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Identification. The Baggara derive their name from the Arabic word for cow, bagar (pl. bagarat ), and are known, therefore, as the "cattle people." "Baggara" as a term refers to a group of tribes that share certain cultural characteristics and claim kinship to each other and to a tribe in the Hejaz (southern Arabian Peninsula). The five main tribes of Baggara are the Messiriya, Humr, Hawazma, Reizegat, and Habbania. Other groups include the Beni Selim, Oulad Hamayd, Taʿaisha, Beni Helba, Beni Khuzam, Beni Husayn, and Salamat.

Location. The Baggara occupy an area of savanna in what are now the Sudanese provinces of Darfur and North and South Kordofan, at a latitude south of the thirteenth parallel and in a belt from the White Nile to Lake Chad. Moving east to west, the Baggara groups can be located geographically as follows: the Beni Selim on the banks of the White Nile; the Oulad Hamayd, south of Urn Ruaba, Kordofan; the Habbania, around Takali; the Hawazma, in the vicinity of Al-Ubayyid, Dilling, and Talodi, South Kordofan; the Messiriya, south of Abu Zabad, South Kordofan; the Humr, between El Odaya and the Bahr al-Arab, South Kordofan; the Reizegat, Habbania, Ta'aisha, Beni Helba, and Beni Khuzam, in southern Darfur; the Messiriya and Beni Husayn, in Darfur; and the Beni Helba, Beni Khuzam, and Salamat, in the area of the former sultanates of Ouadaï, Bornu, and Bagirmi, in Darfur.

Baggara territories are better adapted to cattle than to camels. These zones range from sparse scrubland in the northern areas, through arid and semiarid bushlands, to wooded savannas. Although the Nuba Mountains are found in central South Kordofan, most of the area is flat savanna. The zone is characterized by a hot, semiarid climate. Temperature means range from 30° to 32° C (March, April) to 25° to 27° C (December, January). Annual rainfall varies from about 10 centimeters in the northern areas to about 80 centimeters in the southern areas. Rains occur in a single season, primarily from June to September. Soil types, extending in west-to-east bands (which are important factors in vegetation and cattle movement) range from sandy (qoz ), in the north; to noncracking clay (gardud ), in the central areas; to cracking clay (tiin ), in the southern Baggara areas. The vegetation consists primarily of several varieties of savanna grasses and several varieties of acacia trees and other scrubby, thorny brush. Except for a few small animals (primates, foxes, snakes) and large numbers of birds, most indigenous species have been decimated. Cunnison (1958) reported that Humr were hunting giraffes and that there were formerly elephants, large cats, ostriches, and gazelles in the area.

Demography. Statistics from the 1955-1956 census give the Rural Nomad population of Kordofan Province as 393,519. Statistics from the 1973 census give the Rural Nomad population of Kordofan as 406,710 and that of Darfur as 411,580. These figures are not broken down into tribal divisions; for comparison, Cunnison (1966) gives the 1955 Humr population as 54,997. Camping-unit composition and size vary seasonally, but generally range from 8 to 20 households, with a total camp population of 40 to 100 persons. The number of people who can camp together depends partly on factors such as the size of cattle herds and the availability of grazing and water.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Baggara speak a dialect of Arabic that is distinct from classical Arabic and from the Sudanese dialect, although the dialects are mutually intelligible.

