Histories of involuntary and voluntary submissive labour in Sudan and its context – Enrico Ille

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Enrico Ille, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Halle-Wittenberg


Nuba MountainsDifferent theoretical debates pointed to the intertwining of involuntary and voluntary acts and choices, social order and critique, as well as the tension between submission and resistance.

This presentation will illustrate these dynamics with a phenomenological gathering of examples of who worked why for whom in Sudan. Focusing on involuntary and voluntary submissive labour, the presented examples are intended to show a variety of historical contexts with different forms and levels of coercion and choice leading to submissive labour. So a look at 19th century Kordofan shows how slaves were brutally captured from the Nuba Mountains, but partially ended up as accepted members of the families that bought them.

Some slaves achieved a status of relative superiority by formation of slave armies, such as the jihadiyya, enabling them to enforce submission – and to rebel against their status as slaves. A look at the large sufi orders during the colonial period demonstrates historical lines of submissive labour for the sāda, the religious leaders, which oscillates in a complex way between voluntary and involuntary submission, until today. Through the evolving conflict with the colonial anti-slavery policies, this example also specifies the economic context of these arrangements. Finally, a short look at ‘slave origin’ as social and political category in the Nuba Mountains will round up with the question, when and how such an origin becomes an issue both of confirmation and of critique of the status quo.

In conclusion, the presentation argues for the need to balance a perspective on social permeability and instability of social categories with an acknowledgement of the ‘brute facts’ of power at work in society.

Nuba Mountains

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