1When I returned to Sudan for research purposes in 2015, and while gathering information for my new project, I came across a video produced for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the Social Good Summit in New York in September 2015. This video, which was entitled `UNDP and Turning Tables present: Hakamat Calling Sudan´, is set in North Kordofan. The women in the video are singing about the land, the rain; or, as Vimeo puts it,
This video is shot in North Kordofan State in Sudan, which is suffering from rapid desertification as a product of Global Warming and humanly invoked deforestation. In North Kordofan, Turning Tables engaged a group of Hakamat – traditional female war chanters – and challenged them to make a song about what is happening to the land, why the men are leaving, how the women undertake all the work and how the scarcity of resources inflicts their lives. (UNDP, Turning Tables 2015)
2I was directed towards the video by someone I had asked for information on gender and peacebuilding projects and art and peacebuilding projects in Sudan. While watching the video, I recognized two of the Hakamat in the video clip as two of the participants at a Hakamat peacebuilding workshop I had followed for my previous research in 2012. Although a Hakamat song is used in the `Turning Tables´ video to draw attention towards climate change, rainfall, and agriculture, the Hakamat had become popular as potential peacebuilding actors with organizations working on peacebuilding in and for Darfur in around 2004. When the war in Darfur broke out in 2003 international organizations began working on peacebuilding in the region and they initiated projects involving the Hakamat in peacebuilding activities Already from the late 1980s, the Government of Sudan (GoS) was seeking to engage the Hakamat in regional affairs, mainly in the areas of tribal conflict and violence; the GoS alternated between incentivizing the women to cooperate and locking them away so that they would not interrupt or disturb local processes through their propaganda (Musa 2011).
3Eriksson Baaz and Stern have discussed the emergence of `top stories´ during violent conflicts and wars. They argue that every conflict has its own 'top story' – that is, a story that the international media are keen on reporting on, scholars wish to research into, and international and local organizations want to work on – because this is where aid money flows to (Eriksson Baaz, Stern 2013: 94f.). I argue that the topic of the Hakamat in Darfur and how they might be involved in the efforts to achieve peace in the region and beyond through peacebuilding workshops became a `hot story´ with organizations working on peacebuilding in and for Darfur. Because they are women who sing in favour of violence and encourage fighting, one staff member of an international organization referred to them as the `gangster rappers´ of Sudan. The topic of the Hakamat evolved into a 'top story' among NGOs and UN agencies in Sudan from 2004 at least until 2012, when the research for this article was carried out (UNDP Sudan 2007, 2008/ Peace Direct12.03.2010). This may also be because Hakamat peacebuilding projects `looked good´, as another UN employee told me: their shows make for good photographs and videos for the organizations´ reports. It may also be that the Hakamat have caught people’s attention particularly because they are women who call for violence and war and for tribal disputes and revenge, all of which are actions that conflict with the assumed `peaceful´ nature of women, and hence contradict the characteristics that are often attributed to women and girls by international actors in conflict situations (Eriksson Baaz, Stern 2013: 88ff).
4The root of the word Hakamat has connotations such as “wisdom, judging/judgement, and rule” (Amina 04.04.2013), while according to Mohamed Hakamat “literally” means an “arbiter of men´s conduct” (Mohamed 2004: 13). Researchers are usually in agreement that the Hakamat belong to the 'nomadic Arab groups' of Darfur (Garri 26.11.2012/ Mohamed 2004). Other ethnic groups have women singers who engage in Hakamat-style activities, too, although the names given to these singers differ for each ethnic group (Connick Carlisle 1975/ Garri 26.11.2012/ El Fangry 13.08.2012/ Badri, Abdel Sadig 1998: 24). A woman can become a Hakama either by being born into a family whose women have had the role before and receiving an education deemed appropriate for a Hakama, or because she has a talent for singing, composition, and guidance. Mohamed explains the prerequisites for a Hakama thus:
- 1 Respectable in the community of the Hakama, which does not necessarily correspond to being respecte (...)
