Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sudan’s Hawa: the banat come of age

Hawa Jah al-Rasool, better known as Hawa al-Tagtaga, passed away on 10 December in Khartoum. Born around 1924 in northern Kordofan Hawa moved to the capital at the tender age of 14 years to begin the career of a popular performer and entertainer. Over the years, she became an icon of Sudanese womanhood and popular culture. Hawa made the Sudanese happy. She immortalized the key figures of the Sudanese anti-colonial movement in the simple ‘open access’ lyrics and tunes of the nas (common people), and earned a living from the dual function of dance instructor and singer at the weddings of the effendiya and the merchant class. 
Brides in the riverain heartland of Sudan were expected until very recently to perform established dance solos where the bridegroom takes only a marginal role to the examining eyes of female family members, friends and neighbours. Hawa and her team instructed brides in this domestic art and delivered the song and music associated with it. Sudan’s powerful, rich and influential sought Hawa’s services as a matter of prestige and she answered their generosity with the gratitude of the word. With her wealth of creativity and charisma Hawa was a performing spin doctor, capable of defining a gentleman’s reputation with the playful words of her memetic lyrics. 
Senior Ashigga politicians like Ismail al-Azhari, Sudan’s first post-independence prime minister, and the ‘handsome’ Mubarak Zaroug, foreign secretary in Azhari’s 1956 cabinet, benefitted greatly from Hawa’s propaganda as did Hassan Bashir Nasr, minister of defence and minister of presidential affairs under General Ibrahim Abboud. The two generals, Abboud and Nasr, expelled Hawa’s favourite politicians, Azhari and Zarouq, to imprisonment in a remote station on the Sudanese-Ugandan border where they shared the company of Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, al-Tijani al-Tayeb and other long-term political detainees of the military regime. The colours of the flag that Hawa dressed in on the day of Sudan’s independence, blue, yellow and green horizontal stripes from top to bottom, did not survive the treacheries of Sudanese politics. The revolutionary regime of Jaafar Nimayri replaced it with the pan-Arab red, white and black tricolour in 1970. The army officers broke Hawa’s heart again when they incarcerated Azhari, the President this time, upon snatching power in May 1969. Azhari fell ill in prison and died shortly after his transfer to hospital in August of the same year. 
In recent years, Hawa was transformed into a classic. As veterans of the Graduate Congress passed away she became the face of the annual celebration, hosted on TV shows to commemorate the occasion and asked to speak of its champions. She was decorated by President Bashir and appeared on TV dressed in the colours of the vintage flag in support of the war effort when South Sudan took over Heglig in April this year. 
More important than the political utilization of her fame though is the moral and cultural legitimacy she bestowed on younger generations of Sudanese women singers who follow her tradition. The ‘girls’, dubbed by one famous TV show as ‘Hawa’s daughters’, became a popular feature of Sudanese TV stations, particularly in Ramadan. In their dazzling tobs and immaculate make up they swing the box with a display of femininity that truly gets the sheikhs going. One commentator in al-Intibaha said the ‘girls’ were the reason behind Sudan’s economic troubles. Allah decided to punish the Sudanese for acquiescing to such mockery and even enjoying it, he wrote. A group of Salafi clerics visited Insaf Medani, the Hawa incarnate crowned as the contemporary ‘queen of the daloka’, at her home in Khartoum North advising her to stop haram singing and dedicate her talent to the recitation of halal hymns. She reportedly responded with the amazing shrug of wonder that only women are capable of. Hanan Bulubulu, the Sudanese bombshell of the 1980s, was emboldened by the newfound recognition and vied for the chairmanship of the General Sudanese Union for Music Professions, the association of Sudanese singers. Her contenders included music professors with little in the way of a singing career to support their bid. As expected, she lost the vote but managed to fuel a heated debate that lasted for weeks on the ‘arts’ pages of the Sudanese press. What is at stake ultimately was the rift between popular culture and its subterranean sources and the authority of the establishment. Women like Hawa, Insaf and Hanan are the baraka of a good cause. Veterans of the Workers Welfare Association, the nucleus of the Sudanese trade union movement, recount with love and pride the names of Sabila Fadul and others, women of Hawa’s character. Sabila donated 15 pounds to the Association during the heroic thirty three days strike of the railway workers in March-April 1948, as can be read in a surviving register, heated her set of dalokas and together with a team of female apprentices accompanied the protest marches of the railway workers, drumming the way open for her ‘boys’.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Darfuri: death by definition

Four students were found dead Friday in a feeder irrigation canal of an experimental farm next to the main campus of the University of Gezira. The students drowned to death; their bodies carried no marks of injury, said the local police. Mohamed Yunis Nayel Hamed, Adil Mohamed Ahmed Hamadi and al-Sadiq Abdalla Yagoub were identified as Darfuris and the fourth al-Nu’man Ahmed al-Gurashi as a Gezira lad. Last week, the University of Gezira witnessed clashes between Darfur students demanding their exemption from tuition fees and student supporters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). The security authorities upon invitation by the university administration intervened and arrested tens of the protesting Darfur students, among them the four found dead on Friday. The Vice Chancellor declared on Saturday the suspension of studies in the University of Gezira till further notice “in order to secure lives and property”. In their demand the Darfur students cited the Doha Document for Peace and Darfur (DDPD) signed between the government and the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) in May 2011. 
