Paper: Music and the politics of famine: everyday discourses of shame for suffering

Paper details

Paper authors Naomi Pendle, Abraham Diing Akoi and Benjamin Dut Dut
In panel on Famine and Food Insecurity: New Trends and Systems or Politics as usual?
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person & Online


Famine continues partly because famine does not always result in those who cause famine being blamed, shamed, and held politically accountable. Instead, shame for famine suffering is often misplaced, with families of those who suffer shamed for their suffering. Famine can also be seen as an act of nature or blamed on a distant, uncontrollable or punitive divinity. This discourages those who are most impacted by famine having the political courage to hold to account those who cause famine. Our paper focuses on the way that the composition and performance of songs and music are used to shape ‘regimes of truth’ around famine and who is held accountable for famine suffering. The article is based on songs composed and performed in Jonglei and Warrap States (South Sudan) that include discussion of hunger and famine. Since the 1980s, South Sudanese people living in these states have experienced unprecedented, deadly famines. There are also communities in these states who continue to experience pockets of famine because political actors cut off food supplies to their communities. In these contexts where there is limited political freedom, songs and music are an important way to discuss and remember important, politically entangled issues. We include discussion of songs that discuss periods of extreme hunger over the last hundred years, including the deadly famines of the 1990s. We explore these songs can misplace shame, but also how they can sometimes open space for discussion of famine politics. The research is based on long-term ethnographic work in the region and the recording of famine-related songs in 2021 – 2023.