History of the Nuba, part II
IV. Invasions of Kordofan
The slow process of Arabization and Islamization was hastened by the rise of the Funj Kingdom of Sennar.1 The Funj were Africans, who arrived in the area of ancient Alodia in 1504. Within decades, Sennar ruled over a large part of Northern Sudan. Its monarchy embraced Islam in 1523, inviting Muslim scholars and missionaries to spread the faith. Arab culture and social organisation became more and more dominant. Sennar thrived on trade along the caravan routes, on slaves and on the gold found in the realm of the kingdom. The influence of Sennar stretched at least into Southern Kordofan, and during the sixteenth and seventeenth century migration from the river towards the west brought the Arab influence into this province of Sennar. The first tribes that migrated during this period claim to be Arabs, but the genealogies they give are usually as creative as they are unlikely.2
For an uncertain period of time, but probably beginning in the latter half of the sixteenth century a part of Kordofan called the Ghudiyat was a province to Sennar. The ruling elite of the Ghudiyat was of Funj origin and resided at Abdel Baka. According to MacMichael, their rule was only predominant during a short period: from 1755 to 1768. But they remained where they were after the demise of Sennar.3 You may remember that the Warke, or people of Dilling, originated from there. At the time Nadel recorded the historic relations between the Warke and the Ghudiyat (around 1939), each new chief of Dilling still recognized the suzerainty of the Sultan of the Ghudiyat. At least ten generations of Dilling chiefs had travelled to Abdel Baka to receive the symbols of their authority from the Sultan.4 It is quite remarkable that this relationship survived into the twentieth century: Kordofan was taken from Sennar by the Darfurians; it was invaded by Arab nomads; Sennar itself was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire and the Mahdi and the Khalifa ravaged Kordofan before it finally became part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. In ‘A Premise for Precolonial Nuba History’ J. Spaulding speculates that the same relationship existed between the Sultan and other tribes related to the Warke: the Kaduru, the Ghulfan and the Tabak.5 Nadel doesn’t mention it, but it would not be too far-fetched to assume that more Nuba tribes, through the Ghudiyat, once were tributary to Sennar.
Now back to Darfur: the Daju are the first recorded people to have established a state around Jebel Marra. They are believed to have been related to the Zhagawa by some; they could also have been one of the Ouaddai tribes according to others.8 Whatever happened exactly: the power of the Daju Kingdom declined at a time when the Sayfuwa moved their capital from the east of Lake Chad to the west of it, possibly because of the rise of the Bilala Sultanate, in the late fourteenth century. The Daju were replaced by a people called the Tunjur. Their origin is even more obscure than that of the Daju. Some say the Tunjur came from the West, through Borno and Ouaddai.9 The Tunjur were Muslims or were converted to Islam during their reign in Darfur that lasted until about 1650 AD.
The Fur were a people living in the Tunjur realm and they probably didn’t have to fight very hard to gain control of the institutions. The Tunjur intermarried with the Fur and eventually the Fur became dominant. Their reign was known as the Keira Sultanate, founded by Suleiman Solongdungo around 1650.10 The Keira Sultanate lasted until 1916, when it was annexed to the Sudan by the British-Egyptian administration. The population in the Sultanate was made up of a large variety of ethnic groups that lived together without too many conflicts. The Keira rulers first settled the relationship with the Ouaddai to their west before turning their attention eastward. For several centuries they controlled at least part of Kordofan. Wes African Muslims performing the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) started to trek through Keira towards the Nile. They crossed the river at Dongola and from there moved on to the Red Sea, to cross to Mecca by boat. This steady movement to and from Mecca, together with the trade (mainly in slaves) made Keira prosperous, and the Sultans were keen to protect the caravan routes. They also invited Arab merchants from both the western Islamic regions and the Nile region to settle in their territory. From time to time Keira and Sennar would be in conflict over Kordofan until 1784/5. Keira conquered the region and remained in control until the Egyptian Viceroy Muhammad Ali Pasha sent his forces south in 1821, in search of slaves for his army.
There was one genuinely Nuba centre of power in Kordofan: the Kingdom of Tagali. It lies in the Tagali Hills, in the north eastern part of the Nuba Mountains. The first account about Tagali was given by J. Bruce. He spent some time in Sennar in 1772 and says there were several villages surrounding Sennar that were inhabited by slaves from the Nuba Mountains, taken mainly from Dair and Tagali. The Nuba formed Sennar’s infantry.11 The Funj Chronicles, written in the nineteenth century, shed more light on the nature of the Tagali Kingdom and its relationship to Sennar. Around 1650 Sultan Baadi II of Sennar attacked the Mek of Tagali because his people had robbed the pilgrim caravans to and from Mecca. Tagali yielded to Sennar and paid an annual tribute in slaves.12
The Tagali Kingdom grew more influential and from this time stems the expression that there are 99 Nuba hills: the Meks of Tagali were said to rule over 99 hills; this was giving them too much credit. But at the height of its power, in the first decades of the eighteenth century, Tagali had a great deal to say in surrounding hills like Rashad and Gadir, and it ruled over several Arab speaking tribes in the plains towards the east. Tagali also had control over the gold trade (that was centred in Sheibun) and it received tribute from some more distant tribes.13 While the reign of Sennar waned and was eventually ended by the invasion of the Turkish armies, the Meks of Tagali managed to maintain their authority into the time of the Condominium.
