obligation to him defected to Belgium and Britain, and the combination of heavy casualties and demoralisation fatally weakened the once mighty king Gbudue.
King Gbudue’s capital, Yambio was in an area which was allocated to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan when the border with the Congo Free State was eventually settled, and in February 1905 a British patrol led by Major Boulnois arrived there. Their intentions were unclear to the Azande, but as the soldiers approached the people fled, and King Gbudwe was discovered sitting at the door of his hut, entirely alone.
There are different versions of Gbudwe’s death. But according to Evans-Pritchard, – an Anthropologist who put together various accounts, based on Zande oral histories collected during his doctoral research between 1926 and 1930 – Gbudwe was shot in the arm (and possibly thigh) when the patrol entered his homestead.
He then shot three members of the patrol and injured a donkey that had been brought to transport him to the military post at Birikiwe (Yambio). He was eventually subdued and carried on a stretcher to a hut where he was put under guard. Some accounts suggest he succumbed to his injuries and died alone, others that one of his wives, was with him.
After Gbudwe’s death, the Anglo-Egyptian military administration received “intelligence” that some of Gbudwe’s sons were planning an armed revolt and in January 1914, four of his sons; Mange, Basongoda, Mopoi and Gangura were sent as prisoners to Wau and on to Khartoum. With the exception of Basongodo, who died in Wau, they were eventually released and returned home.
Today, King Gbudue is commemorated annually on February 9 as “Gbudue Day” by the Azande people in South Sudan. Additionally, his great-grandson Atoroba Peni Rikito Gbudue presently serves as the monarch of the Azande.
Sources: BBC, Rift Valley Institute, Wikipedia