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Embodying Honor

Fertility, Foreignness, and Regeneration in Eastern Sudan

Amal Hassan Fadlalla

Publication Year: 2007

In the Red Sea Hills of eastern Sudan, where poverty, famines, and conflict loom large, women struggle to gain the status of responsible motherhood through bearing and raising healthy children, especially sons. But biological fate can be capricious in impoverished settings. Amidst struggle for survival and expectations of heroic mothering, women face realities that challenge their ability to fulfill their prescribed roles. Even as the effects of modernity and development, global inequities, and exclusionary government policies challenge traditional ways of life in eastern Sudan and throughout many parts of Africa, reproductive traumas—infertility, miscarriage, children’s illnesses, and mortality—disrupt women’s reproductive health and impede their efforts to achieve the status that comes with fertility and motherhood.
    In Embodying Honor Amal Hassan Fadlalla finds that the female body is the locus of anxieties about foreign dangers and diseases, threats perceived to be disruptive to morality, feminine identities, and social well-being. As a “northern Sudanese” viewed as an outsider in this region of her native country, Fadlalla presents an intimate portrait and thorough analysis that offers an intriguing commentary on the very notion of what constitutes the “foreign.” Fadlalla shows how Muslim Hadendowa women manage health and reproductive suffering in their quest to become “responsible” mothers and valued members of their communities. Her historically grounded ethnography delves into women’s reproductive histories, personal narratives, and ritual logics to reveal the ways in which women challenge cultural understandings of gender, honor, and reproduction. 

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

Many individuals and institutions contributed to the birth of this project. Particular thanks are due colleagues, friends, and staff at the Department of Anthropology and the Program of African Studies at Northwestern University, the Department of Anthropology and the Red Sea Area Project at the University of Khartoum (Sudan), the Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard University, and the Women’s Studies Program and...

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Introduction: Weaving the Web of Regeneration

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pp. 3-26

At sunset some of my Hadendowa female friends and I sat, our bodies wrapped in fautas (body wraps), at the edge of the khaur (dry stream) that divides displaced Hadendowa shanty settlements from the town center, or alhishan. Alhishan is where most non-Hadendowa reside (northern Sudanese, Kurds, Ashraf, and few Beja elite), and it is where the central government of Khartoum runs the Sinkat district of the Red Sea province....

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1. Famished Land: Gender, Identity, and Place

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pp. 27-55

Historically, the Hadendowa have claimed ownership of a large portion of the eastern Sudan. This expansive, hilly land, with its seasonal water valleys and scattered dry scrub, is often described as the endowment for which Hadendowa ancestors fought invading powers to establish the notion of a homeland and a united community, rooted in common blood and a sentiment...

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2. Historicizing Foreignness: Alterity, Disease, and Social Vulnerability

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pp. 56-79

Hadendowa perceptions of fertility, danger, and disease encompass a set of beliefs in the evil eye (lailit), spirits (jantaib or jinn), and in mysterious diseases (tisaramt), whose explanations lie in the gendered “di-vision” (Bourdieu 1990) of body space and in cultural notions of honor (durarit), identity, and regeneration that are constantly threatened by increasing...

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3. Performing Durarit: Constructing Gender through the Life Course [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 80-108

Muhammad, a Hadendowa driver who was taking us, a group of NGO workers, both Hadendowa and northern Sudanese, to attend a wedding in the khala, was proud to point out the boundaries of his ancestral land. Ali, a Halafawi (Nubian) from northern Sudan who is known for his relentless teasing of, and disagreements with, Muhammad said, “What ancestral...

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4. Gendered Placenta: The Paths to Proper Fertility and Responsible Motherhood

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pp. 109-143

It was five o’clock one afternoon in 1989. Maryam, my research assistant, and I were going through some interviews we had conducted the previous day, when cheerful ululation disrupted our discussion. Coming from the culture of northern Sudan, where such ululation may announce the happy news of a wedding or a circumcision, I assumed a similar situation was taking place in Sinkat town, where I was doing my master’s fieldwork. Not...

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5. Precarious Trajectories: Managing Reproductive Suffering

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pp. 144-168

Fertility and motherhood are not simple biological matters; they are contested concepts through which different categories of women strive to attain social status and security. Women’s reproductive practices and discourses are centered mostly around the perception of healthy fertility trajectories to ensure safe pregnancies and births. Bearing live children is no

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6. Whose Modernity? Negotiating Social Change

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pp. 169-177

The Hadendowa move between two realities, two constructed spatialities. The first is composed of scattered tent clusters made of worn-out mats or small rooms built of timber and scrap metals, in which women and children spend most of their day. The second is an urban setting dominated by hishan architecture (enclosed cement, brick, or mud houses) and the official...

Glossary of Tu-Badawie and Arabic Words

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pp. 181-186


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pp. 187-198


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pp. 199-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780299223830
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299223847

Publication Year: 2007