[B]elong to a respectable1 family, […] strong personality and leadership qualities and […] be able to compose poems and songs. The title of Hakkama is bestowed in a special ceremony with feasting and dancing. (Mohamed 2003: 479)
5Connick Carlisle, who studied 'Women Singers in Darfur', describes the women in this way:
Her personal character must have won the respect of her people before she can be acceptable functionally as someone with power to move their thoughts and their emotional reactions into the areas she directs. She must be acknowledged as the most clever and witty singer; often she must embody the ideal of physical attraction; and particularly she must have the gift of poetry and improvisation, all this encompassed in a person of dignified bearing. (Connick Carlisle 1975: 266)
6Badri and Abdel Sadig define a Hakama as “a woman who composes and sings innovative songs that emphasize and transmit the society´s beliefs, norms, and value system” (Badri, Abdel Sadig 1998: 16). This corresponds to the narratives of the Hakamat I interviewed in 2013 and had met in late 2012. Amina, Amouna and Amna (all 04.04.2013) also emphasize the value system and traditions in their communities and the role the Hakamat play in the transmission of these values to the next generation.
7While Mohamed sees Hakamat poetry and songs as being mostly concerned with conflict (Mohamed 2004: 13 et seq.), other scholars such as Connick Carlisle, who has analysed the songs of three different ethnic groups, describe the women´s role as influencing affairs beyond the area of conflict, such as transmitting local customs and influencing the local judiciary (1975: 267). Garri distinguishes between two types of songs, “songs that glorify and are usually sung in ceremonies; and blood lyrics, which are used to encourage fighting, usually in a conflict between two groups” (Garri 26.11.2012). Similarly, the Hakamat I interviewed told me that there are two types of songs: “there is a good and a bad part in the songs” (Amouna 04.04.2013). Badri and Abdel Sadig also see the influence of the Hakamat on their communities as being for both peace and for war. Depending on the situation, they found examples of women encouraging inter-ethnic marriages to promote peace, and women who “sing songs in praise of warriors in the community” (1998: 24). In his anthropological study of the 'Baggara', Cunnison mentions women who sing songs “of praise or alternatively of mockery”. They idealize 'manly' virtues such as bravery and honour, and indirectly influence decisions by reacting to them through songs and poetry (Cunnison 1966: 117). As the reputation of a man is paramount, being brave or facing a 'threat' is an ideal of manliness in nomadic communities (Cunnison 1966: 117f.). Garri called it a 'life-long stigma', if a man fails to do what is expected of him, and he either has to commit suicide or move away from the community (Garri 26.11.2012) because “if one cannot maintain one´s reputation, it is better to die” (Badri, Abdel Sadig 1998: 24). Mohamed says that Hakamat songs “extol manliness” (Mohamed 2003: 480) because they praise typical 'male' attributes, like being a good and brave fighter.
8The Hakamat I interviewed explained their influence on men as 'reasoning':
If we argue with men logically, they won't be stubborn. We talk with them logically and they eventually just know this is the right thing and follow it [what we said]. […] If you talk to them wisely and with patience and understanding, they will understand. (Amouna 04.04.2013)
There is an exchange of opinions, the men hear what women say. (Amina 04.04.2013)
9Men follow what a Hakama says because they fear her reaction towards them if they do not, or if they are caught behaving in a way that shows them to be cowards or not complying with the image of a `brave man´ (Mohamed 2004: 15f.).
10What was impressive to me when I attended the Hakamat workshop in 2012 was the power of the rhythm of the songs the Hakamat sing. They are sung in chorus, not as solos: one Hakama sings a portion of the lyrics and the others around her sing together after her. They support her by clapping to the beat, which brings out an exceptionally powerful feeling from the song. Dancing and repetition of the lyrics the first woman sings to the beat of the song add authority to it. As I observed and listened to the women´s songs, I was in no doubt that the Hakamat can mobilize and electrify a listening crowd, which supports the Hakama with singing, clapping, drumming, or dancing. To some extent it reminded me of a military march, when soldiers repeat their commander’s orders, and march to the beat of the tune.