History and Cultural Relations

Baggara genealogies claim that their origins go back centuries to connect with the Juhayna in the Hejaz before the days of the Prophet Mohammed. It is unclear how the Baggara reached their present areas. One theory suggests that after the Arab invasion of Egypt (a.d. 1100-1200) the groups that became Baggara continued across North Africa to Tunisia, then came south across the desert into western Sudan. According to another theory, they were part of an invasion up the Nile Valley into Ouadaï and Bornu in the late fourteenth century. Throughout the centuries, there has been movement east and west. The Baggara, on the southern fringes of the sultanates of Darfur, Ouadaï, and Bagirmi in the west, and Al-Fung to the east, between the two Niles, moved east and west along the line of the sultanates according to their political fortunes. The Baggara retained access to goods and booty while avoiding payment of tribute. New tribes were added to the Baggara between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuriesfor example, the Beni Khuzam and the Beni Helba. By the eighteenth century, the Baggara were concentrated to the east of Lake Chad, and north of Lake Chad in Darfur and Dar Ouadaï. At this period, some of the groups began moving eastward; first the Reizegat (into eastern Darfur), followed by the Messiriya, the Humr, and the Messiriya Zuruq, and the Hawazma. Cunnison (1966, 3) says that the Humr probably moved eastward from Ouadaï about 1775, and that by 1795 there were references to the Messiriya in the southwestern corner of what is now Kordofan. Baggara groups have become widely scattered, as a result of their lateral movement over the centuries. Although different groups tend to be concentrated in particular areas, territories are not as discrete as might be expected. There is some overlap and concurrent use of many areas. For example, the Hawazma and the Messiriya traverse much of the same territory, and they may, in the rainy season particularly, be found in adjacent camps. Kordofan and Darfur are characterized by great ethnic diversity and interdigitation; no group is wholly isolated or bounded from other groups. In the various regions, Baggara have close associations with camel nomads (Hamar, Shenabla), settled agriculturists (Nuba, Daju, Tungur, Bedayria, Gimaʿa, Zaghawa, Dar Hamid), and camel and sheep nomads (Maʿalia). Symbiotic relationships between herders and farmers are typical wherever pastoralists are found. In Kordofan, the relationship between the Hawazma and the Nuba is particularly significant. Traditionally, the Nuba were concentrated on and around the hills of the Nuba Mountains, rather than on the plains. Some Nuba groups claim to have always lived on the hills, whereas others moved up into the inaccessible areas as protection from Baggara raids and Mahdist troops. Whatever the case, the Hawazma and the Nuba represent an important example of symbiotic use of the same savanna ecozone. The Nuba are settled farmers who grow sorghum. They provide the Hawazma with some manufactured goods and with labor for both cropping and herding. For their part, the Hawazma provide animal products, milk, hides, and manure to the Nuba.


Pastoral Baggara live in camping units called furgan (sing. fariq ). Residents in a camp typically belong to one or more patrilines of a lineage. Houses are arranged on the perimeter of a circle. Cattle are brought into the center of the camp at night, to mill loosely about, near the household of their owners. Adult, married women own the houses and their housekeeping contents. Dry-season houses are generally larger than rainy-season houses3.6 to 4.5 meters in diameter, as compared to 3 meters in diameter, and 3 meters in center height, as compared to 1.8 to 2.4 meters. Houses are spherical, built by placing saplings in holes around the perimeter, then bending them over and tying them to form a dome. Smaller branches, tied onto the frame horizontally, support the structure, which is then covered with thatch in the dry season or with mats and tarpaulins in the rainy season. A bed for a woman and her young children is built first, and the house frame is then built around it. Men and older boys sleep on cots in the center of the camp, near the cattle. Another important component of a camp is the men's treeor a sun shelter constructed insteadwhere men gather to eat, talk, or nap and to receive male visitors. The men's tree is usually in the center of the camp or just outside the camp circle. Sedentary Baggara live in agricultural settlements or towns, often in compounds grouped according to lineages. The houses of the settled Baggara are built of mud brick and have thatched roofs, which is typical of other sedentary Sudanese. Corrals are built of thorny trees and shrubs to contain young animals. No fences are built around the camp itself or the houses in the dry-season camps, which are located in the people s home territory, or dar, but fences are built around houses in the rainy-season camps.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Baggara are cattle pastoralists. Herds are comprised primarily of cattle, although Baggara also herd sheep and goats. Camels are kept for riding and as pack animals, and oxen are also specially trained for riding and carrying loads. Many households also have donkeys. Most pastoral Baggara have fields of sorghum in their dar, which they plant at the beginning of the rainy season, before leaving on their annual trek. Some households also plant sesame and beans. Usually crops are left unattended; therefore yields are low. Few households grow sufficient grain to provision them for the entire year. Baggara women milk the cows, allocating appropriate quantities for household use and for sale. Women earn considerable amounts by selling raw milk to seasonal cheese factories during the rainy season, when yields are higher. Women also sell processed milk in the form of a sort of liquid yogurt and clarified butter. In the dry season, they sell small quantities of milk door-to-door in the towns near their camps. The Baggara seem to be unusual in the sense that women not only provide productive labor but also maintain control of their efforts, keeping any cash income they earn to be used for household expenses or goods for themselves. Men sell small numbers of cattle for such expenses as buying sorghum or paying school fees. Small stock are also sold. Hawazma Baggara have significant links between the men's and the women's productive activities, as well as between pastoral and agricultural households. Baggara men frequently have more than one wifeone may reside in a pastoral camp and another in an agricultural village or a town, for example. Some products and labor are exchanged between the two types of households. Because men and women have autonomous cash resources and Baggara women earn substantial amounts, Baggara men may go away for international wage labor for one or two years at a time. Women largely manage to support their households; accordingly, men save their earnings to purchase more cattle upon their return.

