Understanding The Sacralization Of Space Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

During 2006, when I conducted fieldwork in Harar on public discourses on saint veneration and Islamic reform, most Hararis were very proud of their city, its inhabitants and of course their religious past. But soon as I mentioned the label 4th holiest place of Islam, my friends, assistances, interview partners, officials all started either to laugh or got annoyed. All of them argued, that there is no religious ground for the claim of being the 4th holiest city and contemporary Harar doesn't fall under this category for sure. Some Hararis speculated that the town might have been something like the 4th holiest city, because of its historical value for Islam in the region, but again they know that their isn't any proof for such a claim. Ahmed Zekaria, a Harari and well known historian and formerly the curator of the anthropological museum in Addis Abeba, started even to blame a specific person in Harar to have invented such a term.

When I finally returned home to finish my Ph.D., these reactions puzzled me, in particular when I saw an article in the internet edition of the Middle East Times [4] . Therein, Harar is portrayed by Ahmed Zekaria as the "forgotten city" - forgotten in the sense of neglected, mainly by other Ethiopians and the rest of the world. The author of the article picked up the idea of Harar being the 4th holiest place and Islam and confronted the Vize-President of the Ethiopian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, a non-Harari, with this kind of claim. Naturally, he announced that Harar is not such a place. In the same article Ahmed Zekaria argued back, that the Vize-President is wrong. Harar should be listed even higher. He notes that before Islam travelled to Medina, the religion's second sacred city, it arrived in Ethiopia, where the country provided refuge for Muslims fleeing persecution in the time of the Prophet Mohammed.

He argued: "As far as I am concerned Ethiopia is the second home of Islam," he says. "Before it reached the [officially recognized] second city, Islam was here. So it ... may [even] be the first-and-a-half [most holy place], but not the second."

Slightly confused between first, one-and-a-half, second or fourth city in ranking, I would like to step back from the question who is more sacred and focus in some points related to this debate:

the claim of being sacred is legitimated by references to the past, a specific event, here the 1st hijra of a group of Muslims to Ethiopia.

The claim is apparently triggered by the feeling of disregard by others - the forgotten city

this claim is debated and contested by both others and by themselves (Ahmed and the Vize-President)

in this example it seems to be a specific form of representation for others, but for whom?

It not as such a commodification. It may be partly. But it is an expression of a much more complex

What does "sacredness" means?

What is place and who does a place become a place?

history and authenticity

sacred and the everyday life

Place, Space,

First, all places and spaces are social. In other words, places involve relationships between various individuals and groups of people. Spatial dimensions are an integral part of social life. Places, spaces and landscapes evoke individual memories and collective histories. They may raise hope and cause fears and they are essential for identities and boundaries as well as for power and politics. Increasing mobilities and translocal interactions, the continuous flow of goods, ideas and information - as well power relations trying to constrain them - establish new, socially construed places, landscapes and spaces. While formerly taken for granted, the territorialisation of the social became more and more significant in social sciences.

Although anthropologists concerns in the past included spatial dimensions of cultural practices, like the significance of landscape or ecolo-cultural conditions of everyday life, place and space haven been perceived as background, on which culture was written. They were rather seen as container, in which cultures are bounded an chained up (Appadurai, 1988)rodman, gupta …). Before the background of increasing migration and translocal interactions through new transport- and communication-networks, the question or fear if localities vanish, forced anthropology to rethink the conceptualisation of space and place. Heavily borrowing from sociology and geography, we could extract three different approaches: 1. space and place are used as synonyms, which lack any analytics value. 2. Place is absolute and is above space. This view is influenced by phenomenlogiy and geography, which conceptualize place as particular and special, where people are rooted and rememberance, nostalghia and continuity rules (tuan, Casey, Creswell). 3. Space is put above space. This direction is mostly attached to ne-marxist theories of sociology and geography (Lefevbrem Massey, Soja, Harvey). Space is conceived as an abstract grid and object, which could be observed, controlled and formed. This view is often prominent in contexts of politics and change.

While place is related to the past, space is the present or even the future. Place is the address, while space is living at this address (Agnew).

Casey criticized the notion that places are made out of abstract space and argues that people are always localized, therefore making place the dominant factor in human life. Places shall have the power to "gather", that means places are compressions of practices, experiences, remembrances, and they are part of a continuous process, since their material presence, the related experiences and meanings are changing over time. But Massey criticized for her part the assumption of Casey, that live means to live locally. She argues, that places as well as spaces are concrete, real and are lived. For Massey spaces are reflecting the simulteinity of trajectories which she called the "stories-so-far", historical discourses which crosses space. Places are locations were these stories thicken and, more important, the articulation of wider power relations.