11The Hakamat are associated with the war in Darfur, in particular the inter-ethnic conflict and violence. In an Amnesty International study on Darfuri refugees in Chad, the women were accused by the interviewees of having accompanied Janjaweed in attacks on villages. The Hakamat encouraged the men to rape the women, verbally abused the attacked population and looted the villages together with the militias after they had forced the inhabitants to flee (Amnesty International 2004: 24), an indicator of their involvement in the macro-conflict in Sudan. Amnesty International describes the Hakamat´s participation in the inter-ethnic violence: they support the Janjaweed with songs and participate in lootings as an act of exclusion. The Hakamat hope that what they need to exist and survive can be satisfied through exclusionist behaviour (Amnesty International 2004: 24).
12The involvement of the Hakamat and their engagement in support of the Government of Sudan (GoS) is an issue Musa addresses in her thesis on Baggara Hakamat in Nyala. The government of Sudan has been making use of the Hakamat since the 1990s. The GoS first invited them to cultural gatherings, where they performed in praise of the government and were paid in money and commodities such as sugar or sheep. This was an attempt to win their support for the 'Arabization' mission that began the 'Arab' vs. 'African' polarization. The Hakamat were requested to mobilize and recruit the youth of their community for the GoS army to fight the rebels in the south of the state (Musa 2011: 372f., 380, 408). The GoS also organized military training for the women, and integrated them into the Sudanese army. It supplied the Hakamat with ID cards that proved their membership of the armed forces or police units, thereby giving them all the rights that came with their position (such as the right to arrest and search) (Musa 2011: 380f.). After the war broke out in 2003, the regime tried to use urban Hakamat for its propaganda against the opposition, as a result of which the Hakamat´s lyrics changed, and the women added religious aspects and praised the government and President Al Bashir, something that had not previously been a part of their songs; they had formerly addressed issues that concerned their community, and as the government did not usually influence people’s daily lives, it had rarely been mentioned in Hakamat songs prior to 2000 (Musa 2011: 387f.).
- 2 Voices of Darfur is a magazine published by UNAMID public information section every few month.
13The Hakamat I interviewed were probably aware of the rather bad image they have in Sudanese society and with the organizations working for peace in Darfur. They were very keen to tell me about the 'good side' of their work, and wanted to portray Hakamat activities in a positive light. When I asked them about their role in their community, 'Azifa' (04.04.2012) – and I am not sure whether she was joking or serious – said “to start a war”, at which 'Ahlia' (04.04.2013) nudged her and whispered “Don't say that”. There was another similar incident when 'Amna' started to talk about the blood money cases the Hakamat are sometimes involved in (04.04.2013), at which point 'Amouna' interrupted her and told me about the Hakamat´s role with the youth of the community and their responsibility to tell the next generation about traditions and customs and about what constitutes correct and incorrect behaviour (04.04.2013). 'Amouna' was very keen to let me know about the 'good side' of the Hakamat´s work: “We are women of wisdom, we tell generation after generation about […] life and what happened in history” (04.04.2013). Taking into consideration that the Hakamat I interviewed and met were originally from Darfur but now live in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum, I argue that maintaining traditions has a high worth for them because in their new surroundings in the city, in a part of Sudan were they are marginalized (International Refugee Rights Initiative 2013), they need an identity marker. They are also aware that the 'violent part' of Hakamat songs is undesirable in these new surroundings and that they need to dissociate themselves from the role as mobilizers in their communities, at least publicly. Similarly, in an interview published by Voices of Darfur2, a Hakama stressed that she and her colleagues no longer engaged in activities that called for violence. She accentuated the “noble and uplifting” objectives of the Hakamat, and when asked about about women singing in favour of war in Darfur she responded: “That sort of Hakama is no longer seen in Darfur” (Hakama 'Altahir' in Rijal 2013: 28), adding that now they know about the 'culture of peace' and advocate it, thereby emphasizing that Darfur needs 'development' in order to become stable and peaceful (Rijal 2013: 26f.).
