The Giraffe, the Star, and the Contradictions of Everyday Life
Posted: 16 Apr 2013
Date Written: April 16, 2013
Based on ethnographic research carried out between 2009 and 2010 in the vicinity of Bor Town, Southern Sudan, this paper examines a number of commonplace jokes. Observers and analysts frequently make sense of Africa’s social complexity by contrasting two systems, or by describing Africans as temporally suspended “between tradition and modernity”—as if the only contradictions and dilemmas that people experienced were through their encounters with exogamous histories. Jokes share with this analytic rubric a structure of two realms whose relation to one another is incommensurable. This paper challenges representations of Bor’s “isolation” by focusing on people’s experiences of contradiction as an internal feature of everyday jokes and humorous stories. These are “The D.C. and the Chief” jokes, “arrogant politician” jokes, riddles such as “the child of the bird that doesn’t lay eggs,” and “ethnic jokes” about fishermen. Examining these jokes in their wider pragmatic context reveals a complex political critique and ambivalent attitude toward relations of authority.
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