Inge Butter MA – Change and continuity within the Walad Djifir’s (inter)national networks

Change and continuity within the Walad Djifir’s (inter)national networks: Connectivity and groundedness amongst nomadic Arabs of Central Chad (working title)

The main goal of this ethnography is to analyse the social and economic networks of which the Chadian Walad Djifir are a part, by looking at the ways life in the nomadic camp (ferikh) links up to larger (inter)national/regional dynamics. By focusing on several ‘connectors’ embodied in daily ferikh life (leaders, cattle, money/remittances and family) through the narratives of individuals, I hope to examine this link with the ‘outside’ world. Within this context, the processes of change and continuity are important ones. The field of research is thus approached through a mobility-lens, analysing the inter-regional movements of Chadian semi-sedentary nomads with the help of connectivity-thinking. Through focusing on connectors and negotiations, I look at the internalisation of the ferikh in individuals, while at the same time arguing for the embeddedness of the ferikh in the wider region.

The point of departure for this research is the Walad Djifir’s ferikh. First and foremost, the ferikh is a collective word for an ensemble of nomadic tents set up together. These tents are inhabited by family members who often share the herding of a specific group of livestock, with every married woman owning her own tent. Within the area and at walking distance from each other, one will find several other ferikhs, inhabited by close and extended family members. This brings us to a second use of the word ferikh. It not only eludes to a physical nomadic camp but also indirectly to an extended family. An individual is part of an extensive familial network with complicated kinship patterns due to a preference for cross-cousin marriages. Members of the same extended family can live spread out over various nomadic camps and still refer to themselves as belonging to the same ferikh (ie. fall under the same leader/chef de ferikh). In its collective form, the daily activities of the ferikh link up to the socio-economic and politically-oriented dynamics of the region (locally, nationally and across national borders).

The primary motivation for the research project is to understand the way ‘lives are lived’ within the context of the ferikh, national and regional socio-politics. What struck me was the constant negotiation that family members are involved in, a negotiation between security and insecurity, the self and the group, the group and the state, order and disorder, the known (predictable) and the unknown, the drive to escape while nurturing the safety of familiar ways. Another aspect which I found intriguing was that of the simultaneous confrontation, struggle, adaptation and empowerment of flexibility. This flexibility was mostly reflected in the (in)voluntary choices people (had) made, the explanatory narrative of why they had done so, and the reactions of others to this. Is this flexibility then part of a continuous process of action-reaction already in place? Or are the frameworks within which these actions and reactions can be placed, being transformed?

Inge’s publications that emerged from the project include:

  • Butter, I., ‘La mobilité transationale et le reseau economique des nomades de Batha’, Workshop organised by Djimet Seli & CRASH as part of Mobile Africa Revisited Project: De la mobilité physique à la mobilité par les ondes, 19 March 2013, N’Djamena. Presentation including short film.
  • Butter, I., ‘Under duress: Chadian opinion makers in the digital age’, ASA UK Conference 2014, 9-11 September 2014, University of Sussex (Brighton).
  • Butter, I., ‘Money versus cattle: a Chadian perspective on the vulnerabilities of providing banking for the un-banked’, CRESC Conference: Precarious lives and experimental knowledge, 4-6 September 2013, London.