14As early as the 1980s, the Sudanese government and authorities in Darfur saw the Hakamat as a 'security threat'. During a peace process designed to bring two rival ethnic groups together, the Hakamat were taken out of their communities to a city in Darfur and kept there until the peace deal had been signed. In another attempt to 'pacify' the Hakamat, the governor of Darfur organized training for them in order to 'reorient', or 'redirect', their songs away from instigating violence and promoting war towards singing for peace (Mohamed 2003: 480).
15With the start of the international intervention in Darfur, since around 2006, several NGOs – both local and international – and UN agencies have implemented programmes that address the role of the Hakamat in peace, conflict, violence, and war. Most seek to 'change' the role of the singers and poets from encouraging violence to encouraging peace (UNDP Sudan 2007, 2008/ UNAMID 29.11.2012). Some organizations have started civil society-based organizations in order to look for a way for the Hakamat to earn money other than by attempting to mobilize men to go to war and be violent. These organizations argue that some Hakamat sing their war songs because they are paid to and depend on the money they earn from mobilization (Peace Direct 12.03.2010/ Rasha El Fangry 13.08.2012). Collaborative for Peace (CfP) has therefore implemented an income-generating programme for them, organizing them into a cooperative and instructing them on how to make handicrafts, how to grow peanuts as a cash crop, and how to generate income by selling these commodities in the market. Interestingly, during my interview with Rasha El Fangry, CfP’s programme coordinator, she mentioned that fifty Hakamat are involved in the cooperation. I wondered whether all of them could be Hakamat, considering that each villageprobably only has one singer and poet (El Fangry 13.08.2012). Although it may be correct to say that the war has had a great influence on changing the Hakamat´s activities generally, however, it also seems that being a Hakama (or claiming to be one) has become a means of attracting attention and joining certain initiatives.
16Eriksson Baaz and Stern see the Congolese organizations and women in their DRC study as “clearly not passive recipients of interventions. Instead, they are active agents who strategize in their dealings with various intervening actors” (Eriksson Baaz, Stern 2013: 103). Similarly, the Hakamat have also adopted the language of international actors and well know how and to whom to talk about certain issues, and what to leave aside and remain silent about. In response to my final interview question, in which I asked them what 'peace' meant for them, they answered 'development'. For me, this was a sign that they had adopted the language of international actors, one they had learned during their engagement with them, as they explained `development´ by `education´ and told me how they had asked the organization to organize literacy training for them because some of them had not had any kind of formal education (Focus Group Interview 04.04.2013). Besides their engagement with organizations and their development and peacebuilding agendas, this claim for literacy training can also be seen as an indication of changing priorities in their new home, the capital of the country, where values are different and formal education matters more than being a Hakama does, and where their influence, even over their own communities, may be limited.
17While researching in Khartoum, I met NGO employees who told me that their organizations had Hakamat workshops or worked with Hakamat by including them in shows and events that foster peace. In a joint campaign with UNDP and the GoS called 'Mobilizing Efforts for Peace in Sudan', for example, the Sudanese NGO SUDIA staged a number of shows in Sudan for which Hakamat were announced as part of the line-up. One of these events – the one that had been planned for Khartoum – was cancelled due to problems with security and other government institutions, and the show was banned at the last minute, although it had initially been permitted and advertised all over the city (Ahmad 2012/ SUDIA 2012/ UNDP Sudan 2012).
