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Sudan - People

According to post-secession figures based on census results released in early 2009, Sudan‘s population has reached an estimated 33.4 million by early 2012. Main towns in Sudan include the capital Khartoum (pop. 2,682,000); El Obeid (408,000), Omdurman (2,805,000), Wad Medani (370,000), Kassala (510,000), Gedaref (355,000). Sudan‘s ethnic groups comprised Sudanese Arab (approximately 70 per cent, including Shaigiyya, Ja‘alin, Misseriya, Kababish and Rizegat), Fur, Zaghawa, Massalit, Beja, Nuba and Dinka Ngok.

Demographically there existed a broad distinction between the northern and southern parts of the Sudan. Ethnicity is difficult to trace outright in the modern Sudan due to generations of intermarriage between various indigenous and immigrant groups. Although broad groupings are sometimes used – for example, Hamitic, Nilotic, Negroid, and Arab – the definition of these terms with reference to the actual Sudanese is very hard to establish.

Occasionally, the distinction between north and south has been framed in racial terms. The indigenous peoples of the south are blacks, whereas those of the north are of Semitic stock. Northern populations fully arabized in language and culture, such as the Baqqara, however, could not be distinguished physically from some of the southern and western groups. Many sedentary Arabs descended from the pre-Islamic peoples of that area who were black, as were the Muslim but nonarabized Nubians and the Islamized peoples of Darfur.

Nonetheless, the northern parts of the country appeared at first glance to be ‘Arabicized’ in terms of cultural outlook, and the inhabitants are usually Arabic speakers, with a number of important exceptions, such as the Nubians in the north and the Beja people in the east. Northern Sudanese are almost wholly Muslim (though again there are exceptions, such as the enclave in the Nuba Mountains where Christianity and traditional African religions are practiced).

In contrast, the south [now independent South Sudan] contained the great majority of the 570-plus recorded Sudanese tribes; very few, if any, of these people are Muslim or claim Arab descent, and although the south has seen some degree of Arabicization and Islamicization, the process was restrained during the condominium period, when western missionaries effected a limited Christianization of the region as part of the ‘Southern Policy’.

Thus ethnically and culturally, as well as socially, economically and geographically, the Sudan is a diverse mixture – so much so, that some authors have been inclined to see it as a microcosm of Africa, typifying many of the central characteristics of Africa as a whole. Consequently, the simplistic conclusion of categorizing Sudanese into northern Arabs and southern Negroes or Nilotes, to which many authors render lip-service, is a misrepresentation that should be treated with caution.

Despite this diversity, or possibly even as a result of it, the Sudan always possessed a distinct cultural history and unity, even though the boundaries of the Sudan as a country in former times might not match those of the present-day nation. Social, political, and economic intercourse with its various neighbours has traditionally bred in Sudan a specifically Sudanese identity, evident, if nowhere else, in the cohabitation of various strands of influence derived from the Mediterranean and African spheres in an historical and political context.

Its most important neighbor has always been Egypt, due largely to the domination of the area by the Nile. As a means of communication and trade, its role is unparalled in the region, and because of this, the northern riverian areas of the Sudan have usually been entwined quite closely with the lands to the north. Ever since the dawn of civilization, starting with the Egyptian conquest of the northern parts of the Sudan during the Middle Kingdom in 2000 BC, the paths of the two countries have been closely linked.

But indigenous Sudanese traditions have always been identifiable, even from the earliest times. From the beginnings of the ‘classical’ African Kushite civilization, and the kingdom of Meroe around 590 BC, the Sudan has always manifested a diverse range of indigenous cultures and a distinct heritage of its own. Both the richness and diversity of these cultures owe a great deal to the geography and demography of the area.

The largest single category among the Muslim peoples consisted of those speaking some form of Arabic. Excluded were a small number of Arabic speakers originating in Egypt and professing Coptic Christianity. In 1983 the people identified as Arabs constituted nearly 40 percent of the total Sudanese population and nearly 55 percent of the population of the northern provinces. In some of these provinces (Al Khartum, Ash Shamali, Al Awsat), they were overwhelmingly dominant. In others (Kurdufan, Darfur), they were less so but made up a majority. By 1990 Ash Sharqi State was probably largely Arab. It should be emphasized, however, that the acquisition of Arabic as a second language did not necessarily lead to the assumption of Arab identity.

The Nubians were the second most significant Muslim group in Sudan, their homeland being the Nile River valley in far northern Sudan and southern Egypt. Other, much smaller groups speaking a related language and claiming a link with the Nile Nubians have been given local names, such as the Birqid and the Meidab in Darfur State (see fig. 5). Almost all Nile Nubians speak Arabic as a second language; some near Dunqulah have been largely arabized and are referred to as Dunqulah.

Living in the Nuba Mountains of southern Kurdufan State were perhaps three dozen small groups collectively called the Nuba but varying considerably in their culture and social organization. For example, some were patrilineally organized, others adhered to matrilineal patterns, and a very few--the southeastern Nuba--had both patrilineal and matrilineal groupings in the same community. The Kurdufanian languages these people spoke were not generally mutually intelligible except for those of some adjacent communities. Despite the arabization of the people around them, only small numbers of Nuba had adopted Arabic as a home language, and even fewer had been converted to Islam. Some had, however, served in the armed forces and police. Most remained cultivators; animal husbandry played only a small part in their economy.

The birthrate between the 1973 census and the 1987 National Population Conference appeared to have remained constant at from 48 to 50 births per 1,000 population. The fertility rate (the average number of children per woman) was estimated at 6.9 in 1983. Knowledge of family planning remained minimal. During the period, the annual death rate fell from 23 to 19 per 1,000, and the estimated life expectancy rose from 43.5 years to 47 years. By the end of the century more half the population were under eighteen years of age and therefore were primarily consumers not producers. At the estimated 1990 growth rate of 3.1 percent, the population would double in twenty-two years. Recent changes taking place in Sudanese society are associated with a slight decline in birth rates. By 2011 the growth rate had declined to 2.53% annually, and the beginnings of a "demographic transition" were becoming apparent.

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Page last modified: 15-04-2019 18:49:35 ZULU