Industrial Arts. Women make mats (which are used both for house coverings and for seating), gourd containers, and a variety of leather goods (including containers and bags). Men make cots and a variety of equipment that is used in animal husbandry, including hobbles, chicken coops, and braidedgrass bull saddles. Pottery, metal items, and clothing are purchased.

Trade. Some Baggara men are experts in marketing animals, both large and small stock. These men may act for themselves and also as agents for their relatives. Baggara women frequently sell milk products in the "women's market." They may also sell chickens and, occasionally, the goats that they own. Men do all the trading in larger animals in a separate market. Once in a while, Baggara have enough sesame or sesame cake (used as a supplementary animal feed) to sell, but they also purchase these items. Baggara men frequently purchase veterinary medicines and either administer them themselves or hire veterinarians to do so.

Division of Labor. Men's and women's roles are generally strictly separated. Women do the household work and the work associated with milking, including churning and marketing. Men may assist with milking, but they turn over all of the milk to the women. Women fetch water, sometimes walking for forty-five minutes in each direction to carry four gallons. Men have primary care of herds: management, herding, marketing, and health care. Men plant, tend, and harvest whatever crops are grown. Women may help with threshing, but usually they go to the distant fields only to cook for their menfolk during the harvest. Young boys may herd calves and small stock, whereas older youths and men herd the cattle. House building is done by women, the only exception being the building of the wedding house, a task in which all members of the community join. Women build kitchen structures and any other structure associated with the house. Women gather all the materials used for house building. Men build the sun shelters that are used by all the men of the camp for meals or as places to entertain male guests. Women are responsible for the everyday cooking, although men may cook meat for communal feasts. Men slaughter cattle, sheep, goats, and sometimes chickens. Women may also slaughter chickens. Men butcher cattle; either men or women may butcher other animalsalways working, however, in gender-segregated groups. All members of the household, including men and children, do their own laundry. Young boys and girls begin early to help with household or herding tasks.

Land Tenure. The Baggara have communal grazing and water rights, but they own cropping land as individuals. Members of an extended family often cultivate close to one another, and they regard the area as their dar, or home territory. Because the soil fertility is low, fields may be moved every five years or so. Most groups have several blocks of land in which their members have fields. Land is passed from father to son.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Baggara are patrilineal. They are normatively endogamous, and the preferred marriage partner is one of the close cousins, either a patrilateral or matrilateral, or a parallel or cross cousin. The preferred close-cousin marriage pattern creates bilateral, multiplex kinship links, which serve to strengthen group cohesiveness. Genealogies are reckoned to a depth of five or six generations. Kinship relationships move outward to define units in a segmentary lineage system. The first segment is the iyal rajul (sons of a man), a minimal lineage of about three generations' depth. A minimal lineage forms the basis of a camping unit. A major lineage segment, known as the khashm beit ("mouth of the house"), is composed of a number of minimal lineages.

Kinship Terminology. Baggara kinship terminology distinguishes between agnatic (patrilineal) and uterine (matrilineal) kin. This descriptive system allows a person to single out specific kin and state precisely what relationship exists. Another system that is used is classificatory: it allows a person to include large numbers of people among his or her close relatives, even when close genealogical relationships do not exist. Thus, all members of one's own generation are addressed as brother or sister, and so on.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are traditionally endogamous and are frequently polygynous. Bride-wealth, in cattle and other goods, is provided by the prospective husband, with help from his near relatives. Part of the bride-wealth is used to buy household furnishings; some of it may also be used to buy food for the marriage celebration, which takes place in the bride's camp. After the marriage, the new couple lives near the bride's mother's house, just outside the camp circle, for about ten days. Then the new couple moves ceremoniously a residence the husband has chosen, an occasion that involves another feast, this one provided by the husband's family. In polygynous marriages, each wife owns her own house, which she operates independently. Co-wives may share meals, but not any differently than they might with other women in the camp. A divorced woman is looked after by her brother, unless she has a son older than about age 14 who can do so. Domestic Unit. The primary domestic unit is a woman and her young children, with a male protector. A man may be the protector of more than one household, either through polygynous marriages or through assigned responsibility for a divorced or widowed woman or for the wife of an absent husband (usually his brother). Residence may change several times over the course of a person's life, with movement from camp to camp or from camp to town. Residence changes may be related to a person's marriage status; a woman's pregnancy; a change in emphasis of a man's economic mode (pastoral, agricultural, or wage labor); or the location of a woman's male protector.

Inheritance. Inheritance is patrilineal. Women inherit household goods and perhaps some small stock from their mothers. They may also inherit cattle, although their brothers usually retain control over such animals, so that they can be used to maintain the women should they be divorced or widowed.