For Muslim societies and cultures it should therefore be questioned, if sacred places could be analysed, without bringing in spaces. Most places in Islam are made through movement. Median through the hijra, Jerusalem the miraj, and most shrines are build in honour of saints, which usually were strangers and later on appropriated. Space and place therefore have to been thought together and not as another dichotomy. Places are made through movement. There is no place if not though a continuous coming and going. And space as just doesn't have meaning if not related to places. The sacred space of a shrines for example. See pilfgrimages, where it is not only the destination but the crossing of space itself which become important.

The importance of place in social relationships goes beyond its role as

the site where people interact. In fact, place serves as an integral element

in all social relations, both as a determinant of those relations and as a

product of them as well. This is especially evident in places of religion.

The special character of a holy site endows its occupants with a degree of

social prestige. Priests, ritual specialists, and others who inhabit and control

sacred sites command the respect of religious adherents who recognize

their importance in part because of their association with the auspicious

nature of the site. At the same time, the prestige of the place itself gains

History and Authenticity

Rememberance of the past, where all Muslims were righteous because they put the Islamic principles into practice, is an inherent feature of most Muslim societies and cultures. Ulrich Marzolph even argues, that an "Islamic culture is intrinsically retrospective - in a way a "culture of rememberance" (1998: 298; my translation). Richard Gramlich relates the imagination of a continuous decline and disintegration of the good to a perspective of certain events in the presence, rather than a realistic view of the past. The idealisation of the figures or places is a reflection of hope to overcome certain crisis's (1974: 111).

Remembering a glorious past are constructions, which have its source in an understanding of the present and are rarely useful data for historical events. The scientific occupation with the past therefore is more interested in the cognitive structures of contemporary thought. In an edited volume entitled "History and Rememberance" [org. Geschichte und Vergangenheit] most contributions analysed the axiom the crises and related search for identity of Muslim societies in the 20th and 21th century (Hartmann 2004). Here the remembrance and idealisation become a strategy to overcome the Fremdbestimmung by the West and establish a new self confidence. However, the central questions remains how and who remember, interprets and represent the past.

Anthropologist discovered rememberance as a process wherein something bestow/ awared meaning subsequently. Maurice Halbwachs already presented his theses of the "mémoire collective", the collective memory, in the 1950ies. Based on Durkheims argument, that knowledge of any society is connected to social organisation, Halbwachs argued, that any rememberance and local knowledge is inherent social and cultural specific. Most societies developed strategies to access their knowledge fast due to places, monuments or rituals. Halbwachs explained the localisation of an imagined past by the analyses of Christian topography in Israel (Source?).

This work is the basis of Pierre Nora and his "lieux de mémoire", the places of memory, as places where cultural knowledge, tradition and heritage are contained, controlled and administered. It's a manifestation of the politics of rememberance through elites. The starting point is first the fear to loose part of memory. Processes of globalisation, democratization or medialisation shall increase a disinterest and shall trigger forgetting the past. The result is, secondly, an obsession with the past to compensate the loss of the past as loss of identity and authenticity. Museums are the manifestations to gather cultural heritage and keep it together. Nora explaines with the example of France, how certain places which are seen as national symbols today, were formely divergent or even in opposition to the idea of a French nation. He shows, who this places of memory are not the expression of a living collective memory but rather part of an act of construction of history. The base of his argument is his differentiation between History, manifested in events, being universal and objective, abstract and static, and memory, whichis manifested in "natural places", being particular and subjective, concret and flexible. History is the process of selecting what's relevant. It is the instrument of historians to destroy the memory and transform the past cacophony into historical facts. Due to processes of globalisation, the disappearance of the nation, peasants, all in all "tradition" memory become destroyed rather than as in the past through historians. This insight leaded to a breite crises in society. Now, it is not the historian but the laymen who are interested in the preservation of their particular memory and they are accepted as local experts. This fragmentation of authority due to the social acknowledgment of certain, partly divergent histories in society [and you may think in general about the last decades of Muslims in Ethiopia]. Now every private man may build up an museum (as done in Harar recently with the museum of Abdallah Sharif, the archivisation of Harari music by western scholars of ethnomusicology, or the publication of a terrible travel guide by the French]. But these are places of memory, not milieus of memory of an lived collective memory. These place are not made out of the lived collective memory, as an act of spontaneous and direct remembering, but these places are newly and consciously build as re-constructions and a reaction of crises. While the miliex de memoire have an implizit meaning [see shrines Eickelman], one takes their present for granted, the lieux de memoire are explicit. One remember them because one should be remembered.

