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In some respects the evening was a staged collision of certainties, givens, absolutes. Note that when beginning the zar women sang greetings to the Prophet: hence, Islam itself was not denied, merely a class of powerful, tyrannical Muslims, avatars of the enemy regime. In Sudan zar shows considerable deference to Islam, for no spirits are summoned during Ramadan, no rituals held even for display. The date of the performance, 8 March 1992, fell within the fasting month and still the show went on.

An international ‘imaginary’ (see Appadurai 1990) was being invoked that night but to profoundly nationalist ends. Note that the flyer announcing the event was issued by Sudanese, not ‘Nubian’ women. Ironically, the women who spoke for Sudanese womanhood were those whose privileged class and cultural position once depended on the oppression of non-Muslim Sudanese women and men; and it is this elite position that has made it possible (even personally necessary) for them to oppose the regime. Yet I dare not think that their broader vision of the country is a cynical one.

Zayran are said to occupy a world ethnographically parallel to that of the human and contiguous with it, though invisible to us corporeal beings most of the time. Spirits are ethereal counterparts of human types and historical personalities, yet, as noted before, all of them are ‘others’: there exist no zar analogues of the spirits’ local hosts. Darawish spirit society is comprised of Islamic scholars and saints from Egypt, Iran, the exemplary past, and comes closest to depicting an authoritative, literate, universalist Islam that is much admired though inaccessible to the unschooled majority.

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Antropologica, n. 52, 1979 by Instituto Caribe de Antropologia y Sociologia de la Fundacion La Salle

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