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  • Anthropology in the Sudan: Reflections by a Sudanese Anthropologist
  • Khalid Y. Khalafalla
Anthropology in the Sudan: Reflections by a Sudanese AnthropologistAbdel Ghaffar M. AhmedUtrecht: International Books in Association with OSSREA, 2003. Pp. 192. PB $29.95

This book is a collection of important essays on anthropology in the Sudan. The first four chapters analyze the history of anthropological research and training in the Sudan, from Seligman's first visit from1909 to 1910 through the 1970s. Chapter 2 gives an overview of the development of Sudanese anthropology. In chapter 3, the author investigates in more detail how the colonial era in Sudan influenced initial attitudes of British anthropologists toward the "natives," arguing that anthropology was an important tool in colonial administration. In chapter 4, Ahmed assesses the work of Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard, emphasizing that his contribution was not limited to empirical research but extends to the theoretical development of anthropology, philosophy, sociology, and religion. A good example is Evans-Pritchard's book, Theories of Primitive Religion.

In chapter 5, building on Mafeje's critique of the ideology of tribalism, Ahmed analyzes the precolonial social and political order of rural Sudan in terms of what he calls "power centers." While his approach may appear similar to Fredrick Barth's in his introduction to ethnic groups and boundaries, the emphasis is different. Ahmed's intention here is to focus on the center rather than the boundaries since that is where power originates.

In chapter 6, Ahmed presents first theoretical descriptions of economic anthropology and then discusses the relevance of applied economic anthropology, taking up the major issue facing developing countries. [End Page 129] Ahmed's main critique of the colonial anthropologist is not on the issue of involvement, because he is one of the advocates of involvement, but on the ideological principles on which the idea of colonialism is based. The issue of relationship between anthropology and development is further discussed in chapter 7, written by Munzoul Abdalla Assal. Reflecting on his own experience with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Assal discusses four interrelated issues: displacement, NGOs, aid, and role and place of anthropology. Assal's interesting argument about the need for an "anthropology of bureaucracy" to help explain how bureaucrats and decision-makers think echoes frustrations shared by many researchers about bureaucracy. In chapter 8, Ahmed corroborates Assal's argument in the previous chapter in a case study of the inhabitants of Jongelei project area.

In chapter 9, Mohamed Salih begins by classifying research themes of the 1960s and then follows the discussion up to the 1970s. Although the chapter contains a section entitled "Graduate Student Research during the 1990s," little detailed discussion is given about research development during this period. In the last chapter, Idris Salim Al-Hassan begins by arguing for the need to pause and reconsider objectives, concepts, and methodologies in relation to pastoral nomadism. He suggests that famine and desertification, which affected pastoral regimes, have determined the present situation of anthropological research on pastoralism.

In this book, Ahmed has assembled a collection of essays that tackle many aspects of anthropological research and its contribution to development of the Sudan. After the valuable contributions about ethnic groups and the nomadic way of life, I expected, by way of conclusion, a chapter on how anthropologists can help widen our knowledge about micro-aspects of conflict in the Sudan, and in turn highlight possible ways for resolution. After all, peace is a key prerequisite for development.

Khalid Y. Khalafalla
ZEF, University of Bonn


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pp. 129-130
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