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Sudan - Tribes

Despite common language, religion, and self-identification, Arabs did not constitute a cohesive group. They were highly differentiated in their modes of livelihood and ways of life. Besides the major distinction dividing Arabs into sedentary and nomadic, there was an old tradition that assigned them to tribes, each said to have a common ancestor. The tribal system has largely disintegrated in urban areas and settled villages, however, and retains its strength only among the nomads of the plains who raise cattle, sheep, and camels.

Each Arab tribe or cluster of tribes is in turn part of a larger tribal grouping, of which the two largest supratribal categories in the early 1990s were the Juhayna and the Jaali (or Jaalayin). The Juhayna category consisted of tribes considered nomadic, although many had become fully settled. The Jaali encompassed the riverine, sedentary peoples from Dunqulah to just north of Khartoum and members of this group who had moved elsewhere. Some of its groups had become sedentary only in the twentieth century. Sudanese saw the Jaali as primarily indigenous peoples who were gradually arabized. Sudanese thought the Juhayna were less mixed, although some Juhayna groups had become more diverse by absorbing indigenous peoples. The Baqqara, for example, who moved south and west and encountered the Negroid peoples of those areas were scarcely to be distinguished from them.

A third supratribal division of some importance was the Kawahla, consisting of thirteen tribes of varying size. Of these, eight tribes and segments of the other five were found north and west of Khartoum. There people were more heavily dependent on pastoralism than were the segments of the other five tribes, who lived on either side of the White Nile from south of Khartoum to north of Kusti. This cluster of five groups (for practical purposes independent tribes) exhibited a considerable degree of self-awareness and cohesion in some circumstances, although that had not precluded intertribal competition for local power and status.

The ashraf (sing., sharif), who claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, were found in small groups (lineages) scattered among other Arabs. Most of these lineages had been founded by religious teachers or their descendants. A very small group of descendants of the Funj Dynasty also claimed descent from the Ummayyads, an early dynasty of caliphs based in present- day Syria. That claim had little foundation, but it served to separate from other Arabs a small group living on or between the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The term ashraf was also applied in Sudan to the family of Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, known as the Mahdi (1848-85).

The division into Jaali and Juhayna did not appear to have significant effect on the ways in which individuals and groups regarded each other. Conflicts between tribes generally arose from competition for good grazing land, or from the competing demands of nomadic and sedentary tribes on the environment. Among nomadic and recently sedentary Arabs, tribes and subtribes competed for local power.

Membership in tribal and subtribal units is generally by birth, but individuals and groups may also join these units by adoption, clientship, or a decision to live and behave in a certain way. For example, when a sedentary Fur becomes a cattle nomad, he is perceived as a Baqqara. Eventually the descendants of such newcomers are regarded as belonging to the group by birth.

Tribal and subtribal units divide the Arab ethnic category vertically, but other distinctions cut across Arab society and its tribal and subtribal components horizontally by differences of social status and power. Still another division is that of religious associations.

Darfur Region

Darfur is divided administratively into three states: West Darfur and its capital (El-Genaina), North Darfur (El-Fasher) and South Darfur and its capital Nyala. El-Fasher is considered capital of the region. Darfur is home to over 100 African and Arab tribes. The entire population of the region embraces Islam and speaks Arabic in addition to local dialects. The region is famed for cattle rearing and agriculture, meaning that the majority of the local populace is either pastoralist or farmers.

Among the prominent in the regions African tribes are the Fur, Zaghawa and Massalit clans. The Fur, after whom the region was named, is the largest of the three and 90% of its members do farming around Jebel Marra mountain in the center of the region and around the big towns. The majority of the two other tribes live on cattle-rearing. As for Arab tribes, they are headed by Rizeighat which is spread over central and southern Darfur. The Rizeighat tribe is considered pastoral, locally known as the Baggara or herdsmen, raising cattle and sheep. Small branches of the tribe live on farming around the town of Dhain. Other Arab tribes include Beni Halbeh, Habbaniya, Taisha, Salamat, Mahamis and Maalia who trace their ancestry back to the legendary north African knight Abu Zaid Al-Hilali. Darfur also houses many other tribes like Berti, Bargho, Turjum, Dajjo, Fallatah, Bodaya.

The region is home to Jebel Marra, the mountain whose ranges have a mild climate similar to that of the Mediterranean. The region is fertile and in the south there is Al-Radome Natural Reserve which hosts a variety of wild animals, forest woods and constantly witnesses heavy rainfall.

