From the Diaspora to a New Nation

In the last week’s entry, we made a comment regarding the potentially positive role that the Diaspora of Sudan can have in building up a new state of affairs based on the experiences they gained by living abroad under “more democratic” regimes. Since then, the protests in the country continue, their silencing by the Sudanese government and the international media are upheld, and the attention only turned momentarily yesterday to South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world that celebrated its first “birthday” after the Independence gained officially on the 9th of July 2011.

However, big numbers of people claiming South Sudanese citizenship are still awaiting for the slow state machine of their nation to issue the papers that will stop their refugee condition, one that has similarities with the phenomenon of Diaspora. For this phenomenon is not so simple to define. It may historically have derived from the Jewish experience and it may have been defined by the Greek term that means “scattering, dispersion”, but it covers a very large variety of social aspects.

A recently published (2010) book titled “Diasporas. Concepts, Intersections, Identities“, edited by Kim Knott and Seán McLoughlin, discusses thoroughly most of these aspects. With a very long bibliographical list, it provides an excellent starting base for the study of the diasporic phenomenon globally. An example of how such a study can help the progress of others: the chapter of the Greek migration to the United States (by Anatasia Christou and Russell King, pp. 181-186) describes both the ‘pull’ and the ‘push’ factors that led to the Greek migrations in general and the one to the United States in particular and may therefore provide a foundation for comparison with the phenomenon of the Greek migrations to Africa, the formation of the diaspora communities there, and their special character at the host countries. One of these is of course Sudan, and it has often been the topic of entries in the Medieval Sai Project.

But isn’t diaspora a phenomenon that can apply to Medieval Nubia too and has in fact been discussed in relation to at least two case studies? Namely, the gradual installation of (Arab and Arabic?) Muslim populations in the Christian kingdoms of medieval Nubia and their role in the Islamization of the local population; and the migrations of Coptic-speaking (monastic) persons at religious centers of the Middle Nile Valley whose probable existence has been used to explain the extensive use of the Coptic language in much of Lower Nubia and in specific sites of Upper Nubia.

We will not attempt to reply to these questions from here, but we wished to raise them before concluding this parenthesis on Diaspora, and for the supplementary reason that Sai Island, in the buffer region between Lower and Upper Nubia might privilege such studies for the medieval past in North Sudan. Such case studies on Sai Island can of course also be expanded to the modern times, when many people from Kordofan have migrated for finding work on the fields of the fertile island and have consequently altered the linguistic composition of the population of Sai.

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