They walked in their best clothes past villages and down dirt roads until they came to the church to fold away the pain of war and redraw the map of Africa in a referendum that began Sunday for an independent southern Sudan.
They carried walking sticks and memories of those lost in decades of bloodshed to a polling station to mark a moment in history and begin a chance for reinvention in one of the poorest corners of the continent. They cast their ballots as a children’s choir sang from a radio and a goat- skin drum thumped in the distance.
“This ends our slavery at the hands of the Arabs,” said Kasimiro Mogga Joseph, a priest at the All Saints Roman Catholic Church. “The Arabs considered us animals. They wanted this land but not its people. Being a priest, you feel the difficulties of your parishioners. They came to us crying and suffering during the war. We took them to hospitals and gave them hope.”