For the sake of clarity I will describe some of the lines that were later pulled together by the common practice of the Arab inhabitants of Kordofan to trace their ancestry to Abdallah al-Juhani.
Among the Arabs settling in the plains of Darfur and Northern Kordofan we find the Kababish and the Fazara. The Kababish seem to be Arabs of mainly Judham origin who were later joined by other Arab tribes coming from the Nile. The Fazara are a northern Arab tribe that migrated to Egypt in the fourteenth century and from there continued into Sudan. Both Kababish and Fazara were later said to have descended from the Juhayna, but this is not very likely.18
The origins of the Baggara are a bit obscure. They themselves claim to be of Juhayna descent, and their oral histories state that they came to Kordofan from Tunis and Fezzan (in Libya). MacMichael already commented that there was a lot of air in the Baggara genealogies. He believed the Baggara came from the north through the Nubian Kingdoms and had little to do with the Juhayna Arabs that came from the east.20 Jean-Claude Zeltner dismissed any large-scale Arab migration from North Africa into the region of Lake Chad prior to an 1842 movement of Arabs from Fezzan to Kanem (east of Lake Chad).21 Today the Baggara will acknowledge the improbability of the route through Chad, but they will maintain that they are Juhayna. Point remains that the Juhayna came only from the east, not from the north along the Nile. According to Hasan, they are probably distant offspring of Judham Arabs and some other Arab tribes that came to the Sudan together with them.22
The most important Baggara tribes in Kordofan are the Hawazma, the Misseriya Humr and the Misseriya Zuruq. They started to occupy land to the west and the north of the Nuba Mountains from the sixteenth century onwards. The Nuba of central Kordofan, who had already been pushed back by the incursions from Sennar and Keira, gradually withdrew further south. For centuries they were living relatively peaceful though, at least according to Sagar:
This was to change very soon. Again according to Sagar:
And that was only the beginning.
1. Muhammad Ali Pasha
In Egypt the Ottoman Empire replaced the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517 AD. The Mamluks remained influential though. We will not bother ourselves with the ups and downs of the Ottomans, until the year 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt. The Ottoman Empire was clearly in decline, and the Mamluks successfully challenged the authority of the Pashas [the Ottoman Sultan appointed a new Governor, or Pasha, every two years]. This led to chaotic scenes that need not worry us, but that did give Napoleon a pretext to invade the country ‘in order to restore the authority of the Ottomans’. The Sultan was not amused. He sought and obtained the help of the British to regain control over Egypt and the French occupation didn’t last three full years. After some more years of struggle Muhammad Ali Pasha became the ruler of Egypt, in name of the Ottoman Sultan, but really, in name only.
Muhammad Ali Pasha ruled Egypt as if it were his personal property and he managed to restore order in the country. After killing the leaders of the Mamluks he set out to expand his influence. He conquered Libya and then, in 1820, sent his son Ismael south to invade Sudan. Muhammad Ali Pasha had four reasons to seek control over Sudan: to vanquish the remnants of the Mamluks who had settled at Dongola; to take control of the caravan trade to the Red Sea; to get to the gold mines, and to capture slaves to fill the ranks of his standing army. The invasion was successful: Ismael defeated the Mamluks, and he ended the rule of Sennar in 1821. In the same year Muhammad Ali’s son-in-law Muhammad Bey, the Defterdar, conquered Kordofan from Keira. The last resistance in the centre of Sudan was crushed in 1822.
The consequences for the population of Kordofan were terrible. Perhaps the best thing is to let MacMichael do the talking:
Relying on accounts by Palme and Petherick,26 he continued:
2. Slave raids
After the conquest of Sudan by the Egyptians, the slave trade became a different matter. Muhammad Ali wanted to create an army of Sudanese that would enable him to dispense with his own mutinous Albanian and Turkish troops, and defy the Ottoman Sultan.29 To the French Consul he declared that he wanted to create a Nizam Jadid [New Model Army], and that he would deploy those unfit for military service in his many agricultural and industrial projects.30 Muhammad Ali perpetually urged his commanders to collect and send as many Sudanese slaves as they could to the training camps at Aswan:
By 1823, 30.000 slaves, mainly from Al Jazirah and from Kordofan, had been sent to Aswan. Only 3.000 survived the sudden change of environment. Despite this obvious failure, Muhammad Ali continued to demand slave soldiers to man the garrisons in Sudan and to form new regiments for his own army. The number of slaves sent to Egypt more than doubled to an estimated 10-12.000 annually. On top of that several thousands of men were kept in Sudan to fill the file and rank of the army there. And these figures do not even include the number of slaves that were traded to the Arab peninsula across the Red Sea, nor the many slaves that were kept in Sudan as concubines, domestic servants or labourers. It is hard to imagine this constant flow of human merchandise taken from the heartlands of Africa, mainly over land, through swamps and deserts and endless savannas.
