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Darfur Sultanate - 1596-1916

Darfur [Darfour, Dar Fur ] was an independent Muslim sultanate, the Kingdom of Darfur. While the Mahdist revolution of the nineteenth century attempted to create an Islamic state, the Mahdi's rule (and that of his successor Khalifa Abdullahi) faced armed resistence from the remnants of the Fur Sultanate. The Fur were never fully subjected to the strict Islamic rule of the Mahdist state. In the area of procedural law, Darfur's Sultans adopted Islamic law. In other areas the Sultanate remained firmly a sacral state based on Fur ethnicity.

The sultans operated the slave trade as a monopoly. They levied taxes on traders and export duties on slaves sent to Egypt, and took a share of the slaves brought into Darfur. Some household slaves advanced to prominent positions in the courts of sultans, and the power exercised by these slaves provoked a violent reaction among the traditional class of Fur officeholders in the late eighteenth century. The rivalry between the slave and traditional elites caused recurrent unrest throughout the next century.

Renowned as cavalrymen, Fur clans frequently allied with or opposed their kin, the Kanuri of Borno, in modern Nigeria. According to tradition Islam was introduced, about the 14th century, by Tunjur Arabs, who reached Darfur by way of Bornu and Wadai. The first Tunjur king was Ahmed-el-Makur, who married the daughter of the last Tago monarch. Ahmed reduced many unruly chiefs to submission, and under him the country prospered. His great-grandson, the sultan Dali, a celebrated figure in Darfur histories, was on his mothers side a For, and thus was effected a union between the negro and Arab races. Dali divided the country into provinces, and established a penal code, which, under the title of Kitab Dali or Dalis Book, is still preserved, and shows principles essentially different from those of the Koran.

After a period of disorder in the sixteenth century, during which the region was briefly subject to Bornu, the leader of the Keira clan, Sulayman Solong (1596-1637), supplanted a rival clan and became Darfur's first sultan. Sulayman Solong (usually distinguished by the Forian epithet Solon, the Arab or the Red) decreed Islam to be the sultanate's official religion. However, large-scale religious conversions did not occur until the reign of Ahmad Bakr (1682-1722), who imported teachers, built mosques, and compelled his subjects to become Muslims. In the eighteenth century, several sultans consolidated the dynasty's hold on Darfur, established a capital at Al Fashir, and contested the Funj for control of Kurdufan.

Soleiman's grandson, Ahmed Bahr (1682-1722), made Islam the religion of the state, and increased the prosperity of the country by encouragingimmigration from Bornu and Bagirmi. His rule extended east of the Nile as far as the banks of the Atbara. Under succeeding monarchs the country, involved in wars with Sennar and Wadai, declined in importance.

Towards the end of the 18th century a sultan named Mahommed Terab led an army against the Funj, but got no further than Omdurman. Here he was stopped by the Nile, and found no means of getting his army across the river. Unwilling to give up his project, Terab remained at Omdurman for months. He was poisoned by his wife at the instigation of disaffected chiefs, and the army returned to Darfur.

The next monarch was Abd-er-Rahman, surnamed el-Raschid or the Just. It was during his reign that Napoleon Bonaparte was campaigning in Egypt; and in I799 Abd-er-Rahman wrote to congratulate the French general on his defeat of the Mamelukes. To this Bonaparte replied by asking the sultan to send him by the next caravan 2000 black slaves upwards of sixteen years old, strong and vigorous. To Abd-er-Rahman likewise is due the situation of the Fasher, or royal township. The capital had formerly been at a place called Kobb.

Mahommed-el-Fadhl, his son, was for some time under the control of an energetic eunuch, Mahommed Kurra, but he ultimately made himself independent, and his reign lasted till 1839, when he died of leprosy. He devoted himself largely to the subjection of the semi-independent Arab tribes who lived in the country, notably the Rezeigat [Rizighat], thousands of whom he slew. In 1821 he lost the province of Kordofan, which in that year was conquered by the Egyptians. Of his forty sons, the third, Mahommed Hassin, was appointed his successor.

Hassin is described as a religious but avaricious man. In the later part of his reign he became involved in trouble with the Arab slave raiders who had seized the Bahr-el-Ghazal, looked upon by the Darfurians as their especial slave preserve. The Bahr-el-Ghazal paid tribute of ivory and slaves to Darfur, and these were the chief articles of merchandise sold by the Darfurians to the Egyptian traders along the Arbamn. road to Assiut. The loss of the Bahr-el-Ghazal caused therefore much annoyance to the people of Darfur.

Hassin died in 1873, blind and advanced in years, and the succession passed to his youngest son Ibrahim, who soon found himself engaged in a conflict with Zobeir, the chief of the Bahr-el-Ghazal slave traders, and with an Egyptian force from Khartum. The war resulted in the destruction of the kingdom. Ibrahim was slain in battle in the autumn of 1874, and his uncle Hassab Alla, who sought to maintain the independence of his country, was captured in 1875 by the troops of the khedive, and removed to Cairo with his family.

The Darfurians were restive under Egyptian rule. Various revolts were suppressed, but in 1879 General Gordon (then governor-general of the Sudan) suggested the reinstatement of the ancient royal family. This was not done, and in 1881 Slatin Bey (Sir Rudolf von Slatin) was made governor of the province. Slatin defended the province against the forces of the Mahdi, who were led by a Rizighat sheik named Madibbo, but was obliged to surrender (December 1883), and Darfur was incorporated in the Mahdi's dominions. The Darfurians found Dervish rule as irksome as that of the Egyptians had been, and a state of almost constant warfare ended in the gradual retirement of the Dervishes from Darfur.

Following the overthrow of the khalifa at Omdurman in 1898 the new (Anglo-Egyptian) Sudan government recognized (1899) Ali Dinar, a grandson of Mahommed-elFadhi, as sultan of Darfur, on the payment by that chief of an annual tribute. Under Ali Dinar, who during the Mahdia had been kept a prisoner in Omdurman, Darfur enjoyed a period of peace. The internal administration of the country was in the hands of the sultan, who was officially recognized as the agent of the Sudan government.

The sultan attempted to expel the foreign colonizers during World War I, but his forces were defeated. In 1916 the British expelled the Sultan and incorporated the sultanate into Sudan, whose government is now dominated by Muslim Arabs.

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