Symbolic Representations of Nomadic Identities


Ort: Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen, Haus 30, Hörsaal
Zeit: 5.–6. Oktober 2006


05. Oktober 2006
Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen, Haus 30, Hörsaal

18:00 Uhr

öffentlicher Lichtbildervortrag

Christine PELTRE, Strasbourg:
Le peintre-nomade: une représentation de l'artiste au XIXe siècle


06. Oktober 2006
Halle, Franckesche Stiftungen, Haus 30, Hörsaal

9:00 Uhr

Begrüßung und Einführung

9:15 Uhr

Bertram SCHMITZ, Hannover:
From sign and symbol to tent and temple

10:00 - 10:30 Uhr


10:30 Uhr

Judith ROSENHOUSE, Haifa:
Arabic culture and language in Bedouin and sedentary populations: some trends in the 20th century

11:15 Uhr

Andrzej ZABORSKI, Kraków:
Language, literature and identity on the example of the nomadic cultures of north-east Africa

12:00 - 14:30 Uhr


14:30 Uhr

Renate HECKENDORF, Hamburg:
Problems concerning the reconstruction of symbolic meaning in rock marketings from South-Morocco

15:15 Uhr

Jakob TAUBE, Leipzig/Berlin:
Nomadische Identität im Wandel: das Beispiel der zentralasiatischenn Textilien

16:00 - 16:30 Uhr


16:30 Uhr

Ines STOLPE, Berlin:
The mongolization of the Soviet Star

17:15 Uhr

Annegret NIPPA, Leipzig:
Audible, visible and other enigmatic of difference among nomads in the Arab world



Le peintre-nomade: Une représentation de l'artiste au XIXe siècle

Christine Peltre

" Est-ce vivre que végéter comme un champignon attaché à un tronc pourri ? " se demande Delacroix dans son Journal en 1824. Ce besoin de mouvement, réalisé dans son fameux voyage au Maroc de 1832, est commun à de nombreux artistes qui, au XIXe siècle, participent au mouvement orientaliste. Souvent lue à l'époque comme une quête de la Terre promise ou comme la course du Juif errant, cette itinérance s'inscrit aussi sous le patronage anthropologique du nomadisme, mode de vie dont les Orientalistes deviennent peu à peu familiers. Contre la rigidité du cursus honorum artistique, parfaitement illustré par la " ligne droite " du parcours d'Ingres, et la sédentarité des " écoles " et des ateliers, de nombreux peintres préfèrent les itinéraires supposés buissonniers des Bohémiens ou des Bédouins, pratiquant, selon la formule de Baudelaire, " la haine du domicile et la passion du voyage ". L'artiste, isolé dans la société bourgeoise du XIXe siècle, cultive parfois l'image du " paria " et revendique ainsi une identité errante, libre et sauvage, qui lui fait rechercher, comme Etienne Dinet (1861-1929), la compagnie des nomades choisis pour modèles. Cette démarche, marquée par le romantisme, se poursuit de nos jours avec la multiplication d'œuvres " nomades ", comme le montrent plusieurs travaux d'artistes contemporains et très récemment l'exposition " Michel Butor, l'Ecriture nomade ", organisée à la Bibliothèque Nationale de France à Paris.

Problems concerning the reconstruction of symbolic meaning in rock markings from South-Morocco

Renate Heckendorf

Moroccan rock art cannot be considered as part of a living tradition. This is the main problem standing in the way of reconstructing symbolic meaning in rock markings from South-Morocco. Any statement on the subject of pictorial representation is limited to a "pre-iconographic" level of description and reveals merely its "phenomenological sense". Traditionally, the engravings of "Bubalin" (here: "Tazina") and "Bovidien" (here: "Pseudo-Bovidien") style were considered as a record of past desertification that gave rise to cultural change in the Moroccan pre-Sahara and the neighbouring mountain-zones. As a result of the systematic investigation of 1881 engravings that were found on 919 panels from 20 rock-art sites, this interpretation cannot be confirmed. The variants of the above mentioned rock art styles are distributed along the main riverbeds that follow a southward direction from the western Anti-Atlas to the Oued Draa. The creation of the rock-markings was probably related to the activities of Bronze Age or Iron Age cattle pastoralists. By moving their herds between the mountain-zones and the pre-Sahara, they managed with the prevailing semi-arid conditions. As to the problem of reconstructing symbolic meaning, the category of geometric motifs is most instructive. Several geometric forms were identified as tribal markings that were in use among the nomads of the 20th century. Interestingly, not only abstract, but also representational drawings recurrently appear on different panels and sites. Therefore, the sense of the latter should be much more complex than it has been assumed so far.