In Kordofan, Rustum Bey carried out orders from the Governor-General of Sudan, Ali Kurshid Pasha, to raid the Nuba. Rustum took 1.400 people captive in 1830, and another 1.500 in 1832.32 These are just some random figures really. There is no clear indication of how many people were dragged off in captivity. Apart from the military campaigns to capture slave soldiers, the Baggara also raided the Nuba villages, to pay the taxes imposed by the Turkiyya. The accounts of European travellers provide ample details about slave raids and slave trade in Kordofan during the Turkiyya. Pallme is often sited:
It would probably be a mistake to attribute the figures given by Pallme to the Nuba alone. Ali Kurshid Pasha personally led campaigns against the Dinka, the Shilluk, the Ingassana and other African peoples34 , and I think the slaves taken from these and similar campaigns are part of the two hundred thousand Pallme mentions. But the main thing is of course that the captured people suffered terribly. Arthur Holroyd provides an eyewitness account:
In the 1840’s and 1850’s, the slave raids were focused on the Bahr al Jabal and the Bahr al Gazhal. European traders looking for ivory broke the state monopoly and started to sail up the White Nile to hunt for elephants and trade with the inhabitants of the South. Soon the elephants ran out and the only profitable trade left was slavery. Arab slave traders started to participate as well. The most notorious was without doubt Al-Zubayr Rahma Mansur. He carved out his personal empire in the Bahr al Gazhal, entirely based on the slave trade. Setting up a network of trading forts known as zeribas, his control reached well into today’s Central African Republic and southern Chad. This eventually brought him in conflict with Egypt.
3. Khedive Ismail
A. suppression of the slave trade in Sudan
Khedive Ismail was quite serious about ending the slave trade in Sudan. He started to block trade routes along the Nile and across the Red Sea, and sent an army down to Bahr al Ghazal to end the activities of Al-Zubayr. However, Al-Zubayr defeated the Khedive’s troops and he established a new trade route over land, from the areas south of Darfur, through South Kordofan to El Obeid. Eventually Ismail figured that the best way to pacify the Bahr al Gazhal was to make Al-Zubayr governor of the area, which he did in 1873. Al-Zubayr then turned his attention to Darfur that was still a centre of slave trade. Al-Zubayr took El Fasher, the capital of the Keira Sultanate. He had envisioned himself as Governor of Darfur but when he came to Cairo in 1875, Khedive Ismael kept him in captivity instead.38
Another initiative of the Khedive to end the slave trade was to send an English explorer, Sir Samuel Baker to the region known as Equatoria. Actually the Khedive was more interested in bringing the south of the country under his influence, but officially the campaign was aimed at tackling the slave trade at the source. Baker spent three years in Equatoria and only managed to create a lot of animosity against the Egyptian authority. He plundered the country to feed his troops, used excessive violence and ended up trading with the very slave merchants he was supposed to oust from the region. Determined to see the project through, the Khedive then sent Charles G. Gordon to pacify Equatoria, in 1874. Gordon succeeded within three years39, after which he was appointed Governor–General of the Sudan. In this capacity he continued to fight the slave traders, until he resigned in 1879, exhausted from the many years of incessant work.
B. Events in South Kordofan
As mentioned before, since the conquest of the Sudan several European travellers made it to Kordofan. In 1837 Muhammad Ali Pasha sent an expedition into the Nuba Mountains – he was looking for gold – and to that adventure we owe the account of geologist Joseph Russegger, who came as far as the Tira Mountains. During the rule of Khedive Ismail, travellers start to mention Jebel Dair and Dilling as places they visited. Most remarkable is the enterprise of the Catholic missionaries led by Comboni. In 1875, they established a mission post in Dilling, which they had to abandon when the Egyptian authorities started a campaign to subdue Jebel Dilling. The missionaries returned to Dilling in 1877, and stayed there until the outbreak of the Mahdist Revolt. One of the missionaries, G. Martini, wrote:
From the few sources available emerges an impression of stabilisation. After several decades of plunder and intense raiding in the Nuba Mountains, the Egyptian authorities seem to have been content with a nominal control, leaving the Nuba alone except when a group would become too bold in one way or another (like Tagali or Dilling). The relationship between the Baggara and Nuba remained tense, but apparently, towards the 1870's the Nuba had been able to arm themselves with guns. And we must be aware that the Nuba were not a harmless, defenceless lot: they would raid each other and they would raid the Baggara just as well. The influence of Islam was becoming evident in the northern hills, but the Catholic missionaries were able to establish themselves in Dilling, which also says something about the growing stability.
