Fighting for Peace: Hakamas in Darfur

"We've seen enough of the war..." One of the 40 participants in the hakamas workshop sings a newly written song for peace and security in Darfur. Photo: UNDP Sudan

Hakamas are a traditional part of the daily lives of men and women throughout the Darfur region in western Sudan. They used to comprise women singers who would accompany male combatants to the frontline, intoning their rally cries to the thrill of victory and the glory of battle. Now however, the Hakamas are being transformed from rallying men to war to singing for peace.


  • Outreach activities by UNDP and its implementing partner Afia reached more than 53,000 participants and targeted community members throughout the three Darfur states.
  • State governments have lauded the efforts as one of the best outreach projects implemented in Darfur.
  • More than 120 participants attended Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration and Community Security and Arms Control activities in Darfur.

Mahasin Usman Eltahir is 36 years old and the mother of four children. As a participant in a traditional Hakama she has seen her share of war. “I had to move around many different rural areas during the fighting. I witnessed so much shooting, so many bullets…You could fill big sacks with all the bullets,” she said.

Eltahir emphasized that the transformation of the Hakamas in singing for peace can contribute to building the peace and empowering women. Eltahir stated that: “Hakamas can send peace messages to rebel groups, to armed groups. I have a great role because … now my voice is heard.”

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the national Sudanese Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) Commission is continuing to support local non-governmental organization Afia transform the role of the Hakamas. A series of trainings took place in each of the three Darfur states as part of which over120 women developed new songs incorporating positive messages of peace, women’s rights and community security. The trainings entailed facilitators from UNDP sitting with the groups of women community leaders, and women coming up with songs such as this one:

We don’t need small or big weapons                                                                        We need man and woman together in one place                                                    To be safe when they are away and safe when asleep in their home                        We will have milk for dinner, our cattle is safe                                                            We will host the traveler coming from the road.                                                        We will make our lives like they were before.

Aisha Mohamed Yahi, a 38 year old Hakamas Chief from the village of Al-Waha East, remarked at the closing of one of the trainings: “Hakamas go back to their villages and promote peace and social cohesion and not falling back into war. I want to thank the DDR [Commission] for coming here and for giving us this opportunity. I [thank] the DDR [for] promoting peace, and I thank you for not marginalizing us, for considering us.”

For Hafiz Omar, the State Minister of Information, Culture and Communications of north Darfur, the transformative effect of Hakamas in the region is essential for real progress. “I regard this as part of my duties. Culture is a very intrinsic part of these people’s lives because it has a direct impact politically, socially, even religiously and it’s true that the Hakama might have had negative roles in the past but they also have had positive roles to play. And encouraging these women to continue their shift towards the positive role is very wonderful indeed.”

UNDP aims to continue to expand the reach of the Hakamas and their messages of peace. The songs will be performed at 24 football halftime shows organized by AFIA in February and March this year. This approach builds on last year’s (2011) successful outreach campaign in Darfur which reached an estimated 53,000 people through sports, concerts, drama and cultural events.

The use of hakamas was a noteworthy addition to the DDR canon because as respected local leaders, the women became extraordinarily effective change agents within their community, spreading messages of peace, HIV/AIDs and gender-based violence. Furthermore, this bolstered UNDP’s  8-Point Agenda on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality in crisis contexts so it was an obvious choice to draw upon the hakamas unique role in communities.