lisa monaghan

Feyissa (2010). The Cultural Construction of State Borders. The View from Gambella

The study of state borders has long been preoccupied with their artificiality and the negative impact they have had on the local people. Recent studies have shifted the focus on state borders away from constraints to state borders as conduits and opportunities. Different factors are involved in determining the conditions of resourcing state borders and borderlands. The paper argues that local perceptions the range of cultural meanings attributed to state borders significantly factor in how a particular international border is used by specific groups of people. Drawing on the ethnography from the Gambella region of western Ethiopia, the paper advocates for a cognitive psychological approach in border studies. In so doing it goes beyond the conventional dichotomous template between the ‘‘bounded’’ European and the ‘‘permeable’’ African border imageries. Here the binary opposites are not Europeans and Africans but rather two African neighbors the Anywaa and the Nuer with sharply contrasting concepts of borders. Kewis theAnywaa concept of border which they also use to refer to the International border. Its use should be restricted to the Anywaa only but conceptually it is similar to the European notion of a bounded boundary. The Anywaa subscribe to a compartmentalized view of political boundaries both at the inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic level and thus they project onto the state border the same imagery. The Nuer, on the other hand, subscribe to a more flexible view of a political community. A tribal boundary (Cieng) is permeable. Individual Nuer change identity as situations demand, this often being dictated by their search for ‘‘greener pasture’’. The Nuer do exactly the same in national identification with a dynamic pattern of border-crossing depending on the fluctuating opportunity structures between the Ethiopian and Sudanese states. The Anywaa’s call for the rigidification of the international border and the chronic border crossing of the Nuer seemingly has strategic dimensions. A closer examination of their behavior, however, reveals that in making use of the state border both the Anywaa and the Nuer draw on their respective cultural schemata

Category: Anthropology and History, Conflict

Sub-category: Displacement and Protection of Civilian Sites, International Assistance and Interventions