C. Involvement of the British in Sudan
1. Governor-General Gordon
His successor, Governor-General Muhammad Ra’uf, was not half as able as Gordon. I will quote a large paragraph from Mowafi, because it sums up matters handsomely:
2. Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, or the Mahdi
Muhammad Ahmad is said to have been a devout man, who travelled a lot in Sudan. His journeys took him to Kordofan and Darfur, where he sensed people’s readiness to welcome anyone who would end their misery. Muhammad Ahmad’s fame grew, and so did the number of his adherents. He was joined, in 1880, by a man from Darfur, called Abdullahi Muhammad. Abdullahi was a Baggara from the Ta’aisha tribe, and eventually he was to succeed Muhammad Ahmed in 1885. Some say he was an important figure from the start. MacMichael was not the only one to write along these lines:
During this second tour of Kordofan, Muhammad Ahmad secured the support of many influential sheikhs of the Baggara tribes. He also tried to win over Adam Dabbalu, the King of Tegali. The King remained cautious and only promised to stay neutral in case Muhammad Ahmad would revolt. Muhammad Ahmad then returned to Aba Island. He openly declared himself as the Mahdi in June 1881 by sending dispatches to various notables, tribal chiefs and adherents to join him in his divinely ordained mission. Some say the Egyptian authorities only became alarmed when the Mahdi called on people to stop paying their taxes. In a proclamation issued sometime between November 1881 and November 1882, the Mahdi wrote:
The Egyptian authorities tried to suppress the revolt by sending troops to Aba Island, but the Mahdi’s followers defeated them. Knowing he could not stay where he was, the Mahdi turned to Kordofan with his followers, called the Ansar [helpers]. According to Stevenson:
He eventually established himself at Jebel Gadir, where he was welcomed by the Mek. According to Edward Lino, this was not just out of mere coincidence.
Apparently several items essential to the coronation ritual of the Reth [King] of the Shilluk had to be brought from the Nuba Mountains. Among them was a glittering stone.48 Whatever the truth in it, the story is too good to be left out, and I haven’t found any other allusion as to why the Mahdi would go to Jebel Gadir. There is a good explanation why he wanted to establish himself on a mountain though:
A personal assistant to the Mahdi remembered:
Much of what happened in the years that followed has been described by Joseph Ohrwalder, one of the missionaries in Dilling. The Ansar attacked Dilling repeatedly and eventually subdued it. Ohrwalder was taken prisoner and was kept in captivity for ten years.51 The Mahdi defeated several convoys sent against him, and went on to capture El Obeid in 1883. Adam Dabbalu, the King of Tagali, was taken prisoner as well, in 1884, He died in captivity. While the Mahdi concentrated on the conquest of Khartoum, his adjutant Hamdan Abu Anga continued to strengthen the Mahdi’s authority in Kordofan. Ohrwalder says that:
This is probably an exaggeration, but I suppose the tribes in the northern hills did recognise the Mahdi’s authority. Only Jebel Dair withstood the Ansar.
3. Abdullahi Ibn Muhammad, or the Khalifa
Unfortunately for Gordon, by the time he arrived the way north was cut of and he was trapped in Khartoum. The Mahdi sent him a few handsome letters, demanding that he would surrender and convert to Islam, so his life could be spared.54 Gordon refused and on January 26, 1885, his head was brought to the Mahdi’s tent. Six months after the fall of Khartoum the Mahdi died of typhus. He was followed by Abdullahi ibn Muhammad, who became the Khalifa, or successor. The Khalifa ruled over northern Sudan, from the Beja country to Darfur. It would go well beyond the scope of this story to get into details of his turbulent reign, but we will have a look at what happened in the Nuba Mountains.
For the siege of Omdorman and Khartoum, the Mahdi had ordered all able men from the Baggara tribes in Kordofan to join him in battle. Most of them did so, reluctantly, under threat of severe penalties. Abu Anga put down a revolt of Baggara tribes that no longer wanted to contribute to the war, and he raided the Nuba hills for slaves that could serve in the Mahdi army. After the Mahdi’s death, affairs under the Khalifa only worsened for the Nuba. The Tagali royal family was massacred when the sons of Adam Badallu refused to send soldiers to the Khalifa. Jebel Dair continued its resistance, but Gulfan was taken after a group of Nuba deserters had found refuge there. Abu Anga ‘finally left the Nuba hills in April 1887 with an immense booty of slaves.’55 His successors continued to plunder and raid.
Raids from Baggara against the Nuba became rare, because most of the Baggara men were off. Actually now some of the Nuba started raiding Dervish posts. In contrast Jebel Dair concluded a treaty with the Dervish Governor that opened trade on El Obeid. Meanwhile the Khalifa had to face the British (more about their motivation to become involved in the following chapter). He ordered still more of the Baggara to come to Omdorman and a giant army assembled in Kordofan and devastated the country. Several hills were nearly depopulated, like Gulfan, Debria and Kadaru. Many men and women from the Miri hills were taken to Omdorman. The Khalifa’s army was defeated at the Atbarra and he fled with the remaining Dervishes to the vicinity of the Nuba Mountains. He was eventually killed, on November 24, 1899, by Colonel Wingate.
The Nuba who had been abducted by the Dervishes to Omdorman gradually returned home. They brought back Islam, after having been exposed to it in the north for years. They also came with their fire arms. The spread of fire arms throughout the Nuba Mountains was furthered by the need of the Baggara to replenish their herds. Preferring their spears and swords anyway, they traded most of their guns for cows. This development made the job of pacifying the Nuba tribes a lot more difficult for the British who took up the administration of Kordofan.56
1. Reconquest of Sudan
To begin with, there were the ambitions of the Mahdi and his successor. In a letter to ‘the families of Fez’ the Mahdi wrote:
The Khalifa tried to invade Egypt in 1889. His troops were beaten badly by the Egyptian army that had been reorganised by the British. Left undisturbed, surely the Mahdist movement would eventually try again. But this was not the most important reason why the British Government decided to go back to Sudan.
