Seeing Pastoralism 6: Partir Pour Rester

This is the sixth post in our Seeing Pastoralism series, highlighting material from a new online exhibition that draws on PASTRES research.

This week focuses on pastoralists in Douiret, Tatouine, Tunisia. Linda Pappagallo has been researching on how different forms of absence influence dynamics of accumulation. For this part of the Seeing Pastoralism series, she focuses on how absence is expressed in its different forms and has different implications of having herds.

Out of 90,000 Douris, only between 700 and 1000 reside in Douiret more permanently. The vast majority of Douris, 20,000 currently live in the capital, Tunis, in the neighbourhoods of Hafsia, Bab Jedid and Bab Jezeiria, where little ‘islands’ of Douiret have been created.

Absence, is therefore a key feature of Douiret, but how does it relate to livestock keeping?

When absence is seen in relation to presence, and not only as ‘non-presence’, as a void or vacuum, then the act of leaving is understood in relation to those who stay and vice versa. ‘Partir pour rester’ (‘To leave in order to stay’) reflects this dialectic and focuses on the daily strategies of mobility that explain how notwithstanding, and thanks to absence, pastoralism in drylands persists.

Absence can be a vacuum, asynchronous, virtual, liminal, or expressed through rituals. These different aspects of absence include the lifecycle dimension, the beats and pulses of various intersecting aspirations and emotional needs. From youth to adulthood to retirement, Douiris leave and return in different ways and engage and disengage with livestock.

The ebbs and flows of knowledge and experiences, through transfer and exchange with the place of origin are transformative aspects that influence visions and opportunities of “having herds”.

For example, returning to the village during school holidays builds identities and imaginaries through childhood memories. These are later expressed as attachments and relationships to territory, which includes livestock.

Even when an individual gets older and perhaps is absent more permanently, they remain ‘attached’ to the village in more or less real ways. For many digital technology has helped replace physical absence with a virtual presence.

More than 20 active Facebook groups are dedicated to Douiret, while thousands continue to post various maps, archival footage, pictures, poetry, and live videos of sheep shearing, olive picking and carpet weaving.

Absences also create opportunities for those who remain. Shifting subjectivities within the household occurs consistently. As women and elders are often holding a space in Douiret for any eventual return, roles and responsibilities within the household change.

“If it wasn’t for women, we wouldn’t be able to do anything, women are everything. When I was in Tunis, I had a lot of livestock here and I relied on my wife. She ran the business; she bought hay for the sheep and herded the flock and spent from her own money to keep things going”.

Explore the exhibition

For more images and stories from Tunisia, and to explore the other PASTRES research sites, visit the exhibition site Seeing Pastoralism.

Previous posts in this series:

Seeing Pastoralism 1: ‘Everything has changed, even the way we die’

Seeing Pastoralism 2: Dharma on the Left, Conservation on the Right

Seeing Pastoralism 3: I Exist Because You Exist

Seeing Pastoralism 4: Moving through time and space

Seeing Pastoralism 5: Pastoralism, 100 Ways

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