Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Dancing in Freedom Square

The last few weeks in Rumbek have been up and down. The Independence celebrations lasted for about a week, schools and many offices where closed and there were events every evening on Freedom Square (dances, athletics and football competitions).

On Saturday morning, the Bishop of Rumbek, Ceaser Mazzolari died while giving mass.  He has been in Rumbek since 1990 and was a big and popular figure. He opened the proceedings on Independence day and was very active in local events generally.  His passing has meant the schools are closed again while preparations for his burial and service are made. My Dinka language course has also been cancelled until next week.

In the mean time have been getting on with some of the more ‘fun’ aspects of my research. One of the things I have been interested in the archival records is the regulation of dances in the colonial period. There are quite a lot of references to the problems of dances as violent events that often got out of control and had to be more strictly managed by the chiefs and government authorities. I have written a short piece about it in this month’s issue of the UK Sudan Studies Journal.

I wanted to attend some dances here, and there have been many happening. The young men in the family I am staying with go every evening and they have been taking me along to see and meet people.

What happens is…groups of young men, wearing boxers, bits of tinsel (left over from the Independence celebrations) and smothered in dust parade into the centre of town. This is meant to give the appearance of people who live in the cattle camp (and it does, pretty well, do this). These groups of men, shouting, sweating a high on testosterone, produce an experience that is not dissimilar to watching a lad’s Friday night out in Newcastle. When they get to Freedom square they start a dance, mostly they are doing one that involves jumping round backwards in a circle, singing and shouting bull names, girls join in too.

After a bit of asking around I discovered that these dances are organised by local students, and they are supposed to be a celebration of Dinka ‘culture’.  It’s a kind of self-mimicry or self-representation. Many of the participants feel quite distant from the ‘cattle culture’ in town, but they find ways to display and venerate it. Even though most people I spoke to thought the technical abilities of the dancers left something to be desired…and they were apparently (though not to me) very obviously not the cattle keepers they were acting as.  A fascinating kind of cultural heritage production.

Monday, 11 July 2011

New Nation

While the world’s media attention has been on the celebrations in Juba, in Rumbek have also been bringing the new nation in in style, so I want to give a bit of run down of what has been going on

Celebrations here started on Friday night…at midnight there was a candlelit vigil on Freedom Square (the main square in town). At the house I am staying in, just before midnight the party atmosphere began properly, music went on and everyone started dancing and waving South Sudan flags in the air (amidst the sound of ululating and guns being fired into the air, apparently in celebration, all over town). We danced till dawn, because frankly, if you are not going to dance all night when your country becomes Independent, when are you?

After maybe an hours sleep, all the primary school children got up to join their schools marches, and the rest of us got ourselves dressed to head down to Freedom Square for about 9am

I arrived with one of the young men in the house and Freedom square was packed full of people. Students from Rumbek’s different school marched into the square. They packed it completely full of people, if you know Rumbek then you will know that Freedom Square is very big (really more of a field than a square). There were also marches from the army, the police, the churches and cattle keepers leading decorated bulls into the square

At about 1pm the flag raising began. For me, by this point the day had turned into half celebration, half heat endurance test.  We had managed to fight our way to near the front and were jammed in with other revellers. It was a very hot day on Saturday and everyone was desperate to see the flag of Sudan come down and the flag of South Sudan go up. When it was finally raised, there was a perfect moment when the wind caught the flag and it displayed perfectly. Huge cries from the crowd. It was an amazing moment.

Celebrations are still continuing. On Saturday and Sunday evening there was dancing and wrestling on freedom square. Cattle keepers also brought there song bulls into town and led them around Freedom Square singing songs and showing them off.

I want to share some pictures from the day. I conducted a small research experiment with these photos. I gave my two cameras to two young men in my house, aged 18 and 24 (nephews of my host) and asked them to capture images of the day. Both men were born and brought up in the war and I wanted to see how they would choose to photograph the Independence celebrations. So, all of these photos were taken by them. Some of them are nicely composed, see for yourself.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Independence minus 2 days

Independence day celebrations are upon us in Rumbek.

The national anthem of South Sudan is everywhere, on the radio when I wake up in the morning, on the breath of uniformed children on their way to school and set as the every other person’s ringtone.  I haven’t learnt the words yet, but the boys in the family I am staying with have been studying them dutifully for the last week so I think that base is covered. In the afternoon you cannot move in town for all the groups of school children.  

In Rumbek, preparations for the celebrations on Saturday are in full swing. A bandstand it frantically being constructed on Freedom Square, the roof went on yesterday, it still needs to be finished and painted but it will probably be done just in the nick of time. The trees lining the streets are being painted white at the bottom. School children and church groups are practicing their marching. I even saw a large troop of Dinka scouts marching this morning.

The  celebrations will start tomorrow, where Church groups will lead a candlelit vigil on Freedom square. On Saturday the flag will be raised, there will be speeches, dances and sports competitions. Bulls will be sacrificed and it will be a big party.  

There is currently insecurity around Rumbek with cattle raids between Gok from Rumbek West/Cuiebet and people from Rumbek central. A Beny Bith (spiritual leader) from Warrap wrote to the Govenor of Lakes State to say which colour bulls should be sacrificed in order to ensure peace in the new country – these were Marial and Mabor. I am waiting to see if this advice will be taken or ignored.

About to give up on the prospects of getting any work done till next week…more (and photos) soon

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Update: Rumbek

I have been in Rumbek for one week now,  I will be here for the next three months, returning next year and hopefully in South Sudan for 1 year in total.

A proper entry coming soon, but time is short and only 3 more days to learn the South Sudan national anthem