The British occupation of Egypt triggered the scramble for Africa. The British, the French, the Portuguese, the Italians and the Germans: they all wanted a piece of the African continent. At the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, the colonial powers agreed to a set of rules by which the division of Africa was to be pursued. France and Great Britain were equally ambitious: France wanted to create a string of colonies that would stretch from Africa’s west coast to its east coast. Great Britain aimed at a similar sphere of influence, starting at the Cape and ending in Egypt. The idea was to link these vast territories by rail and water way, ensuring access to valuable resources from the interior, and an expansion of possible markets across the continent. Clearly, with such ambitions, occupation of the Sudan was only logical. The final reason was that the British Government strove for control over the sources of the River Nile and its course. The Nile waters have always been vital to the economy of Egypt of course, but the British were thinking already of building a large irrigation dam at Aswan.
The actual invasion of Sudan started in March 1896. It took two-and-a-half year before Omdorman was taken (September 1898), and another year to defeat the remnants of the Khalifa’s army (November 1899). Meanwhile the British had to worry about more than just the Khalifa’s troops. The French Government had sent a force from Brazzaville to Sudan, to establish a post on the White Nile and claim the area of Fashoda as a protectorate of France. They arrived there in July 1898. In September, the British Government sent Kitchener up the Nile with a powerful flotilla of gunboats. The stand-off between France and Great Britain was a logical consequence of their respective ambitions in Africa, that crossed right there in the Fashoda region. Diplomacy prevailed over military confrontation, well… actually, it would be better to say that the French were not strong enough to hold on to Fashoda, and didn’t want to risk an all-out war with Great Britain. So by the end of the year the French troops withdrew, leaving all the Sudan to Great Britain.
The first 25 years of the Condominium, most of the troops in Sudan would be Egyptian. After the Independence of Egypt in 1922, the British ordered all the Egyptians out of Sudan and administered the country alone, even though the official terms of the Condominium Agreement were not changed. To replace the Egyptian troops, the Sudan Defence Force was formed of Sudanese soldiers and mainly British officers. By 1951, Egypt demanded that Britain would withdraw from Sudan. The British Government only agreed to do so in 1953, when Egypt recognised the Sudan’s right to self-determination. January 1, 1956, the British had left Sudan: the country was independent.59
Throughout the Condominium, the British Administration grappled with the future of Sudan. Especially the problem of where the southern provinces should belong was hard to solve. Culturally they would probably fit better with the British protectorates of East Africa (roughly present day Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania), but at the same time South Sudan was quite interwoven with the North. There were no roads, railways or lines of communication between the South and the East African protectorates. All trade was with the North, mainly through Arab merchants. The South lacked skilled people to fill the administration, and it lacked the capacity to develop larger economic projects. Many Southerners were living in the North as labour migrants. Apart from the economic ties, it would be impossible to separate African Sudanese from Arab Sudanese in several areas, like Bahr al Ghazal.
During the first twenty years, the British had no official policy towards the South. Pacification; organisation of the administration and the establishment of clear national borders had their priority. From 1922 onwards though, they were actively striving to develop the South separately from the North. The spread of Islam seemed to be their main worry, because it went hand in hand with nationalist tendencies. The White Flag League, formed in the early 1920’s, revolted against the British presence in Sudan in 1924. The leader of the League, Ali 'Abd al-Latif, was a former army officer whose parents had been slaves. Either his father was a Nuba and his mother a Dinka, or it was the other way around. This is by no means reason to claim him as a fore-fighter of the Nuba cause though. Abd al-Latif was a nationalist, and the White Flag League was striving for integration of Sudan with Egypt. Abd al-Latif believed the two countries were linked by the Nile, by Islam and by the Arab culture.
In an attempt to halt the influence of nationalism, the administration in the South started to favour local authorities. Arab administrators were sent back to the North. Arab traders were banned from the South and at the same time labour migration from the South to the North was stopped. Christian missionaries were invited to set up schools throughout the South, teaching in English rather than in Arabic. In the end, this policy utterly failed: the development of the South remained far behind with the North. The rising nationalist movement in North Sudan demanded that the unity of Sudan would be respected. At the same time emerging nationalist movements in the East African protectorates were not at all enthusiastic to add the worries of another vast, underdeveloped region to their own problems. This brought about a dramatic turn in British policy: from 1946 onwards, the South was to be prepared for its future in a united Sudan.60 Do I need to add that the British policy contributed to the outbreak of the north-south conflict?
3. Administration of the Nuba Mountains
He probably referred to Vicar-Miles:
And Stevenson, in 1984 (!) agreed:
Eventually it became quite obvious that the policy of separation was totally impractical, even more so in the Nuba Mountains than in the South. There was no clean-cut border between Arabs and Nuba, and economically the Nuba were even more tied to the North than the Southerners were. As in the South, the British turned their policy around. We will look at the changes in policy in more detail. Meanwhile we have to keep in mind that, no matter what the British tried, the cost of occupation always outweighed the revenues in Kordofan. A few British officials with limited financial means and a small north Sudanese staff had to keep things quiet in a vast province. With this outlook it is easier to understand that, despite the obvious good intentions of many of the administrators in the field, little was done for the social and economic development of the region.
