Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sudan: Peace through song

Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Date: 14 May 2010

"Can a song bring peace?" asked Zeinab Badawi, an Anglo-Sudanese presenter for BBC Radio, while visiting the Tayeba displaced persons camp in Khartoum, Sudan. Badawi had traveled to Tayeba to meet the hakamas ("wise ones"), a group of women from Southern Kordofan state who once incited Sudanese men to war with their songs. But the hakamas have changed their tune, which is now one of peace. "Listening to and watching the hakamas is testimony to the fact that a song for peace has the power to influence the community," Badawi concluded.

The radio feature Badawi produced from her visit was featured on BBC Radio on 2 May 2010.

"The women believe firmly in the power of what they are doing to consolidate peace," Badawi remarked. "Their vigour, vibrancy and enthusiasm are very moving, as you know the words in praise of peace are heartfelt, coming from these women who have lived through so much suffering."

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the North Sudan Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (NSDDRC) started working with the hakamas in 2006, training them in peace education, human rights and HIV awareness. The hakamas have since traveled all around their region and to Khartoum, spreading messages of peace and reconciliation.

Hakamas are traditional women singers indigenous to Southern Kordofan, Northern Kordofan and Southern Darfur states. During the long civil war in Sudan, hakamas sang songs about bravery and cowardice to encourage men on the frontlines—being shamed by a hakama's song was tantamount to permanent exile from the community. "Hakamas used to sing to encourage men to fight," said Maha Freigoun of the NSDDRC. "Now they exhort their community to strive for peace, progress and development. The hakamas are a human way of spreading messages of peace, instead of a book, newspaper or television."

The leader of the hakamas group, Huaida Nimir, described the transformation that she, her colleagues, and her community have experienced since the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement: "There is nothing like peace," she said. "Peace is our future and I am optimistic."

UNDP and the NSDDRC have supported the hakamas' training and performances since 2006. In addition to arts-related programming, the Sudan disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants project is also helping 180,000 former combatants from North and South Sudan to reintegrate into civilian life.

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