Inheritance: kinship and the performance of Sudanese identities



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In this project, I treat Sudan as an exemplary case study for the examination of kinship and agency in contexts of layered imperialisms. I juxtapose a contemporary postcolonial novel by Tayeb Salih (Mawsim al-hijra ila shamal / Season of Migration to the North (1966/69)), and four contemporary unpublished plays (1994 - 2002) by the Kwoto Cultural Center in Khartoum, Sudan, and ask how the texts, the performance traditions, and their creators appropriate kinship as a vehicle to discuss, uphold and/or challenge the reproduction of economic, social and political values and the dominant ideologies that continue to define a "North" and "South" as gendered geographies in contemporary Sudan. Rather than simply reiterate the transformative importance of the 19th century British colonial period in Sudan, I seek to build on the insights of previous scholarship by bringing to the fore the ways the vestiges and shadows of overlapping and layered imperialisms condition the architecture of the texts audiences read and witness today. I argue that within these multiple contexts, kinship is an elastic concept, one that is not static, but constantly made, remade, lived in and negotiated over the boundaries of temporalities and geographies. I argue that the texts under investigation do not force Sudan to cohere as "one nation" but rather attest to this complex present both by mirroring Sudan's diverse composition and by inviting new ways of reading and relating that help to create new configurations and new social orders that compete with "nation" as a modality of community. In the Introduction, I set out an historical framework sensitive to layered imperialisms and examine how the reconsolidation and resilience of kinship ties has impacted authority and agency. In Chapter One, "The Kinlessness of Mustafa Sa'eed: Parentage and the Migration North in Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North," I suggest that Sudan's ethno-religious division into a geography of "North" and "South" is revealed through an analysis of Mustafa Sa'eed's "kinlessness" and the inextricability of that kinlessness from the reality of his parentage. My analysis suggests that this novel by a celebrated northern Sudanese author traces a submerged history of Sa'eed's parents: the Beja from the North and the slave from the South, and in this way explores the opposing ideologies of "freedom" and "servility." Chapter Two, "'Summarizing the South': Staging Kinship and Unity in Select Plays by The Kwoto Cultural Center," explores the "North"/ "South" divide from the perspective of displaced southerners living in the North of Sudan. This chapter moves to the realm of performance, from literacy to orality, and from the single author to the collective. After an introduction to the troupe and its context as well as the salient themes of the chapter, I discuss my methodology and fieldwork in Sudan, and then offer a selective overview of Sudanese performance traditions that are relevant to a reading of Kwoto's theater. I then turn to an analysis of the plays, focusing on how each play engages kinship as both content and method in the context of relations among southerners and between southerners and those external to the community, including ancestors, northerners, Westerners, and aid workers. By juxtaposing the literary and the performative, I seek to diversify the kinds of texts we consider and compare in our analysis of the postcolonial. Pairing a novel with performance texts brings into sharp relief the conditions of production and interpretation for each form, also reminding us of the historical context of a form's cultural ascendance. Additionally, the juxtaposition of unpublished manuscripts with an international novel destabilizes the boundary between "elite" and "low" cultures and arrives at a more accurate picture of the heterogeneity and multiplicity of the cultural marketplace in African societies than postcolonial scholarship has heretofore allowed. Finally, the juxtaposition of Season with Kwoto's unpublished manuscripts allows us to probe the resonances across regional, ethnic, and generic difference, and to examine how the "problem of the South" -- or more broadly, the divisions between "North" and "South" in Sudan are negotiated and become visible in different cultural products. I argue in the chapters that follow that kinship becomes one vehicle these texts use to discuss transforming Sudanese identities and that, moreover, kinship as a heuristic moves beyond nation to pave the way for imagining multiple affiliations and communities.