From 1898 to 1912, the Nuba Mountains were a sub-province of Kordofan; from 1913 to 1928 they were called Nuba Mountains Province, with its capital in Talodi. It consisted of three districts: the Western, Eastern and Southern Jebels. Each district was ruled directly by a British District Commissioner [D.C.] and an Assistant D.C., supported by an Egyptian Mamur and Submamur. 64
To exercise some authority over the different tribes – to make them pay their taxes and to keep them from raiding their Nuba or Baggara neighbours – the D.C.s looked for a person in the community that could be make accountable. They considered the kujurs to be the most influential individuals. Kujurs come in different sorts and sizes: some are merely herbalists and traditional healers, others are considered to be very powerful men or women of priest-like stature who are in touch with the spirit realm. From the latter category, the British would choose one individual – preferably the rain priest - to make him Mek [head] of a hill or range of hills. The Mek would be vested with some tokens of authority, and was henceforth supposed to make ‘his’ people do as they were told. This was not very effective, in the first place because the kujurs’ authority was limited, and would more often than not rely on their skills in organising raids on neighbouring communities.66
The British launched a large number of punitive expeditions from 1903 onwards, against various tribes and for various reasons. Francis Balfour, who was second inspector in the Nuba Mountains in 1916, described the usual patrol as follows:
Justin Willis points out that many of those patrols were not so harmless, and that they were quite frequent:
The patrols made numerous victims among the Nuba. Many men were taken captive and forced into military service, cattle might be taken and villages were burned. The largest patrol was Patrol No. 32 against the Nyimang Hills. The Mek of Nyimang refused to surrender some young men wanted for raiding. The thing spiralled out of control when a kujur, known as Sultan Agabna, fuelled defiance of the British authority. The British treated the patrol as a military operation involving more than 3,000 soldiers, with artillery and maxim guns. The rebelling hills were surrounded and the population was either driven out by force or starved into submission. About 500 Nuba were killed. Let me quote a few lines from the official report:
Patrols went on until 1930, and then there was one more, in 1945, against Tulishi. The reports, the photos of burning huts and the letters from British participants of the patrols give quite a different impression than the occasional dry remark by Nadel, for example:
And what to make of Stevenson’s understanding of the patrols? He wrote:
Nothing about the violence, nothing about the burning of Nuba villages, nothing about the many casualties. That would just be… tedious? Anyway: it happened that way and from our viewpoint, nearly a century later, we might wonder what difference there was between the British pacification and the attempts of the Government of Sudan, in more recent times, to put down yet another rebellion in the Nuba Mountains?
5. Closed District
Labour migration was probably the biggest concern of the British. Ironically it had been encouraged at first by the Administration:
Few men were left to work the fields in the Mountains. When labourers returned to marry, they paid money for bridal prices that before had been rendered in services to the father of the bride. Bridal prices rose, inciting more men to go and look for work. Another way to earn money was to join the military, which many Nuba did.
The introduction was successful and from 1927 onwards ginneries were constructed in Talodi, Kadugli, Lagowa, Dilling and other places. Unforeseen by the British was the role of Arab entrepreneurs (or Jellaba as they were called): soon 80 % of the cotton was grown on Arab owned plantations. The Nuba often combined work on their far farms with day labour on the plantations. They started to sell some of their thurra and sesame as well; living standards were on the rise. As a result the Nuba cultures were strained only further from the influence of money and the close interaction with Arab Sudanese.
The Nuba remained under traditional rule until the introduction of the Power of Sheikhs Ordinance of 1927. Jurisdiction came under 'native administration' that would direct the 'native police' and collect taxes. The British installed three levels of courts, from local to regional scale. The presidents of the courts would be Sheikhs or Meks. They could handle cases according to the competence of their court or send them on to a higher court. They were allowed to fine those found guilty, or to imprison them.75 Had a Mek previously been a kujur, now he might be a former officer or someone who at least could read and write.76
The implementation of the Ordinance demanded administrative reforms. The British were cautiously working towards a confederacy of Nuba tribes. Administrative units could now be comprised of several tribes, sometimes both Nuba and Arab would fall under one district. This was the case in the Tegali Kingdom for example, that had survived all turmoil and officially became the Mekship of Tegali.