Article 14 of the DDPD deals solely with the Darfuri quest for higher education, the rite of passage to political emergence and national visibility, and is worth quoting in full: “15% of admissible seats in national universities shall be allocated for students from Darfur pursuant to the requirements of competition for 5 years; The people of Darfur shall be represented in the management of national universities and higher education institutions based on the competence and scientific qualifications specified by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research; 50% of admissible seats in national universities in Darfur shall be allocated for the sons and daughters of Darfur pursuant to the admission committee requirements. Meanwhile a mechanism or committee shall be constituted to examine the conditions of those affected by war to be exempted from university fees for 5 years; All students who are the offspring of IDPs and refugees from Darfur States duly admitted by the admission committee to national universities shall be exempted from educational fees for 5 years; The admission procedures for the children of IDPs, refugees and those affected by war shall be facilitated in the various localities in the States of Darfur.” 
To a Darfur student asking for the waiver of fees the paragraphs of the article are clear enough, providing five years exemption to the offspring of IDPs and refugees and a committee to consider the same for all those affected by war in the region. To the cash-hungry university administrator eager to purse fees at the beginning of the academic year the same paragraphs are rich with conditions that could be employed to rubbish applications for a waiver with bureaucratic pleasure. I can imagine requests for proof of IDP status, proof of Darfur origin, identification documents, and the wildest disputes over stamps, signatures, and due verification from local, state and national authorities. Once a Darfur student fails to establish in solid stamped and signed paper that she or he is the offspring of IDPs or refugees the waiver can be immediately dropped of course, exactly like most committees and commissions born out of peace agreements. 
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Gezira, Mohamed Omer Warrag, said today that the campus violence of last week could have been avoided had the relevant rules and regulations been diligently applied. Mr Vice Chancellor, reported students of the University, flashed an iron rod in his hand when confronting the protesting Darfur students in the company of a mix of security agents, police, and student supporters of the ruling party, regulations indeed! In a statement issued on Friday the Darfur Students Association in the University of Gezira held the university administration and students’ union responsible for the deaths and demanded the dismissal of the Vice Chancellor and the prosecution of the perpetrators. Immediate criminal responsibility for the deaths is unlikely to be established in a court of justice. Personally, I carry the memory of the late Mohamed Abd al-Salam Babiker, a fellow Khartoum University student and friend who died in the custody of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in 1998 answering for a wave of student agitation in protest against an upscale of dormitory accommodation fees. Thirteen suspects were identified and a police case filed, but justice was never done. Mohamed’s first folly was organisation, his second was that ‘he had no back’, the Sudanese expression for poor connections in the circles of power. Mohamed’s father is a tailor, his means of a production a single old-fashioned Singer mechanical sewing machine under a shade in the main market of Wad Medani. He had no ‘backed’ relatives to brag of or ask for money, not even a local sheikh of standing, and every good reason to protest the increase in accommodation fees. One of the gentlemen accused of killing Mohamed was promoted from security thug to diplomat. The four students found dead on Friday in a Gezira ditch are probably equally back-less. The definition Darfuri in that regard served in the police statement as a perverse justification for their death. Darfuris die anyway, don’t they?
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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.