KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - A joke is a display of humor in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh and is not meant to be taken seriously.
However, jokes can be very destructive in a fragile and complex society, in particular if the uttered joke touches upon some social or ethnic sensitivities.
In recent years a wide range of jokes have been in circulation in Sudan, with varying social, historical or political themes. Political jokes have the tremendous power to reach the public, unveil the state of affairs, disclose the reality behind things and spotlight areas of default and deviation.
For some, the job of the political joke is to send messages of protest in the first place, and then to stimulate laughter and help the public steal short moments of joy.
It has been noticed that political jokes usually increase with the decreasing freedom of expression.
Specialists consider the political joke the daughter of political oppression. And because the joke composer cannot communicate what he wants directly, he puts his grievance or criticism in a comic context. In this way he can guarantee a quick circulation of his message without any liability, because he will remain anonymous.
On some occasions government officials, including President Bashir, had revealed that they were aware of some of these jokes.
Examples of political jokes:
When the rumour broke out that the government had agreed to nationalize persons living in Kuwait without having the nationality of that country (the bedoons), which literally means “without nationality”, a customer was asked by a coffee saleswoman whether he wanted his coffee with or without sugar he said: “Bedoon”, that is without sugar.
Here the woman quickly asked:”Are you already here?”
And during the recent rise in bread prices, a young man working in a bakery asked a father the hand of his daughter in matrimony.
“What are your qualifications, son?” asked the father.
“I work in a bakery,” was the reply.
“Congratulations, son!” the father accepted his offer instantly.
During the quick drop of the dollar price from 46 pounds to 30 pounds, one man asked his friend: Why didn’t commodity prices fall with the falling dollar price. His reply was: “They are afraid for their fame, going up and down and here and there with this man, the dollar!”
The history of jokes in Sudan is associated with certain personalities like Wadnaffash in the City of Omdurman who had proven cleverness and lightheartedness. Because of his fame, some members of the public had used to invent jokes and attribute them to him.
Comic Actor al-Fadil Saeed had pioneered theatrical jokes thorough his stereotype characters like al-Ajab and Bit Goddaim he used to present on the stage.
Then the 1990s saw comic troupes specialized in presenting jokes on the stage, radio and TV and via video tapes. Of these is the Tairab Troupe which is often criticized for propagating tribalism and racism through stereotyping certain tribes.
It is this tribalism and stereotyping of certain ethnic groups that plagues advocates of national unity and concord, who see in this behavior an undermining of the national social fabric as well as the peace of the country.
Natheer Ahmad, who identified himself as ‘citizen’, notes a recent widespread of jokes in our society because of the advanced recording systems, WhatsApp messages and smart phones. “The job of troupes and individuals specializing in the presentation of jokes is to make people laugh via jokes they invent. These invented jokes are sometimes laced with slandering individuals or ethnic groups. These jokes fan the fires of social or tribal bias. They may also be recipes for bad manners and unlawful relations between men and women.” He said.
Some joke crackers have a tendency to build up their narrative around the personality of the narcotic user known in the local vernacular as almastool (literally the one intoxicated with drugs). Natheer scathes some bus drivers on highways who entertain their passengers on board with shows of these jokes.
Some joke producers do not hesitate to accuse one tribe of avarice, another of negligence, a third tribe of being barbaric, another of rashness and another of being idiotic. In this way jokes have become a horn blowing into the fires of discord our country already suffers from. The jokes about the ‘mastool’ are the most popular, for propagators of such jokes consider this category most smart and imaginative when they are on drug. “But this is no less than a felony committed against the society and the individuals. That is simply because the use of narcotics has nothing to do with intelligence. Its end product is the destruction of the brain and the body and failure to keep up with education, work or family. For this, specialists advocate firm and relentless education on the facts about the mastool and the drug user. These specialists also accuse the propagators of such jokes of just running after money, no matter the content of these jokes.
But some propagators of such jokes deny any evil intention behind what they broadcast. Mohamed Koki, member of the Hambareeb Comic Troupe told Sudanow that they have no intention behind what they broadcast other than “educating and entertaining the citizens.”
“The citizens suffer from dire living conditions and we seek to draw a smile on their faces,” he argues.
“We have been working for 20 years now and we had never come into a quarrel or wrangling with any tribe,” he says.
“In addition, tribes exist all over the world. And when we imitate the dialect of a certain tribe, we are just after showing the difference in language and not to belittle the concerned tribe,” Koki further argues.
“The joke is the easiest of comic works. It does not require a theatre or decoration and is often associated with the changing events,” he says.
Koki says political and social jokes are as old as history. “Jokes are now exchanged on the social media, but their dramatization on the stage is more entertaining”, he says.
For his part member of the Tairab Comic Group Osama Jinkeez denies that they were to blame for the turn towards tribalism. “If you go to the ID office, you will find that in their forms the ID authorities ask the applicant to write down the name of his tribe,” he said.
“Tribalism exists everywhere, even in America,” he said, categorically denying that they vilify this or that tribe.
“There is demand for what we present, and our comic troupes are contracted to present shows during official and popular celebrations,” Jinkeez has said.
Sociologist Mohamed Ahmed Abdelhameed considered the jokes issue an important topic to discuss: “Jokes express a social feeling and demonstrate public awareness about the components and problems of the society,” he said.
“The purpose of jokes is to recreate and drive boredom away. Jokes usually spread in societies burdened with living and psychological problems,” he said.
He further noted that the urban societies in particular have a tendency to exchange jokes that aggravate the identity problems and the problem of racial bias. “When jokes become a source of nuisance and harm to the national unity and the society’s established moral values, they should be checked,” he said.
“A joke is a double-edged sword .It can recreate, but it can also drive the society, where the rural values are dominant, into problems,” he said.
He noted that many of the jokes on display in the public transport carry negative tribal insinuations and this could harm the country’s national unity and undermine the moral and spiritual values. “This is like adding oil to a burning fire and for that such jokes are condemned by the intellectuals and political decision-makers,” he argued.
Abdelhammed extolled the early decision by the Local Government Chamber that banned giving tribal names to localities as “most perfect.”
“Any attempt to infringe upon the country’s cultural, tribal and anthropological diversity should be checked legally, because the values of the nation should have supremacy over those of the tribe,” he further asserted.
Abdelhameed has noted that police records in Khartoum’s peripheries cite lots of felonies triggered by such tribally- based jokes.
The exchange of jokes is permissible unless they cause harm to others.
E N D