By 1929 the administrative boundaries were again redrawn: the Nuba Mountains province was amalgamated with Kordofan. Economically and socially the two provinces were too much interwoven to administer them separately. Kordofan was the name of the combined province, of which the Nuba Mountains constituted four districts: Western Jebels, Eastern Jebels, Southern Kordofan, Southern Jebels. The policy to keep Nuba and Arab separated was not abandoned: actually the British sometimes went out of their way to see that Arab influence on the Nuba would be limited to the minimum.77
8. Nuba Policy
Time was running short though. In 1930 the D.C. in Dilling complained that there was no policy whatsoever to guide the integration of the Nuba into the surrounding economy
In his 1931 memorandum, Gillan gave an analysis of the problem. He also offered a series of practical measures. His successor as Governor, Douglas Newbold (Governor from 1932-1936), tried to address the different issues raised in the memorandum, but he was also realistic about the problems:
In the late 20's and early 30's Sir Angus Gillan, Governor of Kordofan, attempted to turn the tide. He wrote to the office in Khartoum:
In 'The Dilemma of British Rule in the Nuba Mountains' (1985) Osman A. Ibrahim describes the response to this request:
Douglas Newbold, Governor of Kordofan from 1932 to 1936, was more realistic than his predecessor:
Newbold recognised the need for proper education. Government elementary schools for Nuba were opened in Abri, Kauda, Salara and Katcha. Arabic became the language of instruction. By 1940, Nuba children were no longer restricted in their school choice. SUM was now only giving sub-grade education in so-called bush schools. CSM continued its elementary education and opened an intermediate school in Katcha.84
10. Reversal of British policy
Unfortunately for the Nuba, there was hardly any basis for the development of local leadership. As Nadel put it:
Nonetheless the British insured in the following years that all tribes were ruled by local chiefs, often forcing the population to accept their new leaders against traditional notions of authority. Arabic became the language used in schools, efforts were made to revive cotton cultivation (which had suffered from labour migration and army service), to construct water reservoirs and roads. And very little more could be done to prepare the Nuba for the independence of Sudan. According to Stevenson the Nuba were slowly integrating into the society:
1. R. Iyob and G. M. Khadiagala: Sudan: The Elusive Quest for Peace (2006), pp.23.
2. H. A. MacMichael: The Tribes of Northern and Central Kordofan, 1912.
4. S. F. Nadel: the Nuba, an anthropological study of the Hill Tribes in Kordofan, 1947, pp. 360.
5. J. Spaulding: A Premise for Precolonial Nuba History; History in Africa, Vol. 14 (1987), pp. 369-374.
6. The wide plains of Kordofan between Darfur and the Nile served as a buffer. There was a trade road to Egypt though, known as the 40 day track.
7. D. Lange: Ethogenesis from within the Chadic state: some thoughts on the history of Kanem-Borno; Paideuma 39, 261-277
8. H. R. Palmer: The Kingdom of Gaòga of Leo Africanus Part I; Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 29, No. 115 (April 1930), pp. 280-284.
9. Sir R. C. Slatin: Fire and Sword in the Sudan, 1879-1895; translated by Sir F. R. Wingate, 1896-7.
10. R. S. O’Fahey: State and Society in Dār Fūr, 1980.
11. J. Bruce of Kinnaird: ‘Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1172 and 1773’, published in 1790.
12. For the full story: P. M. Holt: The Sudan of the Three Niles: The Funj Chronicle, 910-1288/1504-1871, 1999.
13. R. c. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1984, pp. 41-42
14. Yusuf Fadl Hasan: The Arabs and the Sudan, 1973, pp. 136.
15. Ibid. pp. 142.
16. Ibid. pp. 164
17. Ahmad b. Abdallah Al-Qalqashandi: Subh al-A’shafi Sina’at al-Insha’, 1913-14, Vol. VIII, pp. 116-118
18. Hasan, pp. 165-6
19. Yusuf Fadl Hasan: The Arabs and the Sudan, 1973, pp. 167.
20. H. A. MacMichael: The Tribes of Northern and Central Kordofan, 1912, pp. 146.
21. J. Owens (ed.): Arabs and Arabic in the Lake Chad Region, 1994 (Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika, Band 14), pp. 81-4.
22. Yusuf Fadl Hasan: The Arabs and the Sudan, 1973, pp. 170.
23. J.W. Sargar: Notes on the history, religion and customs of the Nuba (1922); Sudan Notes and Records 5, pp. 139-40.
24. Ibid. pp.140.
25. Information for the following is mainly drawn from the online encyclopedia ‘Wikipedia’, the English version, as of January 13, 2007.
26. J. Pallme: Travels in Kordofan, 1984 (translation), pp. 17-26, and J. Petherick: Egypt, Sudan and Central Africa. With Explorations From Khartoum on the White Nile to the Regions of the Equator, Being Sketches from Sixteen Years' Travel. 1861, pp. 276-281.
27. H. A. MacMichael: The Tribes of Northern and Central Kordofan, 1912, p. 20.
28. R. Mowafi: Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts in Egypt and the Sudan, 1820-1882, 1981, p. 32.
29. H. Dodwell: The Founder of Modern Egypt, 1931, p.50
30. E. Driault: La Formation de l’Empire de Mohamed Aly de l’Arabie au Soudan 1814-1823, Correspondences des Consuls de France en Egypte, 1827, pp. 225-26
31. R. L. Hill: Egypt in the Sudan, 1820-1881, 1958, pp. 12-13. from a letter dated September 23, 1823.
32. Official Journal of Egypt, No 19, 15 Muharram, 1246 and No. 388, 3 Muharram, 1248.
33. I. S. Pallme: Travels in Kordofan, 1844
34. R. Mowafi: Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts…, 1981, p. 21.
35. A. T. Holroyd: Notes on a Journey to Kordofan, in 1836-7; Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 9. (1839), pp. 163-191.
36. Wikipedia.com as of January 15, 2007.
37. R. Mowafi: Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts in Egypt and the Sudan, 1820-1882, 1981. This study uses a large number of official documents and travel accounts, but to avoid writing a history to my footnotes, I will not list them. Those interested in the subject of slavery in Sudan now know where to look.
