The University of Wisconsin Press

Women's Studies / African Studies / Middle Eastern Studies / Anthropology


Embodying Honor
Fertility, Foreignness, and Regeneration
in Eastern Sudan

Amal Hassan Fadlalla

Women in Africa and the Diaspora
Stanlie James and Aili Mari Tripp, Series Editors

"Dealing with women in their everyday lives, elevating without romanticizing, Fadlalla's ethnography ranks with Janice Boddy's Wombs and Alien Spirits as the two best studies of Sudanese women written to date."–Sondra Hale, University of California, Los Angeles

In the Red Sea Hills of eastern Sudan, where poverty, famines, and conflict loom large, women struggle to gain the status of responsible motherhood through bearing and raising healthy children, especially sons. But biological fate can be capricious in impoverished settings. Amidst struggle for survival and expectations of heroic mothering, women face realities that challenge their ability to fulfill their prescribed roles. Even as the effects of modernity and development, global inequities, and exclusionary government policies challenge traditional ways of life in eastern Sudan and throughout many parts of Africa, reproductive traumas–infertility, miscarriage, children's illnesses, and mortality–disrupt women's reproductive health and impede their efforts to achieve the status that comes with fertility and motherhood.

In Embodying Honor Amal Hassan Fadlalla finds that the female body is the locus of anxieties about foreign dangers and diseases, threats perceived to be disruptive to morality, feminine identities, and social well-being. As a "northern Sudanese" viewed as an outsider in this region of her native country, Fadlalla presents an intimate portrait and thorough analysis that offers an intriguing commentary on the very notion of what constitutes the "foreign." Fadlalla shows how Muslim Hadendowa women manage health and reproductive suffering in their quest to become "responsible" mothers and valued members of their communities. Her historically grounded ethnography delves into women's reproductive histories, personal narratives, and ritual logics to reveal the ways in which women challenge cultural understandings of gender, honor, and reproduction.

"An investigation of the cultural meanings and responses to issues of women's fertility, misfortune, and the community's very ability to regenerate itself and protect its homeland and its way of life, Embodying Honor will take a prominent place among the ethnographic studies of Muslim communities and anthropological works on health and reproduction."–Ellen Gruenbaum, California State University, Fresno

Anthropologist Amal Hassan Fadlalla is assistant professor of women's studies and Afro-American and African studies at the University of MichiganAnthropologist Amal Hassan Fadlalla is assistant professor of women's studies and Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan.


“Fadlalla's study adds a useful dimension to our understanding of women's reproductive struggles as part of a larger community effort to cope with local and global power relations.”
Islamic Africa

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Of Related Interest
Tired of Weeping

Mother Love, Child Death, and Poverty in Guinea-Bissau
Jónína Einarsdóttir

Wombs and Alien Spirits
Women, Men, and the Zar Cult in Northern Sudan
Janice Boddy

Hadendowa women and men paying homage to a popular saint, in front of her mosque, in Eastern Sudan

November 2007

240 pp. 6 x 9
25 b/w photos and an eight page color insert, 4 tables, 1 map

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Cloth $55.00 s
ISBN 978-0-299-22380-9
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