03 May 2016

The Nile: the water that binds us in dance and song - a voice from South Sudan.

Nile Forum Seed Camp 2016, Nubia, Egypt © J.C. Veilleux

I recently had the privilege to attend the Nile Forum Seed Camp, where I was delighted to reconnect with Nile basin-based colleagues from the Nile Project Workshop that took place in Egypt in 2013 and honored to meet new amazing & impressive people from about 14 countries throughout the basin, West Africa, and Europe. This initiative was called to determine whether there is actual interest in creating a platform for civil society dialogue across the borders of the Nile basin. We find that there is, so now we have to do the work to develop that platform - what that looks like will be discussed in another post soon.

The following article was written by one colleague and friend from the Nile Forum, author Deng Aling from South Sudan about the importance of dance and music as a human expression and unifier. Inspiration from the article includes the experience we shared at the Nile Seed Camp when we'd break into song or dance to lighten the intensity of the work. Deng writes here about dancing and music from the region and the experience we shared in our workshop. I am touched to relive what we experienced during those very special days together through Deng's words and the included video that Kata Molnar, our colleague from Europe who works for the World Water Council, compiled from a number moments from the Seed Camp for Peace Community's International Dance Day 2016.

This article is published on another colleague's site that serves as a communications platform for Sudan, South Sudan, and beyond: Andariya. Andariya's founder, Omnia Shawkat (you can hear an interview with her on the link), was in attendance, as was Mohamed AlToum the art director (professional photographer), both extremely inspiring individuals.

We came together over the weekend and by the next Friday we did not want to leave one another. We did not shy away from challenging conversations, and we found instead that we enjoyed many eye-opening and beautiful moments of shared ideas and common ground. Despite our superficial differences we discussed openly how we all possess something undeniably very important in common: our humanity and, in that, our love for one another. We are a family and we remain in constant contact thanks to modern technology...and thanks to the Nile River Basin.

WORK OVERVIEW

Love teaches donkeys how to dance ~ French proverb
Photo Credit: David Azia
Photo Credit: David Azia
Dancing occupies a prominent position in African societies; it is an old practice in which all members of society; from the king to the hunter, soldier, women, children and everyone engages together. Dance circles may seem almost chaotic, yet there is a sense of organization. One of the most important features of African dancing is that it’s a group activity; you need a lot of dancers and therefore a nice bond is established between each member of the dancing circle. Dancing is thus a form of creative expression of love, courage and beauty.
Due to the worldwide acknowledgement of the importance of dancing, the twenty-ninth of April is now designated as the International Dance Day. This day marks the birth of the French dancer Jean-Georges Noverre (1727- 1810). Noverre was a dancer and choreographer and he established some of the foundations of ballet. The importance of this day comes from the universal desire to forget and let go, even for a little while, the pressures of everyday life especially the political nuisances. The World Dance Council urges governments to establish places for dancing and teaching it at various educational levels.
Dance is as important as music, singing and poetry because it stimulates the full interaction between the music and the rhythm of the body, and that in turns helps to enhance memory and decrease depression as well as make the body more flexible. We can also describe dance as the ability to use the body to interact with music and cultural and aesthetic memories to create a combination of signs and signals that can bypass traditional narrative. Dancing can be used to tell stories of war, friendships and express the appreciation of cultural values. The great dancers in each tribe are considered brave warriors, because dancing for every tribe, especially in South Sudan is a space for freedom and interaction and it connects different generations and experiences.
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Photo Credit: Pinterest
Dance and Peace-building
We can claim that dancing has a role in peace-building; especially folk dance. Peace-building is known as “infrastructural and structural establishments that assist conflicted parties in crossing over from a state of conflict to a state of peace”. The absence of war or conflict does not necessarily mean the presence of peace. The tolerance and acceptance of different communities and the absence of violence in all its forms and the abundance of respect means that there is peace, and it’s much needed at this time. In South Sudan, we perform folkloric dancing in many events with the most important feature being the interaction between the past, present and future. Children, youth, and elderly people dance together in wonderful harmony and in the dancing circle one feels indescribable joy.
In Africa in general and South Sudan in specific, we dance for all occasions; we dance at birth, puberty, and dance more at weddings, we beat our drums when we  go fishing, and then more in the case of war and peace. There is also a ritual of dancing and singing during dry seasons to appease the Gods and beg them to send down rain which symbolizes goodness in folklore. We also dance in times of death; dancing is not just for fun and euphoria, but we dance for therapeutic reasons and as a way to exorcise bad spirits. We dance to share our vision of existence, we dance because we want to listen to the universe, we simply dance for both joy and sadness.
Dancing to Overcome Differences
Due to the power and the solid presence of dance culture in our societies, we must work to raise citizens’ awareness of the need for peaceful coexistence through the ability of dancing to promote freedom and cooperation between the dancers. This linkage can help people establish and strengthen bonds with each other.
Dancing was one of the forms of interaction in the Nile Basin Seed Forum, which gathered members of civil society form the Nile basin countries in Aswan between 20-26 March. We danced to various songs and languages and cultures, and we did not feel any difference or strangeness in the essence of music. Even in Cairo we spontaneously started singing and dancing in Zooba restaurant in Zamalek, and were joined by strangers dining next to us, mesmerized by the rhythm of African melodies & traditional dances.

It started as a challenge between us; myself (South Sudan), Philimon (Ethiopia), Melat (Ethiopia), Abraham (Ethiopia), Mohamed (Sudan), Sarah (Uganda), Jennifer (USA), Mai (Egypt), Andre (Democratic Republic of Congo) on one side and Walid al-Shaalan (Egypt) and Balqis Duval (British of Syrian origin) on the other. Mai sang in Arabic, Philimon in Amharic, and Jennifer in English on our behalf, while Duval sang a beautiful song in English. Soon we began dancing to Amharic tunes, then we danced the Shilluk dance of South Sudan; where a male and female sing and jump with the song’s rhythm in a circle, the female jumps backwards facing the male who raises his arms to the rhythm.  We were also joined by the workers at the restaurant who didn’t mind us occupying the entirety of the small space and we laughed and danced like we all knew each other for decades. Still huffing and puffing with excitement, we finally sat down and enjoyed our traditional Egyptian dinner! Both dancing groups won the challenge because we all enjoyed ourselves. This spontaneous dancing break was a continuation of the wave of singing and dancing that was started in Aswan during the Forum and continued to the airport and the bus that took us downtown and eventually to Zooba.
This wonderful connection between people of different nationalities and cultural backgrounds opened my eyes to the importance of dancing and its ability to help us overcome our differences and bring people together and even unite them. It was a unique experience and it wouldn’t have been the same without dancing bring a prominent feature in our everyday interactions. Dancing is a form of establishing relations and emotional bonds, thus it becomes inevitable in today’s world. With it, we can create bonds of communication between people; we dance in joy or in sadness, but also to celebrate our humanity, friendship and peace.