Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Local Trends and Perceptions of Processes of Commoditisation in Central Sudan: The Responses of the Ahamda Pastoral System to State Pressures and Capitalist Dynamics (1)

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Local Trends and Perceptions of Processes of Commoditisation in Central Sudan: The Responses of the Ahamda Pastoral System to State Pressures and Capitalist Dynamics (1)

Article excerpt

The Ahamda are a Muslim and Arabic-speaking people of Central Sudan (2). They are part of the larger category of 'arab peoples, a term that in broad Sudanese terminological classification--largely analogous to that in most Middle-Eastern countries--defines nomadic pastoralists and distinguishes them from rural and urban settled communities (Casciarri 1999; Grandin 1980). They conceive of themselves as a group of agnatic kin (known as gabila in Sudanese Arabic, I gloss this as 'tribe') descended from ah eponymous ancestor, Hammed, and claim further origins from 'Abbas (the Prophet Mohammad's father's brother), as do many of the Arabic-speaking peoples of Northern and Central Sudan (MacMichael 1922; Trimingham 1949). Their socio-political organisation is similar to that of the Bedouin (Bonte et al. 1991). They live in a semi-desert environment on the central-western fringes of the Butana plains, east of the Main Nile, north of Khartoum, and obtain most of their subsistence from extensive herding (mostly of sheep and goats, with a few camels) complemented by the rain-fed cultivation of sorghum. Practising a bipolar cycle, they approach the Nile during the dry season and go deep into the Butana pastures during the wet season. In the last two decades this community has experienced a general crisis, with processes familiar among other nomadic populations of arid zones (Galaty et al. 1983, 1994; Rigby 1985)--namely increasing sedentarisation, a shift from nomadism to transhumance, the forced switching to new sources of income, a general proletarisation and continuous marginalisation. This paper focuses on the dynamics of socioeconomic change that have accelerated since the 1970s. Generalised sedentarisation and major transformations of the Ahamda pastoral system have become more significant only during the last fifteen to twenty years, but the extreme rapidity of this recent change has had a strong disruptive impact on the entire society and threatens to reshape not only the economic processes, but the entire community's social relationships, thus putting at risk its production and social reproduction. These processes of transformation will be seen within the wider context of national and international trends of economic and political strategies. My analysis focuses specifically on those aspects of commoditisation that typify the shift from use-value to exchange-value and are of broader interest for anthropological theory.

The Crisis of the Ahamda Pastoral System and Society: the Wider Context of the State's Policies and the World Economy

The current commoditisation process among the Ahamda seems to coincide with the larger crisis in the pastoral system and the wider society. But what do we mean by the term 'crisis', so widely employed in describing pastoral societies, particularly those of the Third World and of arid lands? Environmental aspects are often stressed, to the extent that both scholars and national and international development and aid organisations speak of 'ecological crises' as the dramatic events that affect the life of pastoral groups. The historical memory of social actors also marks the boundaries of what people perceive as substantial--sometimes irreversible--change, with cycles of severe drought in the Sahel, mostly in the late 1960s and early 1970s and then again in 1984-85. Even if in such periods of climatic stress the decimation of livestock and the degradation of natural resources have been drastic and the survival of domestic units threatened, sometimes such a 'naturalisation', on the part of both observers and the observed, disguises other factors of global political and economic import. It is now generally accepted that even for pastoral societies, whose lifestyles have for a long time been closely linked to and conditioned by ecological contraints, their harsh environments allow a marge de manoeuvre (Digard 1979) for subsistence strategies, such that the relation between humans and their material conditions is more dialectical than unidirectional (Bonte 1979; Godelier 1984). …

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