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The Dynamics of Identification in the Nuba Culture


By Omer M Shurkian


There are no domestic conflicts that carry greater destructive potential in today’s nations or states than those between culturally distinctive and communally antagonistic groups, whose desire for self-identification may or may not lead to self-determination, and the state’s desire to assimilate such a distinctive culture into another, because of its political orientation or fundamental ideological differences. Consequently, the multitude of ‘traditions’ – some surviving against the overwhelming odds, some others resurrected or invented – vie for loyalty and the authority to guide personal conduct, with the hope of establishing a commonly agreed hierarchy of values and norms that would save their addressees from the vexing task of making their own choices. And anything that is visibly deflected from custom will be seen as such a breach. Without recognising and considering cultural diversity within a nation, it will be a naivety to view the contemporary communal conflicts in the Sudan, especially the clash between Nuba African and Arabo-Islamic cultures, as simply the consequence of new patterns of social interaction and competition for resources generated by economic modernisation, underdevelopment and the institutional framework within which this competition occurs.

This article is not about a comparative study between African Nuba culture on one hand and Arab one on the other hand, because ‘building a defensible case for differential ‘adaptability’ of two cultures or societies requires several analytical steps.’ First, models of the two ‘traditional systems’ must be constructed, which concisely outline a set of contrasting structural features within a framework of more general similarity. Second, differing structural changes in the two systems must be identified. Finally, these changes must be traced through time as processes of transformation in the traditional systems.

Although the paper cites the systematic categorisation of the structural features of Nuba culture, it does not necessarily concentrate on the analysis of these features with longitudinal tracing of change or their receptivity to contemporary change. The specific ‘adaptive changes’ are related on one hand to the presence of particular antecedent structures of coercion or subtlety and on the other hand to given new conditions. However, the paper focuses on some aspects of Nuba culture, asserting that specialised cultural traditions is less adaptable to change, whereas generalised cultural tradition is susceptible to change.

Salient issues that arose from some of the subjects of this article resonate with the following questions: is there a unique Nuba culture? And if yes, what are their aspects? And how do these cultural features characterise the Nuba as a people to the point of cultural self-identification? How some of these cultural attributes are practised? And what are the changes that have occurred to some of them through the time factor, as a process of transformation, or human coercion?

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The Dynamics of Identification in the Nuba Culture

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Dr Omer M Shurkian is the Principal Representative of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement - North (SPLM-N) Office in the UK.

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