Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview
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12 Zar as Modernization in Contemporary Sudan

Susan M. Kenyon

While there is still debate about the origins of zar (the beliefs and practices associated with a particular type of spirit), there is no doubt that it is a phenomenon that has expanded rapidly in recent years. In the Republic of the Sudan particularly, there has been a proliferation of cult groups throughout the country and a dramatic increase in the types of demands made of the cult. Drawing on data largely from Sennar, a predominantly Muslim town in Central Sudan, this article examines some of those demands and the nature of the zar's responses. --Author's Abstract

LATE ONE AFTERNOON IN AUGUST, 1981, I was sitting in a neighbor's courtyard in the town of Sennar, Republic of the Sudan, waiting for a zar burei ceremony to start. It was slow in getting underway and we were growing restless. At last the main gate was pushed open and a woman peered round. Seeing me, she beckoned and hastily withdrew. I followed her out into the street and found the umiya, the formal leader of a local zar group, waiting with her ceremonial bags and another very agitated middle-aged woman, Khadiga. They urgently wanted me to drive them to the hospital where Khadiga's sister-in-law, Fatima, was a patient, needing immediate attention. The umiya also happened to be related, through her mother's family, to the sick woman.

I had been to the hospital many times before but always had to leave my vehicle outside the gate to the outpatient departments and join the queue of visitors waiting to pay the admission of ten piastres [about 10 cents US at that time]. Today, we drove right up to the main gate through which only medical personnel are allowed to pass, and Khadiga called to the doorman that it was the umiya on urgent business. The doors opened. Under the umiya's direction we headed for

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Anthropological Quarterly 68( 2) ( April 1995): 107-120.

-227-

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