East Sudan

East Sudan is divided into three states: the Red Sea with (Port Sudan) as its capital, Gedarif (Gedarif) and Kassala (Kassala). The Red Sea and Kassala are inhabited mainly by the Bejja tribe and Rashaida. The Beja embraced Islam in the middle of the ninth century. It branches into the Hadandawa tribesmen who dwell in Sinkat, Kassala, Haya towns, the Amarrar in Seloum, Port Sudan and Kassala in addition to the Bisharyeen, Bait Joke, Beni Amer and Halanga, the Ababdah in Shalatin, Qasireh in Halaib, Abu Ramad and Atbara, the Shuwak and Habab in Qaroreh, Aqior, Nagfa and Agordat and the Suwakniyeh in Sawakin and Port Sudan. The Bejja speak two main languages. The Tebdawi and the Tigrini. The former is derived from the dialect spoken in ancient Kush, which is influenced by Tigrinya and Arabic languages. A lot of the Bejja people also speak tebdawi, a language not transcribed.

The Eastern part of the Red Sea state is semi-desert and its population is pastoral. However, the states of Kassala and Gedarif pursue farming because of their abundant water resources from rains, rivers and underground reserves that has made their land so fertile. The two contribute effectively to food supplies.

Touristic potentials are found in the beaches of the Red Sea, regarded as one of the worlds beauty attractions for divers with its colorful coral reefs. Other coastal areas include the reputed Arousa village on the Red Sea, the island of Sanjaneb and the old historical town of Suakin.

North Sudan

Sudan's northern part comprises two states: the Northern State with Dongola as capital and the River Nile State and Damer its capital. The Northern State is the countrys largest state in respect of area.The climate here is desert and semi-desert and the local population take farming as the main occupation where they grow on both banks of the river such crops as wheat, groundnuts, vegetables and fruits. A section of the people is engaged in trade.

Of the Northern State tribes of Nubian descent are the Halfaween, Sukkot, Mahas and Danagla. These tribesmen have their own language and local tongues beside Arabic. They are followers of Islam. Other tribes in the State are the Kunooz, Jaafreh, Sawarb, Jawabreh, Bidairya Dahmashya, Kababish, Merafab, Karafab and others.

Main tribes inhabiting this area are Shayqeih, from the 4th cataract until Debba, Jaalyeen from Abidya to Sabaloqa, Robatab from Berber to Abu Hamad and Manasir. All these tribes are of Arab descent, embrace Islam and engage in agriculture. Northern Sudan have great touristic potentials represented by archaeological remains of Kush, Nepata and Merowe Kingdoms to old civilizations depicted by palaces, pyramids and relics of the civilization.

Central Sudan

Central Sudan includes seven states, the state of Khartoum with its capital (Khartoum), South Kordufan (Kadogli), Norht Kordufan (Obeid), Gezira (Medani), Sennar (Sinja), White Nile (Rabak), and Blue Nile and its Captial (Damazine). Tribes of Central Sudan are the Abdallab who inhabit the are north of Khartoum and parts of the Gezira and Blue Nile States.

They trace their origin back to Abdalla Jamaa who, with Amara Dongos, founded the first Arab-Islamic Sultanat in 1504 (Black Sultanate). There is also the Jamoiyeh tribe north and south of Omdurman. The abdallab take agriculture as main occupation while Jamoiyeh engage in farming and cattle-rearing. Of the tribes of central Sudan are the Funj, who forged an alliance with the Abdallab, to institute the Black Sultanate. They maintain that their descent goes back to the Muslim Khalif Hisham Ibn Abdul Malek Ibn Marwan from Beni Omayah. There are also the Mapan, Angassaneh, Hawsa and Ambroro tribes in the Blue Nile state. In the middle, there are the Massalamiyeh tribes, considered as the first Arabs to arrive the Gezira state where they built Khalwas and Qoranic schools (religious schools for learning and reciting the Quran).

There is the Dabasin tribesmen who are cousins of the Shukriyeh. The Dabsin are concentrated in the Gezira state. Tribes of Central Sudan further include Johayneh, Halawen, Batahin inhabiting the Butana plain between Atbara and Blue Nile rivers, in addition to Shukriyeh and Kawahla. Kordufan tribes comprise the Hammar who entered Sudan from Tusisa. They rear camels and sheep and produce gum Arabic, the Jawameh who are related to the Jaalyeen, engage in farming and rearing with the town of Rahad as their center, the Shanableh (camel drivers) and the Buzaa. In Kordufan there is also the Missiriya tribes who are pastoral and farmers. As for the Nubian tribes, they live in Southern Kordufan.

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Page last modified: 05-01-2014 19:06:07 ZULU