The spirit possession cult of zar tumbura has a devoted following among Muslim descendents of slaves and other subalterns in the Sudan. In Changing Masters, G. P. Makris studies zar tumbura as part of a wider zar complex for what it reveals about shifting ethnic identities in the modern Sudan. More generally, his work exposes the processes subordinate groups use to assert a positive identity that counters the identity conferred upon them by the dominant culture.
Makris engages the tumbura devotees of the area of Greater Khartoum in an animated discussion of their understanding of themselves and their world. Using oral histories, songs associated with the various spirits, and accounts of ceremonies he witnessed, he shows tumbura to be a response to victimization first in slavery and later by subordination. It functions as a counterdiscourse challenging the dominant discourse of the ex-slaveholding classes and enables its practitioners to assert a separate, alternative identity. This assertion, embodied in the idiom of possession, is achieved through a continuous reworking of meaning as it is imparted by religion, descent, and historical consciousness.