18During my research stay in 2012, I observed a `Hakamat peacebuilding workshop´ during which the women were trained in the composition of peace lyrics. The ten best songs produced by the approximately twenty participants were selected, and the women performed them in a few places around Khartoum. During the course of the workshop, input on the war in Darfur was offered and the need for peace was stressed, most of the time recited by the facilitators. The women were requested to sing their self-composed songs with their peace lyrics and the other participants supported them by clapping, dancing, and singing the refrain as a chorus. Not all of the twenty-four women who participated in the workshop were Hakamat. The organizers estimated their number to be around one-third of the participants, while the others were singers or Hakamat supporters. Contact with the women was facilitated through a music professor who knew a few of them, while local leaders and Hakamat from the IDP camps the organization worked in also cooperated in helping to find the twenty-four women the funding organization was looking for. Interestingly, the organizers themselves did not believe their workshop would have much impact on the women and their future activities; however, the Hakamat were a `hot topic´, as Eriksson Baaz and Stern call them, since the idea of women who are influential in their communities and drivers of violence contradicts the image of African women as victims of violent conflicts without an agency of their own (Eriksson Baaz, Stern 2013: 88ff.). The personalities of the women who participated in the workshop were varied: some gave the impression of being good leaders and were quick-witted and outgoing, while others were rather shy and introverted, and some were very talented singers and communicators, while others were less so. During the workshop, the women were required to compose peace lyrics, and the facilitators looked at the 'development' of the texts of the songs. The result of the training workshop was five open shows at which the ten best Hakamat out of a group of around twenty women performed the songs they had composed during the training in several places in Khartoum and surrounding areas, such as cultural centres and IDP camps.
19In an interview with researchers, a staff member of UNAMID told that it was not easy to teach the Hakamat to sing for peace and change their songs because when they organize a cultural event, the women come and sing and receive money for attending, whereas back in their own communities they just continue as they did before, which includes calling for violence (Salim (UNAMID Public Information Assistant) in Evans-Pritchard, Yousif 2012). UNAMID therefore tries to involve the Hakamat in discussions on options as to how they might be included in the peacebuilding process (Evans-Pritchard, Yousif 2012). According to the US Embassy in Khartoum, following the UNDP Hakamat training that began in 2006, “despite an initial positive response to the workshop, village leaders, local government officials, and other Hakama women remained reluctant to further endorse UNDP´s DDR programs” (25.08.2008). Despite the reluctance shown towards the workshop by local people and the Hakamat themselves, in the Embassy´s analysis of the programme, the official claimed that it “presents a successful use of economic, military and diplomatic efforts to change attitudes away from war towards peace” (US Embassy Khartoum 25.08.2008).
20Hakamat used not to be paid for their songs and poetry; instead, they received gifts in appreciation of their work, and especially at festivities such as circumcisions, Hakamat are presented with goats or cattle. It is only in the last few years that Hakamat have been paid when they are invited to sing at public or government gatherings (Mohamed 2003: 479/ Focus Group Interview 04.04.2013/ Garri 26.11.2012). One of the organizers of the peacebuilding workshop told me that the women would probably ask me for money at the focus group interview, which I found interesting from this standpoint. Although it had been clear that I would only pay for bus rides and provide food and drink, they later asked me for payment for their participation, which is an indication of how peacebuilding is a `business´, and of the small payments attendees receive.
21Money therefore seems to be an incentive for taking part in peacebuilding workshops, especially for those Hakamat who live in Khartoum in difficult circumstances, but probably also for those who live in Darfur. Because of their economic situation, like all of us to some extent, can be paid for singing what is demanded of them. In the end, some Hakamat sing and rhyme about what they are paid for, while others sing what comes from inside them. Some women may view their activity from an opportunistic standpoint, and do not mind earning well as long as they can cope with the songs they are asked to perform. Just like other artists, some are commercially minded, while others only perform the kind of art that accords with their principles, and others will do both, performing to survive and to express how they actually feel. The two Hakamat who sing about climate change for the UNDP SDG campaign were asked to perform in the video, because it was shot with a tight time frame and the Hakamat in North Kordofan the team initially wanted to work with, were not used to delivering results in a way international organizations ask for. Whereas the two women who finally performed for the video were already accustomed to working with organizations. Hence, the video team hired the ladies and brought them to North Kordofan to produce the music video within the given time, as one of the co-producers told me in Khartoum.
