Today’s program was definitely the richest of this Sudan week at UiB.
Although for the archaeologists following our posts perhaps the trial lectures of Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, on the eve of his defense, may constitute the focal point of the day…
…and indeed two very important members of the Nubiological society, close friends and collaborators of Mahmoud were with us in Bergen this afternoon honoring this leading figure in the new generation of Sudan archaeologists…
…but we feel that it would be unfair not to recognize the primacy of the other event that took place today, namely the celebration of the 50 years of collaboration between Khartoum and Bergen in the field of social anthropology.
The three hours of presentations and discussion were one of the most satisfying academic experiences on Sudan Studies since 2009 when we started writing at this internet space.
Under the inspired chairing of Leif Manger, we first heard the analyses by Gunnar Haaland and Abdel Ghaffar M. Ahmed on the topics of ethnicity and fragmentation that have occupied a central position in the reflexions of the “Sudan group”, as the social anthropologists and their closer collaborators (i.e. historians and archaeologists) call themselves.
Haaland’s perspective privileged a micro-level analysis: the way interpersonal relations become the system in which these same relations are inscribed and become significant objects for the researchers.
From a macro-level perspective, Abdel Ghaffar’s analysis recognized this variability as the possibility of talking of the many Sudans that can be linked and be united by what he described as “the future in the past”; the role of history as we happily underlined two days ago.
This remark raised the interest of the delegation of Sudanese archaeologists who, through the mouth of the director general of NCAM, Dr. Abdelrahman Ali, stressed the importance of recognizing and preserving the tangible and intagible cultural heritage of the entire Sudanese people.
Moreover, he renewed the call expressed yesterday too, namely that Norwegian archaeologists should get involved with fieldwork in Sudan. The invitation brought smiles to us of course, but we also heard carefully the experience of the anthropologist Frode Storås who worked forty years ago at Lafon in South Sudan during the preparation of his PhD thesis under the supervision of Gunnar Haaland.
Lafon was a densely populated settlement where thousands of people lived very close to each other on a hill that could be walked around in half an hour! For as long as there was rain and the crops on the surrounding plain were naturally plentiful, peace was prevailing. The Lafon community was answering to the challenges seen in the work of Haaland and Abdel Ghaffar by a balance of authority between interlineages and age groups, where the latter were controling potential clashes between the former. When the “white men” arrived at Lafon in the form of religious and academic institutions, as well as entrepreneurial agents, the wish of the locals was to get tractors and a road. They got the latter. The latter was used by lorry drivers. They bought the crops. They exhausted the production potential of the region. And famine came…followed by war…
We have to be very careful in the way we decide upon the means of conducting our research and our contacts with the local population. The message was also passed through by the rest of the speakers.
Particularly interesting is the picture that can be gained by the work of Munzoul Assal who studied for his PhD Somali and Sudanese refugees in Norway – not that often do we see anthropological research conducted by an African in Europe! Gunnar Haaland commented that such a work made him also aware of what the Norwegian identity is. Hopefully, the anthropological work conducted in Sudan may also be of help to the locals’ apprehension of identities and variations in the shared cultures of the entire Sudan…
This challenge was met also in the research conducted in the 1970s by Gunnar Sørbø among the resettled Nubians, as well as by Osman M. Osman who currently completes his study on a tribal group called Togai from the Nuba mountains.
Osman has been in Bergen the last six months, through a scholarship offered to the Anthropology Department of the University of Khartoum by the University of Bergen as a gift for the 50 years of collaboration. His presence and presentation there could have been the cherry on the top of an excellently served cake for today’s seminar.
But Leif Manger had an ace in his sleeve. Already another student of anthropology from Khartoum is preparing for a PhD in Bergen. She will be writing about faith-based youth organizations in the Sudanese capital.
This was indeed the best conclusion of the day: there is future to be looking forward to and the same we hope that will be the case in the fields of humanistic studies!