Accepted Paper:

Dance and the survival of a social world: 'ancient', transformed and new performances among Uduk refugees  


Wendy James (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Uduk music and dance (Sudan-Ethiopia borderlands)have proved robust in the face of European colonialism and also displacement as a result of war. Various new 'external' styles have been adopted, but kept separate from 'traditional' forms (once banned by missionaries).

Paper long abstract:

<b>Co-author: Judith Aston, University of the West of England</b><br>

Short abstract:

This presentation draws on audio-visual illustration of the music and dance tradition of the Uduk people of the Sudan-Ethiopian borderlands to suggest how robust and adaptive it has been in the face not only of European colonialism but also displacement as a result of post-colonial civil wars. Once banned by missionaries, the people even now refuse to mix the 'traditional' forms with Christian worship.

Long abstract:

Speakers of Uduk and neighbouring groups of the Sudan-Ethiopian borderlands have an apparently conservative tradition of circular dance forms around ensembles of percussion and wind instruments. The basic musical patterns of these performances resonate with many of the traditional participatory rhythms of productive work. During the period of British rule in the Sudan, the dances, and even the sounds of percussion groups, were regarded as immoral and banned by missionaries. Since displacement of the people by civil war, these dances have not only 'survived' among the refugees (though instruments may have to be created from 'European' bric-à-brac), but at least one dance-form thought obsolete has reappeared. The symbolic form of the circular dance, in particular, defines an egalitarian space peculiar to its participants and turns its back on the 'outside' world. At the same time, Christianity has become very popular in the refugee camps, but the people themselves have kept the music and choreography of church performance totally separate from the 'traditional' forms. Like the choreography of public meetings organized by chiefs or refugee officials, church congregations sit down passively in rows to face 'authority' and its formal language. Hymns are sung with precise schoolroom discipline, unlike the freestyle songs of the circular dance. Our multimedia presentation, based on audio-visual material collected over four decades, illustrates the powerful role that the choreography of music and dance performance can play in the self-definition of a displaced social world. We offer it as an example of 'a privileged site in which to explore the creative interchange between the local and the global'.

Panel W062
Dance, Europe and the ethnographic encounter