22Through these peacebuilding workshops, the women have become aware of the economic advantages of claiming to be Hakamat, and have begun to use them when negotiating. One of the organizers of the workshop told me that one woman, whom I recognized as a leader and the organizers thought of as difficult, came to the organization´s office before the workshop began and demanded a certain sum of money for her and the others´ participation. Because the donor required that a certain number of Hakamat be trained, what followed was a workshop involving 4 'real' and 20 'other' Hakamat. The twenty 'other' women were either Hakamat supporters for special occasions or local singers. Some of the Hakamat I interviewed in the Focus Group Interview (04.04.2013) asked me for money at the end of the interview, although it had been clear that I would only pay for bus rides and prepare lunch and tea for them. At the focus group interview, I also wanted another Hakama, 'Amelie', the youngest of all of them, to join us. She was probably not allowed to come, and the women brought 'Aisha' instead of 'Amelie' without telling us in advance and with the excuse that 'Amelie' could not come because of her 'duties'. Likewise, what happened during my visit at ‘Amna'´s place might be interpreted as an effect of the Hakamat 'business': 'Amouna', the neighbouring Hakama, was upset and angry when she saw me at 'Amna'´s house. They argued, and 'Amouna' left, telling me she was going to pray, but she did not return. I interpreted their argument as group pressure and maybe also envy regarding presumed benefits. The other neighbour, 'Ahlia', was not at home when I arrived and joined us for lunch and tea later on. When I left, the women told me to not forget them when I was leaving, and to bring gifts for them the next time I came to Sudan. It seemed to me that peer pressure was an important issue, as each woman´s activities are watched by the others. Working with NGOs and other organizations is a means of earning at least some little income, and hierarchies within the group seem to come to the fore when they talk with organizations and researchers.
23The aim of this article has been to show the societal role of Hakamat and how they have been involved by various organizations in peacebuilding activities. The Hakamat peacebuilding workshops carried out by (international) organizations began in around 2007 and continued at least until 2012, when the research for this article was conducted. It seems as though the peacebuilding workshops developed a dynamic of their own, from supporting communities to forming a sort of separate `economic sector´.
24The fact that Hakamat call for violence and sing about attack and not reconciliation has been especially emphasized in articles describing their role in situations of conflict and violence (Evans-Pritchard, Yousif 2012). That it is women who are calling for violence may be particularly striking, and may seem extraordinary, as women are generally regarded as being more `peaceful´ than men. On the other hand, reports show the Hakamat as victims of their own culture, by excusing their songs with their difficult financial situation (Peace Direct 12.03.2010). Other accounts portray the Hakamat as being in need of 'development' and 'education' (Mohamed 2004: 14), assuming that they do not yet know what is right and what is wrong and that others need to tell them, and that as soon as they have understood they will stop singing for violence and war and will start to promote peace (UNDP 2007, 2008/ Rajal 2013). The Hakamat have become a `hot topic´ with organizations working in the field of gender and peacebuilding because they challenge the role that is usually associated with women in (violent) conflicts by moving away from the commonly-held notion that they are victims towards being active supporters of violence. The Hakamat are still attracting attention in 2015, albeit in different areas from those they used to be associated with, as they are now asked to sing to raise awareness of climate change.
25While the top story of Hakamat influencing conflict seems to have cooled down, the need for peacebuilding undeniably remains current in what is left of Sudan. Further studies on the Hakamat may clarify their role in violent conflict and peacebuilding since the war in Darfur broke out in 2004, and help explain whether the organizations´ attempts to involve them in peacebuilding has had an influence on actual reconciliation between communities, and whether their (paid) participation in peacebuilding workshops has influenced their authority and if these peace messages have actually been received by and spread within communities.