Field notebook – Fieldwork in Sudan about ritual animal death

As part of a joint research program “Ritual animal death: circulations of norms and of representations. Comparative approach between France, Bulgaria (Balkans) and Sudan”, we formed a team…
  • Alice Franck, Geographer and Coordinator of CEDEJ Khartoum
  • Jean Gardin, Geographer and Assistant professor in Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne University, and
  • Olivier Givre, Anthropologist and Assistant professor in Lyon 2 University
…and conducted fieldwork in Khartoum, from 20th of August to the 3rd of September, related to the topic of ritual animal death.
During the course of this fieldwork, we were privileged to meet with a wide range of Sudanese actors: livestock traders, butchers, slaughterers, exporters, organizations in charge of the setting up of standards/norms (health or religious), Islamic NGOs, as well as veterinary services.
CEDEJ Khartoum supported our fieldwork in Sudan which was the third and final terrain complementing our comprehensive programme of comparative research characterized by a special focus on Aïd el Adha

Initially, we contrasted the concept “ritual death” to a hypothetical death devoid of metaphysical sense”. While binary, this dichotomy makes sense in view of the current debates on ritual animal death specifically in France. However comparative work in Bulgaria, France and Sudan demonstrates, through the diversity of practices and discourses, that the “ritual” and the “profane” exist on a continuum.
From this perspective, we consider other variations deserve to be studied in order to better analyze the circulation of norms that surround animal death such as the distinction between industrial and domestic slaughter. The fact that animal slaughter has become an increasingly technical process raises a lot of concerns for our interlocutors in France, Bulgaria and Sudan. We think that the dichotomy “industrial VS domestic slaughter” should not be too acute because the term “domestic” itself needs to be interrogate since its exact definition remains ambiguous.
Due to a focus on normative framework, we were interested in familiarizing ourselves with the role of the professional bodies that adopt, design and perpetuate norms and standards. We observed that this “space of norms and standards” is very hierarchical and well structured at the international level, (with the World Organization for Animal Health), at the national level (for example, in Sudan, with the Halal Council, the office in charge of halal norms), and at the municipal level (municipal veterinary).
We equally focus on exploring the differences in perception related to notions of “animal welfare”, which have been defined by veterinaries and various international organizations. Contrary to France – where the concern with “animal welfare” is not exclusive to pet but also pertains to livestock -, in Bulgaria it remains confined to the former. Significantly the issue in Sudan does not reach a level of public concern.
Furthermore, we found it particularly relevant to study the relationship between norms and trust. We cursorily noted that the loss of trust in industrial slaughter is strong in France, weak in Bulgaria and negligible in Sudan: respecting the hierarchy of GDP per capita, the duration of urbanization and of the level of industrialization within the meat market. However the multiplicity of contexts is highly relevant since it contributes to mitigating or even contradicting this evolutionary pattern. This makes for a more fluid reading of the heterogeneous manifestations of norms and standards.
Inter-subjective trust stands in opposition to impersonal norms, however multiple interviews expose a variant of trust in relation to the norms (eating organic or eating halal); which may in turn be subverted by the further interrogation of what constitutes “organic” or “halal”? The latter trust is inscribed in a specific label.
The question of trust equally posits itself in our findings related to Eid sacrifices which take place in the country of the South through the interventions of Islamic NGOs. The issue of delegation is highly charged since it bears the onus of sacrificing on behalf of another on a sacred plane. In the western context where the majority of donors is to be found, the issue of how industrial slaughter houses operate, directs the choices of a Muslim clientele in opting for a distant slaughter.
Departing from a study which was essentially dealing with the sacred and non sacred aspects of animal death, we were quikly confronted with the salience of the norms. We do not profess to be offering a novel contribution, however our contribution offers a clearing for further interrogations surrounding the status of the standardization of animal death.

Our next step: A workshop on the topic of animal death – open to the public – will be held on Friday 27th, November 2015 (9 am – 1 pm), at the Institute of Geography, in Paris 1 University.

Programme Mort Animale 27 novembre 2015

Mastaba

The following picture was taken during a night slaughter in the mastaba (about 200 bulls and camels and 600 goats and sheeps slaughtered between 11 pm and 7 am on a slab by a hundred butcher boys), in Khartoum. If taken (generally undercover) in a northern-american or european industrial slaughterhouse, this kind of pictures is often used to accuse meat-eaters and meat-producers of cruelty toward animals. But at the same time, we’d like to point that another-wiser-interpretation is possible : even in rude conditions (blood, direct vision…) the animals are partly cooperative in the process. Even if they are afraid and must be dragged by force, they show a confidence in the men’s activity. We’d like to impute that to the intensity of physical and emotional exchanges during the whole life of the animal, with humans, in a semi-industrial and semi-traditionnal process.


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