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  • Introduction
  • Jay Spaulding

In March 2000, Northeast African Studies editor Harold Marcus kindly consented to the creation of a special issue to be devoted to the consideration of women and women's issues in the Sudan. During the months that followed, many eminent scholars became involved in the project in various capacities. While not all were able to prepare contributions in time for this issue, the pages of NEAS will remain a welcoming venue for their concerns. The participants invite readers to join in an ongoing exchange of stimulating ideas and views that surfaced during the course of the project. We hope that the present volume will mark merely the beginning of an extended and developing discussion of this important and challenging theme.

A high point in the project was the successful panel sponsored at the African Studies Association meeting in Houston on 16 November 2001, where most of the papers offered here were read before a large and distinguished international audience. This was also an occasion to examine Sudan scholarship from a broad continental perspective. Such was provided by discussant Iris Berger, currently chair of the History Department at the State University of New York at Albany, who is a noted scholar of the African experience familiar with the nuances of Women's Studies. Her perceptive comments, offered here under the title "Perspectives, Interpretations, and Challenges," provide a thought-provoking introduction to the individual studies that follow.

The first two papers explore intellectual, social, and economic dimensions of marriage over the course of Nubian cultural history. Anne M. Jennings's study, "Resistance to Arranged Marriage among Nubian Youth: Ideology and Changing Times," focuses on northern Nubian folk resettled in the Aswan area at the construction of the High Dam and [End Page 1] illustrates the many-sided controversies that inevitably accompany change at sensitive cultural nodes. A conspicuous archetype of modernity is the "ready-made groom" who returns from prosperous employment in Arabia to seek a bride locally with wealth sufficient to overwhelm the modest resources of the home community.

In "The Micropolitics of Elite Marriage on Echo Island," Jay Spaulding uses very different forms of evidence to probe a similar nexus of institutional dilemmas as they developed toward the middle of the nineteenth century at the close of the Nubian era in the Shaiqiyya country. Does the community have a right to limit competitive marketplace pressure on how marriage is conducted? In the Nubian tradition, those who answered affirmatively exercised an institution called kora, which short-circuited bidding up the price of matrimony by imposing obligatory mass marriages without significant bridewealth upon the eligible. The centrality of this issue is emphasized by the reemergence of kora in Sondra Hale's treatment of recent Islamist social policy.

The next two papers address issues of particular importance in South Sudan, where extended warfare has placed all social arrangements under extreme stress. In "'We Are Bought Like Clothes': The War over Polygyny and Levirate Marriage in South Sudan," Stephanie Beswick traces the consequences for women of war-induced change. The ensuing stress has produced mixed results; for example, if levirate marriage has some questionable aspects (notably from the perspective of alien wives acquired through unprecedented, war-induced interethnic marriage), its collapse, in other cases, deprives women of their culture's only recognized form of support for widows.

Julia A. Duany and Wal Duany, in "War and Women in the Sudan: Role Change and Adjustment to New Responsibilities," offer many examples of South Sudanese women's resourcefulness in dealing with a daunting range of difficulties. They propose a range of policy reorientations to improve the effectiveness of the various aid-delivering nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), on which many South Sudanese, and women not least, have come to depend. A theme that links this pair of papers to the concerns of Jennings and Spaulding is the controversial Southern wartime form of matrimony called "credit marriage," which introduces market forces into an array of social situations (including [End Page 2] patronage hierarchies among men as well as marriage itself) hitherto construed in other-than-commercial terms.

Sondra Hale's masterful "Testimonies in Exile: Sudanese Gender Politics" strives eloquently to bridge the chasms between several diverse...


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