Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Ongoing Travel of the WoDaaBe

The WoDaaBe social system and culture have undergone constant changes as far as their written history shows, having responded to changing political conditions and physical environments. It would thus be a misleading simplification to view their exposure to the city in a binary opposition to their lives in the bush. Their arrival in the city has to be placed in a context of their economic strategies that involve a constant inter acting
with members of other ethnicities. The city, as with other new conditions previously, creates situations where the ‘normal’ codes of behaviour are often not possible. On various occasions, I noticed migrant workers acting and behaving differently in the city than I had previously observed in the bush, not observing the various taboos as carefully. When asked, several individuals told me that this is due to it being almost impossible to preserve certain taboos in a correct way in the city. Simply speaking: life in the city is different, giving rise to situations that would never arise in the bush. Unclean water is everywhere on the streets but it is a taboo for WoDaaBe to step into or over water that has been used for washing or bathing. In the city, furthermore, meat is bought and thus there is an uncertainty whether the killing was conducted the right way. Even though attempting to follow taboos as strictly as they could, migrant workers seemed more ready to bend these rules than in the bush. Only the fact that they associate day to day much with other WoDaaBe, having the same social rules, makes it easier to adhere to taboos.

On a certain level, I suspect that many WoDaaBe consider the rules of conduct in the city different from the rules of conduct in the bush. The city can be defined as more of a neutral zone. Although people do not generally put their taboos aside, some rules are not as strictly followed in the city. Space for different kinds of behaviour increases in the city, inter actions with various people and everyday rules do not have to be as strictly observed as in the bush. The migrant workers sometimes explained this to me by referring to their stay in the city as an ongoing travel. Even though this explanation was posed in a casual way and they probably did not place as strong a meaning on this metaphor as I do here, I think that it shows an interesting reflection of their relations to the city. Some things, not permitted within the everyday social space in the bush can be done in the city. Within camps, men and women do not eat together, but do so sometimes while traveling and occasionally in the city. Inter action between different lineage groups is, furthermore, different in the city. Individuals interact much more with those from other WoDaaBe lineages than they would in the bush, which is not surprising when it is considered that there are not many WoDaaBe in the city. Conflicts from the bush are also put aside in the city. Members from lineages that have had an unsettled dispute do not confront each other about it in the city. During the juulde dance performances in the city, which involves various lineage groups, the elderly men strongly emphasise to the younger ones that conflicts must not break out. When asked, both young and older men pointed out to me that it would reflect badly on WoDaaBe as a group to express hostility towards each other in such a context. Thus, even though WoDaaBe try to maintain the same taboos and rules as in the bush, they still accept more flexibility in the city, creating a neutral space that is defined as ‘travel’.

The tendency to reduce the importance of coded behaviour during travelling makes it possible to respond to new situations where normal behaviour is not appropriate or possible. Travelling is the state of being between different social locations and even the stay in the market place itself is often defined as a part of the travel.

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