Field notebook: fieldwork in Sudan about ritual animal death

As part of their joint research program “Ritual animal death: circulations of standards and of representations. Comparative approach between France, Bulgaria (Balkans) and Sudan”, Alice Franck, Geographer and Coordinator of CEDEJ Khartoum, and two other researchers – Jean Gardin, Geographer and Assistant professor in Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne University, and Olivier Givre, Anthropologist and Assistant professor in Lyon 2 University – have conducted a fieldwork in Khartoum, from August 20th to September 3rd, on the topic of ritual animal death.

For this purpose, they have met with a wide range of Sudanese actors: livestock traders, butchers, slaughterers, exporters, organizations in charge of the establishment of standards/norms (health or religious), charitable organizations, as well as veterinary services.

CEDEJ Khartoum has supported their fieldwork in Sudan.

As a starting point of their research, A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre initially opposed “ritual death” to a hypothetical “profane death”. Albeit binary, this dichotomy made sense given the terms of the current debates on ritual animal death, especially in France. But based on their comparative work between Bulgaria, France and Sudan, they felt that there is actually a continuum between the “ritual” and the “profane”.

A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre also considered that other “oppositions” deserve to be studied in order to better analyze the circulation of the norms that surround animal death: for example, the opposition between industrial and domestic slaughter. Thus, they observed that the technicization of animal slaughter seems to raise a lot of concerns for those who were interviewed during the fieldworks in France, Bulgaria and Sudan. But at the same time, “domestic” is a term that has to be questioned as its exact definition is not clear. They think that the dichotomy “industrial VS domestic slaughter” should not be too sharp.

With their focus on norms, A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre were also very interested in meeting the professional bodies that adopt norms and standards: either 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), or at the municipal level (municipal veterinary). They observed that this “space of norms and standards” is very hierarchical and well structured.

A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre were also interested in studying the differences of perception of “animal welfare”, a notion that has been defined by veterinaries and various international organizations. Contrary to France – where the concern of “animal welfare” tends to touch not only pets but also livestock -, it mainly remains confined to pets in Bulgaria, whereas it does not seem to be a public concern in Sudan.

Furthermore, A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre found it particularly relevant to study the relationship between norms and trust. They noticed that the loss of trust in the industrial slaughter is strong in France, weak in Bulgaria and negligible in Sudan, thus respecting the hierarchy of GDP per capita or the duration of urbanization and of the level of industrialization of the meat market.

They also perceived that norms and standards impinge upon what falls within the field of individual interconnections, market and non-market systems, which are based on the trust between individuals. A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre have observed that everywhere, when the process is technicized and highly capitalized – when the management of significant quantities of meat implies the use of cranes, rails, banisters, and fridges -, there is still a need to feel confident in the intermediary actors – in other words, in individuals.

A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre also looked at the Islamic non-governmental organizations that perform sacrifice on behalf of donors (from Northern countries, but not only) for beneficiaries (from the South). They noticed that the notion of trust is also very present.

Eventually, they deem the study of the relationship between standards and trust very fruitful. They noticed that if, sometimes, interindividual trust opposes the impersonal standard, many interviews also showed that trust – at least another form of trust – is invoked to characterize the relationship to the standard/label (eating “organic”, eating “halal”). But this trust can also be broken (“I eat organic”, “I eat halal”, “but basically what is this organic?”, “what is this halal?”). Trust can then “take refuge” in the certifying body (“I trust the organic or halal of this or that certifying body”).

With their focus on norms surrounding animal death, A. Franck, J. Gardin and O. Givre recognize that scientific work already exists on this topic. However, they consider that the circulations, injunctions, as well as the resistances surrounding the standardization are particularly instructive for the future.

Indeed, their observations raise numerous questions about the global meat market, about the different Sudanese standards of slaughter at the butcher’s, in the “mastaba” and in the slaughterhouse. Also, there are all the questions related to the place of animal death in our societies, as well as to the type of animals that we decide to slaughter.

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.


The following picture was taken during a night slaughter in the mastaba (about 200 bulls and camels and 600 goats and sheeps were slaughtered between 11 pm and 7 am on a slab by a hundred butcher boys), in Khartoum.

The animal could see for hours its congeners successively being stunned, slaughtered and skinned. He does not want to go there and he resists. This is the reason why it is hindered and dragged. He may have to walk on the skins, offal or viscera. He wades in blood.

Citer ce billet
cedejsudan (2017, 22 mars). Field notebook: fieldwork in Sudan about ritual animal death. Researching Sudan - A perspective on contemporary Sudans. Consulté le 22 février 2024, à l’adresse

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