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Orators (jalaba)

Debate, 1974

A jalabai speaking at a debate. (David Turton, 1974)

Political leadership is exercised by individual men (never women) who have achieved a position of influence in the local community, not through their occupance of a formal office, whether by inheritance, appointment or election, but through their personal qualities and, above all, through their oratorical skills. Known as jalaba (sing. jalabai) these are men whose contributions to public meetings, or debates have come to be respected and valued by the community at large. These meetings may be called to discuss anything from where to take the cattle at a time of drought to how to respond to a particular government demand or request. To describe a man as a jalabai, therefore, is not to refer to a formal status or office, but merely to recognise a general consensus about his leadership role in the context of such meetings.

More information

David Turton, ‘The Relationship between Oratory and the Exercise of Influence among the Mursi’, in M.Bloch (ed.) Political Language and Oratory in Traditional Societies. Academic Press, London, 1975, pp. 163-84.

David Turton ‘How to Make a Speech in Mursi’, in P.I. Crawford and J. K. Simonsen (eds.) Ethnographic Film: Aesthetics and Narrative Traditions. Intervention Press, Aarhus, 1992, pp. 159-75.

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