This approach by Nora was criticized because it is totally nostalgic and conservative. Moreover the division between history and memory was questions as well as the argument that rituals and memory will vanish and being separated of collective memory.

This is a general trend and I will come back to some features to Harar, especially when it comes to the role of shrines as places, which trigger an new historical.cultural identity to a new Muslim middle class in Harar. I'm interested who is responsible for the selection, what's the reason for it und who controls memory. The control of memory is a strategy not only to preserve heritage but also to legitimate and stabilise political order. One of the most and well known works has been the book "the invention of tradition"., again as reaction of crises, here the decline of former political structures. Herein, traditions are eingefädelt and develop never spontaneous. Tradition: = bundle of practices be it ritual or symbolic nature, which commonly are open or silently are seen as accepted rules. Tradition wants to strengthen certain values of behaviour through repetition.

Tradition is used to exerzie power, to establish institutions, symbolise social coherence and make individuals used to the political order. I think, in our context, the most popular example is that of Ethiopia as a "Christian island surrounded by infidels." Well, demographically the majority was indeed Christian until the conquerance of regions inhabited by Muslims at the end of the 18th century. This was more or less the same time, when that term appeared first in a letter of the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II in April 1891. In this letter to the Queen Elizabeth (???) Menelik II asked for support and help and justified his request with the common religion. The historian Samuel Rubenson noticed that most of similar letters using the term "Christian island" were written by Europeans living in Ethiopia. They were demanding churches for sending more missionaries. These letters formed the Western imagination of a "Christian island", as a country isolated from the west, threatened by foreign forces, which are definitely non-Christian. Of course, most of the time Islam was identified as the most dangerous enemy, which resulted to the wide accepted assumption, Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia are always in conflict.

How does the thesis of Hobsbawn and Ranger fir with democratic systems, since it is elaborated before the background of authroitan states? Problematiy is the term "invention". Bendict Anderson attaced in his argument about imagined communities, that the nationalism of Geller is an invention as fabrication. That would imply that a true community existed and only parts were invented [similar to the lieux de memoire]. But Anderson argues that all communities are imagined and that the distinction between false and right, between the authentic and in-authentic are senseless. But there is a new problem. Could people, be it elites or laymen, groups, or others freely decide to invent a community, a place, memory? What are the restrictions and constrains? Is any acting interessegelitet, is any social sicutation an arena of conflicting intrests? Isn't it possible to remember something without intention?

Secondly, one can not absolute invented tradtition enforce upon people? I think Ethiopia is an interesting example of how people restrain from certain from strict forms of reformism or the "politics of piety". This has to do with historical background and is of course different from region to region. But I never faced this sobriety in Harar, which was told me from other Muslim societies in Africa. They don't think that they are the best Muslims of the world. But they feel self confidence about their faith also related to the past and its imaginating. Most people will reject any new visions of the past when they collide with their assumption of truth. So it has rather to be questioned why certain traditions become so popular while others were not successful? The question is not why traditions are invented, since most are in a certain way invented, but why they succed and are seen as tru.

To talk about "authenticity" or "invention" is always a tricky things when it comes to religion. In his influential article Talal Asad described Islam as a discursive tradition, where orthodoxy is mere a relationship of power. But still one could read through the text as a kind of meta-orthodoxy, standing above the plain, local orthodoxy as power

As Heelas (Heelas, P. (1998) "Introduction: on differentiation and dedifferentiation," in P. Heelas

(ed.) Religion, Modernity and Postmodernity, Oxford: Blackwell.1998: 5) notes,

"people have what they take to be 'spiritual' experiences without having

to hold religious beliefs." In other words, spirituality is an individual experience

that is outside "preconstituted discourse[s] of meaning" (Hervieu-

Léger 1999 quoted in Voyé 2002: 124 Voyé, L. (2002) "Popular religion and pilgrimages in Western Europe," in W.H.

