Sufism and Zar between Sudan, Egypt, Greece, and Bergen

In this entry, I will go a bit back in time, to when we came back from Greece to Bergen.

At the University of Bergen (UiB), I met with many of the friends and colleagues we swhom hare space, time, and interests. Among them, Richard Johan Natvig, associate professor in History of Religions, holds a special place since he is one of the few at UiB who have been in Sudan and have done research (also) on Sudanological matters . Natvig’s specialization – at least in relation with Sudan Studies – is the zar possession cult, and he honored me with offering an offprint of his latest publication on the topic, Umm al-Ghulam: Zar Spirit or Half-forgotten Saint? Making Sense of an Egyptian Zar Song. Although the focal point is the cult of the little known female figure Umm al-Ghulam in the context of Egyptian zar, her cult is also known from northern Sudan and interestingly enough, the main reference for this Sudanese version of the Umm al-Ghulam saint is in the PhD thesis from 1972 of a Greek scholar Pamela Constantinides about whom I admit that I found out for the first time through Natvig’s paper!

The “Greek” interest has another dimension. One of the most important researchers on zar in Sudan is a Greek, namely Gerasimos Makris, Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at the Panteion University, Athens. You can learn a lot on the topic from this video where Makris explains zar, posted on YouTude by Michael Kevane:

And to top all this, Makris is the person who has written the explanatory texts for the excellent exhibition on sufism that is taking place since the 2nd of May at the central premises of the Benaki Museum in Athens. More particularly, he explains very clearly a rather difficult for the wider public video from Sudan that was made at Sennar by Chronis Pechlivanides, during one of his trips to Sudan and having as his base in Khartoum the flat I was renting at the oldest block of flats in Khartoum, built by the Greek architect Slavos in the 1950s and still run by a Greek family!

The video has nothing to do with zar, but with healing through violent means exercised by the sufi sheikh upon a possessed woman. But I will say no more!

It’s best that those in Athens visit the exhibition, and those abroad do some more reading on sufism and zar! Just like I will now return to my work and studies – until the next entry…

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