Socialization. Mothers are the primary caretakers of young children. Fathers also show a great deal of attention to their infants and young children. Siblings often help with child care. Any adult may discipline a child or provide care, particularly when a child's mother has gone out of the camp. More and more Baggara childrenparticularly boysare now attending at least some years of school; however, the eldest son may remain at home so that he can be well trained in animal husbandry. Boys may attend school through the secondary level, whereas girls rarely pass beyond six years of schooling. A small number of boys may gain some sort of postsecondary training.

Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. Traditionally, each Baggara camp is led by a shaykh (pl. shuyukh ). Although sons tend to inherit the position from their fathers, adult male members of a camp must agree on a man to fill the position. The shaykh's power is essentially limited to his being a spokesperson for the consensus decision of the male members of the camp, although he may wield considerable influence, owing to his wisdom and economic status. In 1911, during Turkish rule in Sudan, two additional political positions were introducted: nazir (pl. nuzara ) and ʿomda (pl. umad ). Nuzara were placed as the leaders of main tribal sections. Within each main tribal sec-tion, further divisions (khushum beyut ; sing, khashm beyt ) are headed by umad.

Social Control. One administrative role of a shaykh is to assist in tax collection. Nuzara have courts at which suits are heard from their own sections. Umad are arbitrators in disputes within their omodiyat (sing, omodiya ). If the ʿomda fails to arbitrate to the satisfaction of both parties, the suit goes to one of the courts. The most serious disputes heard by the ʿomda are those involving homicide, in which settlement may involve negotiation and payment of a blood debt. Less serious disputes within a camp are handled by persuasive discussion by the shaykh, the elders, and the other senior men. Sometimes disputes arise between herders and farmers, particularly when cattle destroy crops. In such cases, the injured farmer has the right to impound the cattle in question. Then, he and the owners meet, perhaps under the men's tree, to negotiate a suitable fine. Once the fine has been paid, the cattle are released.

Conflict. In former times, the Baggara were participants in cattle and slave raids and in various military alliances with the sultanates. Today several of the Baggara tribes are involved in the ongoing Sudanese civil war, particularly in South Kordofan, and often find themselves caught between government and rebel forces.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Baggara are Muslims, and they observe the Five Pillars of Islam: the declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Many Baggara men, and some women, manage to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Since the mid-1980s, men have used the pilgrimage to Mecca as an opportunity to seek wage labor, often staying a year or two beyond the pilgrimage to work before returning home.

Ceremonies. In conjunction with or in addition to religious celebrations, Baggara celebrate life-stage transitions. Marriage and the various stages toward it are the occasions for important celebrations for both men and women. The various marriage celebrations (betrothal, marriage, moving residence) all include feasting and dancing, which provide courting opportunities for young people. Circumcision is important for both boys and girls. Giving birth is also cause for celebration. Many occasions are found for communal feasting, such as unexpected good fortune, the arrival of a visitor, the return of someone from a trip, or the condolence visitations after a death.

Arts. Baggara decorative arts are integral with the making of various practical items. Some of the mats they make, for example, may be plain, but others are quite colorful, with geometric designs woven into the fabric. Leather bags may have decorative stitching, and many containers, whether of basketry or gourds, have long leather fringe as decoration. Older Baggara women have decorative facial scarification, whereas younger women sometimes have tattoos, particularly on their lips. Women's hair braiding can also be most elaborate. Baggara are traditionally known for their poetry and songs, which are composed by both men and women to celebrate or narrate events. Baggara men participate in wrestling matches and often spend a great deal of time decorating their costumes and their bodies for the events.

Medicine. Today Baggara people seek medical care in a variety of settings, including clinics run by nurse practitioners, doctors' clinics, and hospitals. Because many of them frequently live long distances from such clinics, traditional medicine is also still important. Some men are well known as bonesetters; older women serve as midwives. A few Baggara women have been trained in Traditional Birth Attendant programs so that they can incorporate modern techniques into their midwifery practices. The use of modern medicine is also important to Baggara animal husbandry. Men often seek the services of government veterinarians, or they may purchase and administer various veterinary medications themselves. These practices are important in the prevention of animal diseases such as bovine pleuropneumonia.

Death and Afterlife.

Funerary practices accord to the Islamic stipulation that burial take place within twenty-four hours of death. An elder man or woman prepares the body for burial. After burial, many people come to visit the bereaved, and there is often a night-long vigil on the night of the death. Women mourners greet the bereaved with ritualized wailing, which includes a praise litany about the deceased. A forty-day mourning period is observed by both the men and the women who are close relatives of the deceased. This period may be more restrictive for a man, however, who may staywith little activity and without shavingunder the men's sun shelter, where he receives visitors. The end of the forty-day mourning period is celebrated with a feast.


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