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Title: Im/mobility : homeland, identity and wellbeing amongst the Beni-Amer in Eritrea-Sudan and diasporas
Author: Hmmed, Saeid
ISNI:       0000 0004 7228 6722
Awarding Body: University of Leicester
Current Institution: University of Leicester
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis focuses on how mobility, identity, conceptions of homeland and wellbeing have been transformed across time and space amongst the Beni-Amer. Beni-Amer pastoralist societies inhabit western Eritrea and eastern Sudan; their livelihoods are intimately connected to livestock. Their cultural identities, norms and values, and their indigenous knowledge, have revolved around pastoralism. Since the 1950s the Beni-Amer have undergone rapid and profound socio-political and geographic change. In the 1950s the tribe left most of their ancestral homeland and migrated to Sudan; many now live in diasporas in Western and Middle Eastern countries. Their mobility, and conceptions of homeland, identity and wellbeing are complex, mutually constitutive and cannot be easily untangled. The presence or absence, alteration or limitation of one of these concepts affects the others. Qualitatively designed and thematically analysed, this study focuses on the multiple temporalities and spatialities of Beni-Amer societies. The study subjected pastoral mobility to scrutiny beyond its contemporary theoretical and conceptual framework. It argues that pastoral mobility is currently understood primarily via its role as a survival system; as a strategy to exploit transient concentration of pasture and water across rangelands. The study stresses that such perspectives have contributed to the conceptualization of pastoral mobility as merely physical movement, a binary contrast to settlement; pastoral societies are therefore seen as either sedentary or mobile. This study argues that pastoral mobility is more than mere physical movement: it is a mechanism through which pastoralists formulate their sense of homeland, identity and wellbeing. As part of the analysis the study investigates the multiple interlocked factors which underpin dynamic change to Beni-Amer pastoral systems across time and space. It argues that those binary boundaries between the sedentary and the nomadic are fuzzy: pastoralists are ‘mobile when mobile, mobile while sedentary, and sedentary while mobile’; mobility is a permanent feature, but its purpose and practice differ across time and space. The study argues that mobility is central to Beni-Amer existence, intrinsic to their everyday practices. It happens everywhere; even when camping for extended periods at a single site in a good rainy season their life incorporates mobility. Furthermore, the study argues that for those who leave pastoralism as their primary livelihood strategy (‘drop-out pastoralists’), their continuing mobility is invisible in research literature: pastoralists are perceived to cease mobility when leaving pastoralism. This study found that leaving pastoralism does not mean leaving mobility; it means engaging in multiple im/mobilities beyond pastoralism. Pastoralists in transition engage in non-pastoral mobility in search of alternative livelihoods in ‘new’, often urban, environments; many gravitate towards illegalised migration, often experiencing fragmented im/mobilities, characterised by multiple returns, stillness, stuckness, waiting and uncertainty. This study found that this fragmented im/mobility itself converts pastoralists in transition into asylum seekers and diaspora communities. In the new destination, they develop a diasporic identity while remaining connected to the pastoralist identity of their upbringing. In the host country, their im/mobility rights link to their immigrant status; as such these have a significant impact on their sense of wellbeing, identity and homeland attachment. The study concludes that those Beni-Amer who are unable to revisit their homeland demonstrate profound disappointment with life in the diaspora and face the risk of being permanently deracinated, in contrast with those who can maintain contact with their homeland.
Supervisor: Upton, Caroline ; Dickinson, Jen ; Byron, Margaret Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available