Swatos and L. Tomasi (eds) From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism,

Westport, CT: Praeger.), where experimenting with the

mixing of various religious traditions - both traditional and alternative

- is seen as both accepted and encouraged; thus making "real" religion

identifiable with personal faith outside of religious institutions (Tilley, T.W. (1994) "The institutional element in religious experience," Modern

Theology 10(2): 185-212.Tilley 1994:

185). Thus, many people who consider themselves spiritual would not

see themselves as religious and vice versa. In fact, atheists and agnostics

may also have deep spiritual experiences in relation to nature and their

own self-consciousness without believing in god or any organized religious


This separation of the spiritual from the religious has led to a reinterpretation

of what constitutes the "sacred," where people are no longer

constrained by religion in interpreting what spaces they view as sacred

Hammond, P.E. (1991) "How to think about the sacred in a secular age," in

D.G. Bromley (ed.) Religion and the Social Order, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. (Hammond 1991: 118). While historically the search for the metaphysical

or the supernatural has led people to sites where, in their minds, there was

the potential to commune with the "holy" (Hauser-Schäublin 1998), Tomasi

(Tomasi, L. (2002) "Homo viator: from pilgrimage to religious tourism via the

journey," in W.H. Swatos and L. Tomasi (eds) From Medieval Pilgrimage to

Religious Tourism, Westport, CT: Praeger.2002: 1; italics in original) argues that today "the search for the supernatural

[has been replaced] by [the] search for cultural-exotic and the


Expanded meaning of sacredness as place believes to embody a valued ideal" (Morinis, E.A. (1992) "Introduction: the territory of the anthropology of pilgrimage,"

in A. Morinis (ed.) Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage, Westport,

CT: Greenwood.Morinis 1992:

4; italics added). Pilgrimages to Ground Zero or a football stadium, the grave of Jim Morrison.

Some may visit places , not from a religious or spiritual perspective, but are marked and

marketed as heritage or cultural attractions to be consumed (Timothy, D.J. and Boyd, S.W. (2003) Heritage Tourism, Harlow: Prentice Hall.Timothy

and Boyd 2003). Tourists also visit sacred

sites seeking authentic experiences, whether through watching religious

leaders and pilgrims perform rituals or by experiencing a site's "sense of

place" or sacred atmosphere (Shackley, M. (2001a) Managing Sacred Sites: Service Provision and Visitor Experience,

London: Continuum.

Shackley, M. (2001b) "Sacred world heritage sites: balancing meaning with

management," Tourism Recreation Research 26(1): 5-10.Shackley 2001a, 2002).

Its difficult to divide between the ones who go to shrines because of deep spiritual or religious convictions

(i.e. pilgrims) are seen as somehow being different from those motivated

by pleasure, education, curiosity, altruism, and relaxation

Much has been made in the anthropological literature over the experiences

of religious travelers and why they travel. The religious motives

literature was initiated primarily by Eliade (1961) who noted that religions

have sacred centers that people desire to visit. Turner (1973) argued that

sacred sites were typically on the periphery of society away from the

profane social world. Cohen (1992) sees pilgrims as traveling to the center

of their religious world, and Eade (Eade, J. and Sallnow, M.J. (1991) Contesting the Sacred, London: Routledge.1992: 129) suggests that religious

travelers go on pilgrimages to gain "emotional release . . . from the

world of everyday structure." Turner (1984) terms this emotional release

liminality, where during a journey travelers experience a temporary

release from social ties and may "expect things of themselves and others

which they may not expect while they are at home" (Holmberg, C.B. (1993) "Spiritual pilgrimages: traditional and hyperreal motivations

for travel and tourism," Visions in Leisure and Business 12(2): 18-27.Holmberg 1993: 23).

in Harar = no economic structures surrounding the shrines -> a result of the fact, that it is not a pilgrimage centrer (attracting mostly people from the surrounding places)

One of the core ideals of the World Heritage Convention has been to create unity among people

by identifying outstanding examples of heritage that are 'universal' to humankind.

Most World Heritage is considered to be contested heritage by many due to its dualities in

global and local values and claims.

the need to balance tourism and everyday living

Harar is one of the 242 cities or urban settlements are registered

on the UNESCO World Heritage list

politics behind (touristic site major )

Acknowledging this conflict behavior, in 2001, UNESCO adapted the Universal Declaration

on Cultural Diversity. In this document, UNESCO concedes the importance of cultural diversity and inter-cultural dialogue as one of the best methods to guarantee peace

Van der Aa, in her

2005 dissertation, comes to four main conclusions on the state of world heritage sites. First,

the implementation of world heritage happens at the national level rather than at the local or

global settings.

the sites already on the World Heritage List do not always have the justification for the criteria of 'universal value,' but it is a useful tool for local and national stakeholders to achieve goals such as higher tourist numbers and greater reputation.