Signs of Difference among Nomads in the Arab World

Annegret Nippa

For tracing the meaning of nomadic reality all spheres of life - i.e. economy, household, kinship and genealogy, politics and even religion - have to be taken into account in respect to their central institutions and different modes of actions. Although these institutions and actions fulfil various normative functions, their respective appearances are the decipherable medium of symbolic representation. The transformation of plain representation (the sheik as representative of the tribal unit) into a symbolic one (his bearing of weapons as a symbol of status) will be demonstrated within different fields of action:

  1. Leadership as an important institution among tribal societies, especially among nomads, stands for the closeness and the firm cohesion of the group towards the outside. The institution of hospitality points to the opposite direction, insofar as its performance opens up the closed society of tribesmen to others, i.e. neighbours and foreigners as well.
  2. Concerning their material culture, carpets and tents has become nearly synonymous with the nomadic way of life, but they differ from tribe to tribe. The symbolic meaning of the tents is to be found in the construction and the form. The ornamental structure of nomadic carpets completely differs from the urban one.
  3. The individual man or woman, producing a carpet or any other textile, feels personally responsible for the execution of the motifs and its quality. But when it is finished the product belongs to the corporate group, the household. Whatever judgement about the carpet their neighbours put forward, it will come close to judging the whole household, although it is known who did the execution individually. The carpet itself does not represent the individual effort of its producer, but the reputation of the whole group.
  4. Some of the described forms of symbolic representation occur in the urban context; unconsciously or intentionally reused, transformed or altered.
  5. The camel and the dromedary have often been connected to manifestations of nomadism. Their replacement by trucks was equalled to the "end of nomadism". But nomads who keep on going harbour a different point of view.


Arabic language and culture in Bedouin vs. sedentary populations: Some trends in the 20th century

Judith Rosenhouse

Arabic is the language of the Arabs originating in the Arabian Peninsula. This talk will survey the main features of the Arabs, of their language and of their culture as expressed in the different structures. We will look at these aspects from the point of view of the differences between nomadic (Bedouins) and sedentary Arabs. In this framework the talk will briefly touch the Arabs' historical background, survey the Arab world today, and compare Bedouin and Sedentary folk stories and poetry, as examples of their culture. We will then focus on linguistic features of Bedouin and sedentary communities in Israel (North, South and Centre) as a case study which presents traditional and innovative features, respectively. In this part of the talk we will also present dialect contact features, which are a ma-jor feature of present-day living circumstances.

From the Sign to the Symbol and from the Tent to the Temple

Bertram Schmitz

Even though everyday language makes no difference between sign and symbol, scientific speech does: the sign itself is not directly related to what it means. It is only an arbitrary convention, which connect one to the other. So the traffic sign for "stop" could also have a cross inside or could show a car, coming from the other direction, or the German or French word for "stop". But the symbol is directly related to what it expresses; and what is more: as the theologian Paul Tillich has said: It participates in the meaning itself. And it could be the most adequate way to present what it wants to express.

In that way a "tent" could be a sign for a migrating group. But it may also clearly express the nomadic way of being. For the ancient Israelites, wandering in the desert of Sinai, it was in the beginning a tent which became their temple. That was a provisonal mobile temple. This temple was their ideal sign and symbol for their migrating god. Later, when they founded their kingdom in the land of Israel, the permanent temple became their holy place - but nevertheless, it could be called "house" (bajt) as well as "tent" (ohel). The question was, if a fixed house could be a symbol for the migrating god - or if the god himself became a settled one. Later the Christians used the "tent" for explaining the way in which their Lord Jesus Christ had lived on earth. And the Muslims, at least, used the symbol of the temple for the Kaaba.

In that way my lecture will show, how the nomadic tent changed from sign to symbol, but retains part of its quality also as a fixed temple. And it expresses the representations of God on earth in the so called "Religions of Abraham".

The Mongolization of the Soviet Star

Ines Stolpe

For the creation of a socialist identity in the Mongolian People's Republic, symbols were of great importance. However, for obvious reasons, some of the iconographic elements typical of Soviet pictorial language - such as the hammer & sickle or the cogwheel & ears of corn - did not resonate in a society that was characterized by an almost entirely nomadic lifestyle at the time. The Soviet Star, in contrast, soon became popular, sometimes even recognized as representing some core elements of nomadic identity. It was an exist-ing Mongolian concept that helped this symbol to achieve a positive image, but in fact by coincidence and for the wrong reasons.

When the Red star was introduced into the Mongolian catalogue of symbols, it was combined with other popular signs. Its five points evoked a specific meaning, which - despite this kind of attribution was not unintended - met with official approval. The nomadic lifestyle as the frame of reference proved to be surprisingly plausible for establishing a correlation with socialist ideology. It so happened that the symbol saw a local decontextualisation and was then shifted into a socialist recontextualisation. The various combinations are quite telling as to the different representations of identity with regard to changing semantic requirements. This example illustrates first, how reality is generated communicatively, producing ambiguous results, and second, that specific context parameters and responsiveness are prerequisites for a successful hybridization.

Nomadic Identity in Change: The Example of Central Asian Textiles

Jakob Taube

"Nomadic life" in presentday usage means "to move around" and "not having a permanent address". It is contingent upon the needs of the cattle herd that must move on when the grazing is exhausted. Thus "nomadic life" is determined by the herd, the livelihood of the nomads. According to this "nomadic identity" understandably is either collective or tribal. The tribe is bound by blood relations via the female members. The entire identity of the individual is determined through the mother, who originally is the tribal mother. The tribal mother controls all of the individual's relationships. This "control" is so allencompassing that it absorbs the individual's "self", so that there can be no question of the individual's own "self"; this "self" still lies dormant in the shelter of the tribal mother. The only thing that the individual has at his or her disposal at that point is an id. The self(lessness) of the individual, and the custody of the self within the community is, psychologically, the basis of tribalism.

Stylistic analysis of a special group of Central Asian embroideries (Large Medallion Suz-ani) shows the disintegration or demolition of this collective tribal-maternal self in connection with starting a sedentary way of life.