39. R. Mowafi: Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts… pp. 72-75.
40. H. A. MacMichael: The Tribes of Northern and Central Kordofan, 1912, pp. 31-32
41. E. Tonioli and R. Hill (ed.): The Opening of the Nile Basin, 1974, p. 297.
42. Wikipedia.com as of Januari 15, 2007
43. R. Mowafi: Slavery, Slave Trade and Abolition Attempts… p. 90.
44. H. A. MacMichael: The Tribes of Northern and Central Kordofan, 1912, p. 36.
45. M. Mirak-Weissbach: Why The British Hate Sudan: The Mahdia's War Against London; The American Almanac, September 4, 1995.
46. R. C. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1984, p. 57.
47. Commander Edward Lino in an interview with Sudan Vision, February 24, 2004.
48. More information might be found in E. E. Evans-Pritchard: The Divine Kingship of the Shilluk of the Nilotic Sudan, 1948 (but I am not sure).
49. R. H. Dekmejian and M. J. Wyszomirski: Charismatic Leadership in Islam: The Mahdi of the Sudan; Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 14, No. 2. (Mar., 1972), pp. 193-214.
50. J. A. Reid: Reminiscences of the Sudan Mahdi, Sheikh Mohammed Ahmed: By His Personal Servant Mohammed el Mekki Ghuleib, Who Is Still Living in the Sudan; Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 35, No. 138. (Jan., 1936), pp. 71-75.
51. F.R. Wingate: Ten Years' Captivity in the Mahdi's Camp, 1882-1892, 1892 (from the manuscripts of Father Joseph Ohrwalder)
52. Ibid. p. 95.
53. Quoted by A. Moorhead in ‘The White Nile’, 1960.
54. G. Sverdrup, Jr.: A Letter from the Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad to General C. G. Gordon; Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 31, No. 4 (1911), pp. 368-388.
55. R. C. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1984, p. 59.
56. Information on this chapter from R. C. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1984, pp. 58-61 and H. A. MacMichael: The Tribes of Northern and Central Kordofan, 1912, pp. 43-50.
57. F. Nicoll: Sword of the Prophet: The Mahdi of Sudan and the Death of General Gordon , 2004. p.230; quoted from Abu Salim, vol.4, pp. 481–2.
58. Quoted by G. Warburg in ‘The Sudan Under Wingate: Administration in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1899-1916)’, 1971.
59. Wikipedia: History of Sudan; the East African Protectorate; History of Egypt, as on January 21, 2007
60. M. O. Beshir: The Southern Sudan; Background to Conflict, 1968.
61. R. C. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1984, p. 64.
62. Vicars-Miles, ‘Notes on Nuba administration’, p. 33, SAD 631/10/1-64.
63. R. C. Stevenson: Opus. Cit., p. 64.
64. A. H. M. Ibrahim: The Dilemma of British Rule in the Nuba Mountains, 1898-1947, 1985.
65. H. A. MacMichael: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1934.
66. J. Willis: Violence, Authority, and the State in the Nuba Mountains of Condominium Sudan; The Historical Journal, 46, 1 (2003), pp. 89–114.
67. Kordofan province annual report, 1905, SAD 701/25/164-9.
68. F. C. C. Balfour: Article on 'Faqi 'Ali' (unpublished), 1951; Sudan Archive, Durham, 303/8/27
69. J. Willis: Violence, Authority, and the State in the Nuba Mountains…
70. L. K. Smith: No. 32, Operations in the Nyima Hills, Nuba Mountains Province, 1917-1918; Sudan Archive, Durham, 643/13/15
71. S. F. Nadel: the Nuba, an anthropological study of the Hill Tribes in Kordofan, 1947, p. 6.
72. R. C. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1984, pp. 62-3.
73. M. O. Beshir: The Southern Sudan, Background to Conflict. 1968, pp. 39-41.
74. Sudan Archive, Durham: GS 460. MS. Vicars Miles; 167
75. A. H. M. Ibrahim: The Dilemma of British Rule in the Nuba Mountains, 1898-1947, 1985.
76. J. Willis: Violence, Authority, and the State in the Nuba Mountains…
77. A. H. M. Ibrahim: The Dilemma of British Rule…
78. J. A. Gillan: Some Aspects of Nuba Administration, 1931; Khartoum: Sudan Government Memoranda, no. 1., 6-7.
79. Ibid. 12.
80. Dilling Archives, Southern Kordofan: General Administrative Policy-Devolution, a Note by D.C. Dilling; file SCR/1.A.1/1.
81. K. D. D. Henderson: The Making of the Modern Sudan, 1952, pp. 495-6
82. Anderson, L.: Educational Development and Administrative Control in the Nuba Mountains Region of the Sudan; The Journal of African History, Vol. 4, No. 2. (1963), pp. 233-247.
83. Henderson, K.D.D.: The Making of the Modern Sudan, 1952
84. Anderson, L.: Educational Development and Administrative Control…
85. The 1946 Memorandum on Southern Policy; Beshir, M.O.: The Southern Sudan, Background to Conflict. 1968
86. Nadel, S.F.: The Nuba, an Anthropological Study of the Hill Tribes in Kordofan, 1947, p. 494.
87. R. C. Stevenson: The Nuba People of Kordofan Province, 1965
Written by Nanne op 't Ende