Lastly, she states that the international dimension of the World Heritage Convention lies in the cooperation between countries.

the authors then identify a major deficiency in World Heritage as

not being sensitive to the inclusion of 'locals' in the decision making processes in both subtle

and explicit ways

the use of heritage for

creating identities is not new.

Soft in approach -> people may life in these houses.

Mike Rowlands and Beverley Butler, "Conflict and Heritage Care," Anthropology Today 23, no. 1 (2007): p. 1-2.

Heritage Plaza Hotel (New hotel with good standard)



Balancing the management of religious sites as tourist attractions and

their religious purpose as houses of worship demand special strategies in management

Politics infuse every aspect of

The display and "authentic" preservation that attract visitors are part of the "politics of administrative culture" (Gable & Handler, 1993, 26). Involved are often conflicting claims of ownership, struggle for the public knowledge, but also staff, institutions, management.

It is about the consumption of heritage in contemporary society.

This process is a dialogical concept, not only a hegemonial one

Culturalisation is not part of the promotion of authenticity or commodification.


It is well known in anthropology, that the experience of space is always socially constructed.

Spatial dimensions are an integral part of social life. Places, spaces and landscapes evoke individual memories and collective histories; they raise hope and cause fears. They are essential for identities and boundaries as well as for power and politics. Increasing mobilities and social interactions, the continuous flow of goods, ideas and information - as well power relations trying to constrain them - establish new, socially construed places, landscapes and spaces. Formerly taken for granted, space, place and the territorialisation of the social became more and more significant in social sciences.

Lets take a look at the terms first: Place and Space were often seen as two poles reflecting different perspectives.

More recently, researchers started to think these classic dichotomies together. There is no place without movement through space. And space without places remains deserted, thus irrelevant for humanities and social sciences. Both belong together and no one stands above the other concept. It's like mosques and shrines.

In my context the most important book is probably "New Muslim Space in North

America and Europe edited by Barbara Metcalf. Therein

Problem: This is written for diasporic communities, thus groups which often struggle with cultural displacement. A Problem much stronger that in

I will obiously focus on people who stay t home or have been outside and try to change home.

During my lecture I will tackle on some of the important questions like "Who owns and controls a place? Who contests this? Who is excluded, who may participate? What is at stake?

I'm asking this questions in the context of continuous sacralisation and re-sacralization, as a process of re-definition and re-inscription of space with a new moral and cultural surface. I try to elaborate this from the perspective of migration and demographic changes, events of crises and the feeling of loss and consumption and entertainment. Well, these ideas are still free floating and I would like to take the opportunity of this workshop to elaborate on the general thought that sacred space sells, in particular when it is related to imaginations of the 'authentic' Oriental Africa and in particular, particular when the UNESCO is involved.

1. What does sacred means in local context Harar, how is it embodied? Some remarks on the history and the structure of the town are allowed to get an proper understanding what people remember today.

Let me start with a popular name for Harar, madinat al-awliya, the city of saints: This term mirror the high density of shrines inside the old town [Slice]. But this saintly topography is not limited by the old walls, but stretches beyond it, up to around 40 miles in radius, forming a dense network of all in all 300 shrines. According to the names, a lot of protagonists of Islamic history are buried here, especially from the Sufi side: 4 Kalifs, early and late Mystics but also many, many regional figures and some of these are still the most venerated saints today-

The most important is Abadir. According to a local document, fath madinat al Harar, he arrived with 405 sheikhs from Mekka and took possession of the region. He found Harar in a desolate condition: no leadership, scattered individuals and villages, hunger and epidemic plague. When Abadir was elected by his fellow scholars to be their leader, he ordered the surrounding tribes to bring their agricultural products for trade into the new founded town, establishing Harar as a trading centre, for which it was known until today.

While Abadir remained in Harar, the other saints went out of the town, selected their place, ramming their spear into the earth - a common practice of conquest in Ethiopia - and remained there, teaching, fighting against the evils, and so one.

 In summary they tamed the wilderness as an act of human empowerment, which enabled them later on to ride lions against their enemies and bring fertility to the land.

In fact, most of the oral histories point out that the saints where somehow mobile soldiers and political leaders, teachers but they don't describe them as miracle workers. They rather pacified the land, secured it and later they protected the inhabitants. Sacredness has to do with protection.

Two examples:


in Harar "sacred" doesn't exist. -> father or mother -> guiding figures, who protect, but who may also punish

History of the place

The spaces they occupied or better conquered correlate in size with the domain of the Emirate of Harar between 16th and 19th century - this is no coincidence.

Let me explain it through historical stages:

in the 16th century Harar was the capital of the sultanate of Adal. A scholar from Harar, Imam Ahmed, was able to reunite several Muslim states and conquer nearly ¾ quarter of the Highlands, mainly inhabited by Christians during a war lasting 16 years.

Both partys, Christians and Muslims, were weakened and several regions devastated by the attacks and counterattacks. This kind of vaccum was used by the Oromo people from the South, pastoralists and non-Muslim. They migrated to the north splitted up and overran the eastern muslim regions, leaving only very small pockets of Muslim enclaves. And the attacks on these places continued until the 17th century. It was a time of crises, since Harar lost all his political and economic influence in the region, was suffering from hunger and epidemics.

And it was during this time that most saints emerged, again as protectors, like Amir Nur, a leader who has build the wall for protecting the town and others

So saints, their shrines and the town are of very high symbolic significance, very much embedded in a religious context.

But as you may suspect, today many things changed. Let's start with the town itself.

For the last 100 years we know about an increasing urbanisation. Harar attracted many Christian Amhara from the Highland when it was occupied by the Christian Empire. But also people from other groups settled near by Harar in the new part, while some even took houses inside the old town

This related to the fact, that at the same time many of the original inhabitants, I named them Hararis, left the town, today it will be around ¾ quarter of the people, living in US, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and of course in other Ethiopian town mainly Addis Abeba and Dire Dawa. And recently there is a new trend, that some of the remaining Hararis move to the modern parts of the town: mainly because they perceive the old town as dirty, without sanitary system, always problems with water and electricity.

This group of Hararis belongs to the social and economically dominant group in town: civil servants, teachers, religious scholars, traders, politicians, and so on. Not all of them moved, and their perceptions and complains about the city is not consisted. But what somehow united them is a certain attitude towards Sufism, saints, their shrines, and the associated practices. [And the participants there which are from the lower starta of society: peasants, craftsmen, beggars and unemployed… only a few shop keepers, but that depends on the shrine, itself.]

The other group, the policy makers, never go to visit the shrines, they are lamenting about the lacking knowledge of the participants and the diluted rituals there, but they never ever question the idea of saints and their places as such. Despite the fact that this discourse of discipline and purity is similar to other Muslim communities, the group never take action in form of regulating saint veneration as such, or to attack people openly.

So both groups, the participants at shrine activities at the one hand, and the non-participants at the other hand perceive the town and the shrines as embodiment of history and memory.

But while the shrine people assume, that their practice is the correct sequel of an established practice reflecting the continuity of a religious order,

The policy makers, are continuously lamenting about the decline of Harar, imagining a golden age, where everything was ordered in a functionalistic way and represented the real tradition. For example Sufism. It is perceived as the ideal form of religiosity, but for today it is not practicable anymore. Anybody who claim to be a Sufi today is a liar.

At this point two developments occurred:

Idea of conservation and heritage

Culturalisization of sacred places and their practices

Both processes are related to each other.

The re-Appropiation of the City took place in form of re-sacralisation according to views who unite again place, culture and religion as the "authentic" image of Harar.

Before this background, sacred places where marked as cultural places, as places of memory lieux de memore.

- They were treated by the local Culture and Sports Bureau, when it was about their renovation.

- Music in form of zirkis, which are in fact poemes recited at the shrines and supported by drums, became popular through cassettes.

- On festivity, the shuwwal Id, they call it, also attached to shrines, became increasingly popular during the last years attracting from formerly 20 people to more than 500 hundred, many from the diaspora, many youngers. It was a new cleintel which war attacted, not the peasants but the employes, which was a new phenomena.

This incident is related to many years of work and applications for getting Harar enlistet as UNESCO world Cultural heritage.

As with the saints of the past, there is a strong congruence of interest, a new form of patron-client-relationship: Putting it bluntly, I my view the UNESCO was the modern saint, protecting the Hararis from all sorts of trouble.

The intrests of the Hararis first are manifold: not to be disregarded, perseveration of their culture, financial advantages, in particular when the President of the Regional State of Harar formulated: "Toursism is the future of the town".

But on the other hand it correlates with a trend in conservation studies, which re-defined "heritage" from the narrow "historic and artistic" to the broad "cultural" concept. So the focus also changed from the material to the so-called immaterial or intangible aspects of heritage.

This congruence of interest could be illustrated by a recent publication

The goal of the book is clear by the foreword of the same Präsident of the Regionalstate of Harar, Fuad Ibrahim: „This book will help the cause of protecting the heritage in no uncertain manner. [It] will surely help to prevent losing our heritage" (Revault & Santelli 2004: 5).

The statement reflects the opinion of having lost something, of discontinuity - and because of this, the topos of continuity is used. The representation if the Hararis as a homogeneous group is becoming a political and economic resource, when understood as a publication before the background of Harars enlistment as UNESCO world cultural heritage.

-> slice

„Its narrow alleyways of varied colours, its courtyard houses with rooms organized in an amazing play of banquettes, its religious manuscripts of outstanding quality as well as its rich handicraft in basketry, all testify to the special character of the Harari culture, and to the pride of its inhabitants. Considered as the fourth holy city of Islam Harar has preserved up until this day the essence of its public and private edifices, its religious practices and its social life"

(Revault & Santelli 2004)

Here heritage become a mode of cultural production in the present that has recourse to the past.

This "heritage industry" is marketing "traditional culture" and aim to create an urban landscape for by a leisured class of tourist searching for the "authentic" oriental Africa. It has to be questioned, how in the entanglement of international insitutions and local policy makers, the needs and desires of local residents are accommodated (odermatt 1996).

Related to the shrines, the people are not very much amused when their places are announced in the Lonely Planet as special places to visit and their ziyara, the communal visit of shrines, a an attraction not to miss. They become imagined Sufi-Groups full of appealing and colourful and crazy people.

Probably the most spectacular event for tourists in Harar is the feeding of the hyenas.

Again the Loney Planet undelrine, "Don't be confused: its not a touristy show, it's a tradition."

Well, I don't want to decode this statement in detail, but would say, that there is a tradition of hyena feeding in a rather religious context, at special places, a certain time on ashura, with a certain purpose -> divination. And what we see here is not related to it, but again tradition sells. And its about entertainment.

But this entertainment is not restricted to tourists only, but includeds the Hararis as well. Hararis from the Diaspora visiting Harar will go to this feeding, too. And they have fun during some festivities, which are now, similary with the hyena feeding, decontextualised from the shrines and taking place in open spaces. And this is quiet new. But it is fun, too. Big entertainment.

And you might think, we are the actors, where is the practise the prayer in the city: Here they are:

I would like to close my presentation with a small film during mawlud al-nabi

The stories that make these sites meaningful relate first of all to a

heuristic distinction between space and place. Space refers to an undifferentiated

expanse lacking in meaningful content. On the other hand, place

distinguishes particular locales by punctuating the meaningless expanse of

space with meaningfulness. As the cultural geographer Yi-Fu Tuan notes,

"'Space' is more abstract than 'place.' What begins as undifferentiated

space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value"

(Tuan 1977: 6). Indeed, the value that distinctive communities or particular

individuals attribute to a site differentiates it from other places and from

the monotonous expanse of space in general. This in turn emphasizes the

particularity of place in contrast to the homogeneity of space. This can

be visualized in terms of maps. A map is not so much a representation of

space as it is a guide to the meaningful content that differentiates space

into particular places. Michel de Certeau (1984: 116-132) discusses a

"bipolar distinction between 'map' and 'itinerary'"; he demonstrates how

historically "the map has slowly disengaged itself from the itineraries that

were the condition of its possibility." Thus, we do not see space on a map;

a map of space would be nothing more than a blank sheet of paper. Instead,

we see the configuration of particular places in relation to each other in a

given segment of space. Map is not territory, as Jonathan Z. Smith (1993:

309) correctly points out, but as artifacts of past itineraries, maps do provide

a visual image of the places that make a territory meaningful and

therefore recognizable to particular communities and individuals.


Space is the boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction.

Revault, P. and Santelli, S. (2004), Harar. A Muslim City of Ethiopia, Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris.