POPULATION: 40 million
LANGUAGE: Arabic; many distinct indigenous languages; English
RELIGION: Islam; Christianity; indigenous beliefs
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Azande; Dinka; Fulani; Nuer
The history of the Sudan, “Land of the Blacks,” has been predominantly one of invasion and conquest. The earliest known events date back to 750 BC when Piankhy, king of Napata in northern Sudan, invaded Egypt and founded the 25th dynasty. A century later, his successors were forced back to Napata, and in c. 590 BC moved their capital south to Merowe, on the confluence of the Nile and Atbara rivers. The kingdom of Merowe was to be a major political power in the region for over 900 years. Remains of Meroitic culture can still be seen in the small pyramids beneath which their kings were buried. The culture was obviously influenced by Egypt, but also reflected contact with the wider classical world. A society of farmers and herders, its long prosperity was due primarily to trade and to ample supplies of iron ore. The art of ironworking may well have developed locally and spread from Merowe to other parts of Africa.
In AD 350 the kingdom of Merowe was destroyed, probably by invading armies from Ethiopia. The center of power then shifted to the Christian kingdoms of Nubia, which persisted till the late 14th century. In 1504, the remains of the Nubian forces were defeated by a powerful group known as the Funj, who had moved into the area from farther south. From their capital town, Sennar, on the Blue Nile, the Funj dynasty (also known as the Black Sultanate) ruled a vast area for over 300 years.
By 1820, the Funj dynasty was in decline and put up little resistance to the invading army of Muhammad 'Ali, viceroy of Egypt (then a province of the Ottoman Empire), who was seeking to control the trade in gold and slaves. For the next 60 years, the region was ruled by the Turkish-Egyptian administration in Cairo. During this period, Khartoum was developed as a capital, and much of the administrative infrastructure of modern Sudan was laid: the telegraph and rail systems, commercial agriculture, and international trade.
Turkish-Egyptian rule was already weakened by 1881 when Muhammad Ahmed, a holy man living on Aba Island on the White Nile, declared himself to be the Mahdi (Promised One) sent by God to return Islam to its original ideals. People from many different tribes rallied to his support as he declared a jihad (holy war) and successfully repulsed an Anglo-Egyptian force sent to restrain him. In 1884, General Charles Gordon was sent from Cairo to Khartoum to assist in the withdrawal of the Egyptian forces. Gordon was killed when the Mahdi's forces captured the capital. For the next 14 years (the Mahdiya), the Sudan was an independent Islamic state. It was led (after the Mahdi's untimely death in 1885) by the Khalifa Abdullahi. However by 1898, the region was again caught up in European politics. An Anglo-Egyptian army led by General Herbert Kitchener routed the Khalifa's brave but poorly armed troops at Kerari (also known as the Battle of Omdurman). Though the pretext for the invasion was to avenge the death of Gordon, the real motive was to strengthen British interests in this part of the world. It ushered in the period of joint Anglo-Egyptian rule in the Sudan known as the Condominium (1898–1956), in which real power rested with the British. The present boundaries of Sudan were only finalized in the early years of the Condominium, by agreements between the British and other European nations trying to establish their interests in the region. They largely disregarded local tribal, cultural, and linguistic boundaries and the history of slavery in central Africa. Herein lay the causes of much contemporary political upheaval and distress. The Sudan has been sharply divided between north and south, as people from the south and west have struggled to either secede or gain some autonomy, from those powerful northern elites who inherited power from the colonial state. In the process, the divisions are over-simplified between Arab and African, or Muslim and non-Muslim. The reality remains far more complex.
In the half century since independence (1956), three periods of parliamentary rule (1956–8, 1964–9, 1986–9), have alternated with three of army rule (1958–64, 1969–86, 1989–present). The longest period of stability and prosperity was during the administration of Jaafar Nimeri (1969–85). In the first 10 years of his presidency, Sudan's economy boomed, as oil was discovered in the southwestern region. Nimeri even succeeded in bringing peace to the south. By the early 1980s, however, Sudan faced recession, drought, and political instability caused partly by large numbers of refugees from neighboring countries. Nimeri himself became increasingly unpopular, and when he introduced a severe form of the Shariah (Islamic law), opposition to him quickly mounted. He was ousted in a peaceful coup in 1985, but after a brief period (1986–9) of democratic rule under Sadiq al-Mahdi (grandson of the Mahdi), the army once again seized power under General Omar al-Bashir, supported by the powerful National Islamic Front (NIF). The country has since become increasingly isolated from the west, both politically and economically, despite a shift towards civilian rule in 2001 and the cessation of the so-called “second” civil war (1983–2005) with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of President al-Bashir and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). The halting of hostilities led to the renewal of oil production in southwestern Sudan, and to a general economic recovery in the country as a whole.
Meanwhile in 2003 civil war erupted in the west, in Darfur, when opposition groups there sought similar government concessions, and government-supported militias (called janjawid) attacked “rebel” villages. In the intervening years, thousands of innocent bystanders have been killed, displaced or subject to terrible trauma and violation.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Republic of the Sudan (generally known simply as Sudan) is the largest country in Africa, encompassing nearly 2.6 million sq km (1 million sq mi) and stretching over 2,000 km (1,250 mi) from north to south, slightly more than a quarter the size of the US. It shares common boundaries with nine countries: Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Its landscapes range from rocky desert in the north (almost a quarter of its total area), through savanna with increasing vegetation, to the mountainous rain land along the Uganda border in the south. Its most important physical feature is the Nile River, which traverses the whole length of the country. The Blue Nile (rising in Ethiopia) meets the White Nile (from Uganda) in the capital city of Khartoum, and they wind jointly north through a series of cataracts or falls to Lake Nubia (the “Aswan Dam”), the largest artificial lake in the world.
Sudan has an estimated population of approximately 40 million, with a new government census planned for 2008. The population includes a large number (almost 600) of distinct ethnic or tribal groups. The country remains predominantly rural, but towns have expanded rapidly since Sudan gained its independence from Britain in 1956.
As a result of the long civil wars, and opposition to political realities, there is now a very large Sudanese diaspora, scattered from the US to Australia, with large concentrations (of southern Sudanese) resident in neighboring Kenya and Uganda, and (largely of northern Sudanese) throughout the Middle East.
Arabic is the official language of Sudan, although many other languages continue to be used in the home. At independence, it was estimated that 100 distinct languages were spoken in the Sudan. Today, all educated people speak the local or colloquial form of Arabic—the language of government, schools, and of most northern Sudanese. This is reflected in the preponderance of Arabic names: Muhammad, Abdullah, and 'Ali for men, for example, and Fatima, Aisha, or Muna for women.
In the south and west, English is spoken alongside the variety of indigenous languages, of which Dinka [seeDinka ] is the most widespread. Common southern names such as Deng (Dinka) or Shull (Shillukh), sometimes coupled with Christian names, such as Maria Deng, reveal the bearer's ethnic as well as religious background.
The Sudanese have a rich and varied folklore that embodies much of their indigenous wisdom. It continues to be passed on orally, at least in the countryside, and is passing into the lyrics of popular music and culture, now widely enjoyed on television and radio. Certain older women are renowned for their storytelling, embroidering often brief tales with elaborate gestures and colorful description. Many of the stories reflect the rural way of life, the society and culture to which the Sudanese belong, and center on human rather than animal or supernatural themes. A favorite character in Muslim Sudan is Fatima the Beautiful, who outwits a variety of male relatives and rivals in a series of amazing feats. She usually ends up marrying the man of her choice, and often vindicates her whole family as well. A supernatural figure who figures large in warning stories told to small children is Umm Ba'ula, the mother of bogeys, who carries a large basket in which she carries away disobedient children.
The majority of Sudan's population (70%) is Sunni Muslim. Islam was introduced to the northern Sudan by Arab traders as early as the 7th century AD. For many centuries Islam coexisted with an earlier branch of Christianity (which had spread here from Alexandria), though Islam ultimately absorbed it. From the beginning, Islam was spread largely by traders and wandering holy men (faki, pl. fugara) who preached a more mystical (Sufi) form of Islam. Many of these established a way (tariga, also called Brotherhood) that their followers observed. These Brotherhoods continue to be very important in the practice of Sudanese Islam, particularly the Qadriyya (the oldest Brotherhood), the Sammaniya, and the Khatmiyya (a more modern organization that grew out of 18th century reformist movements). Sufipractices also exert a considerable influence on popular culture, as the religious songs (madih) of the much beloved late Sammaniya Shaikh al-Bura'i attests.
Sudan is now an Islamist state, run by the National Congress Party (NCP), which replaced the National Islamic Front (NIF) and which in turn grew out of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood. This reformist movement reached Sudan from Egypt in the 1950s and became popular particularly with the emerging intellectual class. Other reformist trends known as Salafism (al-salafiyya) further contribute to the dynamic and diverse Islamic landscape of Sudan, with groups like the Ansar al-Sunna al-Muhammadiyya also seeking to purify existing Islamic practices.
However, many peoples, particularly in southern and western Sudan, are not Muslim. Some (5%) are Christian, as various denominations of missionaries have been active outside the Sudanese Islamic areas since the mid-19th century. Many (25%) also continue to practice indigenous beliefs, particularly those concerned with various types of spirits. Such beliefs also infuse the practices of both Islam and Christianity in the Sudan. One of the most widespread is known as zar, which is found throughout northern Africa.
The major holidays in the Sudan are religious holidays. In Muslim areas, the celebrations at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and to mark God's sparing of Ishmael (the Eid of Sacrifice) are most important, marked with special foods, new clothes, and family visits. The birthday of the Prophet (the Moulid) is also celebrated over several days, an occasion for the various Brotherhoods to perform their ritual prayers and recite their historical narratives.
In Christian areas, the major holidays are also religious events. Christmas is particularly important, celebrated with special church services, as well as new clothes and traditional foods.
The day independence was gained from Britain is officially recognized on January 1 but has little significance in everyday life for the Sudanese.
RITES OF PASSAGE
“To the house, wealth, and children” is the customary congratulations given to newlyweds. Children are greatly desired and a birth is a significant event. An expectant mother tries to return to her parent's home to give birth, and is attended by some of her closest friends and the local midwife. After the birth, she and the baby may remain confined for 40 days, at the end of which a party is held to name the child and introduce it to outsiders.
The major rite of passage for most children in northern Sudan is circumcision, which is routinely performed on many girls and all boys between the ages of 4 and 8. The child is referred to as the bride or bridegroom, and much of the formal ritual of a marriage ceremony is foreshadowed in the practices that surround the operation and party. The use of brightly colored silk sheets (jirtiq), of cosmetics and perfumes, and the sacrifice of a sheep, as well as the foods served to guests, all anticipate rituals to be repeated with greater drama in the marriage ceremony.
After a child has been circumcised, gender segregation becomes marked. Young girls help their mothers and aunts, and care for younger siblings. Young boys begin to spend more time with their peers outside the home and away from the company of women. For boys, adolescence is often a time of irresponsibility and freedom, while adolescent girls are expected to carry out a large share of the domestic chores and at the same time observe strict rules of modesty, thus protecting both their own honor and the honor of their family.
In much of southern Sudan, initiation into age-sets (rather than circumcision) was formerly essential for entry into adult status. Ceremonies of initiation differed from tribe to tribe and for males and females, though they were less common for girls than boys [seeDinka and Nuer ].
Marriage is the major event, of religious and social importance, in every Sudanese's life, celebrated with great ritual even in poor neighborhoods. It is at least partly arranged, seen as an alliance between families rather than simply between two individuals. In the Muslim North, marriage with a close relative is common: for a girl, usually with her wad amm, the son of her father's brother, a member of her own lineage. The legal basis of the marriage is the marriage contract, based on the Shariah (Muslim law) and drawn up by a learned man together with (male) representatives of the bride and groom. In southern Sudan, marriages were arranged differently [seeDinka and Nuer ]. The unwritten contract was traditionally arranged between male elders of both families, sometimes without the knowledge of either the bride or the groom. This revolved around the payment of bride-wealth—special cattle were reserved for this type of exchange, though by the early 1980s a small proportion might be paid in cash.
Payment of bride-wealth by the groom's family to the bride's family remains an essential part of the marriage process. In the north, it includes gifts and money for the bride's family to help finance the wedding, as well as gifts for the bride herself, particularly gold, which is the basis of the bride's own formal assets. With the rise in overseas employment, there has been a great inflation in bride-price and consequent delay in the time of marriage. Many men find they have to postpone marriage until they can save what are often exorbitant sums. Increasing numbers of women remain unmarried or have to accept a polygynous marriage. In much of the south, the old marriage currency in cattle has broken down because of the long wars, and weddings tend to be briefer and cheaper.
Formal religion surrounds many of the rites associated with death and burial. Because of the heat, the deceased is buried quickly, usually the same day. Formal mourning lasts for several days, during which all acquaintances of the family are expected to visit to offer condolences.
The Sudanese are intensely social people, caring about family and neighbors in a very personal way. Although much social interaction is highly formalized, it is accompanied by great warmth. Visits from guests, for however long a period, are regarded as an honor to the host and his whole family, and take priority over other arrangements. Such visits should also be returned before too long, and need not be scheduled ahead of time. Refreshments are served to guests immediately—a cup of water to relieve them after their journey, followed by hot sweet tea and later by coffee and food, if the visit seems prolonged.
Greetings are warm and often effusive. Accompanied by handshaking, the Arabic greeting “Izeyik” is exchanged, followed by inquiries about each other's health, “Qwayseen?” (Are you well?), to which the standard reply is to thank God—“Alhumdulilah.” For older people especially, this is then an opportunity to proclaim their devoutness through a lengthy exchange of Quranic verses. Throughout the exchange, each person underscores their pleasure in meeting. When one person indicates they want to take their leave, the other urges them to stay a little longer. Finally, goodbyes are exchanged: “Maasalam!” followed by “Al-iy-selimik,” which may also be accompanied by warm handshakes.
People are more relaxed with friends of the same sex. Friendship is especially valued, and it is not uncommon to see two young men walking hand in hand, or with their arms draped across each others' shoulders.
The concept of “dating,” as in the Western world, is still quite rare, at least in Muslim Sudan. Until the successful completion of the marriage ceremonies, bride and groom and their families are concerned to protect their honor. Th us, meetings between unrelated men and women are closely monitored and efforts are made in the work place to segregate men and women, at least publicly. However young people now are given some input into their choice of marriage partner, in which class and education levels are becoming as important as family connections.
Early European visitors to Sudan found it a difficult and unhealthy place. They succumbed frequently to such tropical diseases as malaria, bilharzia, cholera, and dysentery, diseases that continue to plague many Sudanese. Health issues are further exacerbated by contemporary economic problems, food shortages caused by drought, and political instability. In addition, many disorders not known to Western physicians are recognized locally, such as those caused by the Evil Eye, by spirits, or by sorcery. For such conditions, the advice of local healers continues to be sought.
Although Sudan is regarded as one of the poorest countries in the world, its people have long found ways to accommodate their harsh environment. In the rural areas of the north, even without electricity and air conditioners the mud-baked flat-roofed houses remain cool in the hottest temperatures. In the south, the conical grass huts provide warmth and safety from heavy rains and more variable climates. In the towns and cities, there is a wider range of buildings and standards of living. In first-class districts occupied by senior officials, wealthy merchants, and families supported by expatriate relatives, European-style villas, cooled by air-conditioners and flaunting satellite technology, are surrounded by elegant lawns. In contrast, on the outskirts of towns and cities, squatter settlements of make-shift huts and lean-tos (rakuba) provide temporary homes for new migrants and their families, but offer little shelter from the heat, cold, or discomfort.
Markets have long been important centers in this region, and they continue to reflect the many faces of the Sudan. Goods imported from Libya or China are sold alongside craft articles produced locally, and foods and crops grown in the surrounding countryside. Bargaining is expected, and indeed the social ties developed through such trade are regarded as essential aspects of the economic transaction.
There is a wide range of public transportation within the Sudan, although few people own cars. Within settled communities, public cars (often small trucks with specially constructed passenger areas on the back) provide an effective network around town for a small fee. In recent years, large numbers of motorized rickshaws have been imported from India and provide a slightly more expensive, but more private option. Between communities, the more affluent travel by bus (which between major cities is now air-conditioned), though most people settle for a place on the back of a truck, which is often part of a commercial fleet of such vehicles. Train service connects the capital, Khartoum, with other major cities. Since compartments are usually packed, enterprising passengers also crowd onto the roof. Finally, many individual men own their own donkey, bicycle, or (occasionally) horse and cart (caro).
In Sudanese life, the family is highly valued and much protected. Large families are universally desired. Children are looked on with incomparable pride, welcomed as the only reliable insurance against old age, as well as their parents' natural heirs and assistants in business. For a woman, childbearing brings esteem. Also, if her husband dies, she is secure in the knowledge that, at least under Islamic law she and her children will inherit favorably.
Women's roles are primarily those of homemaker and mother. In Muslim families, after the birth of her first son, a woman is henceforth known as Umm 'Ali, “Mother of 'Ali,” for example, a practice known as teknonymy. This emphasis on male offspring and the male line is found throughout the country, as families are overwhelmingly patrilineal and patriarchal in nature.
While nuclear families are becoming common, extended families are still found and are often polygynous (more than one wife). Polygyny is acceptable in Islam as well as in Southern tribes [seeDinka and Nuer ], and cuts across urban/rural and social differences. The levirate, whereby a man may marry his deceased brother's widow, is still practiced. This is believed to safeguard the welfare of a widow, for whom her husband's family, specifically her brother-in-law, is regarded as responsible. Among non-Muslim Sudanese, relationships between wives and their children are structured more according to seniority and age. Here children of a levirate union are regarded as belonging to the deceased man, a situation possible because of the cultural separation of concepts of physical and social parenthood. The sororate, whereby a man marries his deceased wife's sister, is found only when the dead woman has borne no children. So-called “ghost marriages” are also common among Nilotic peoples. Should a man die without children, his relatives are obliged to take a “ghost-wife” for him. The children she bears are his descendants. Finally, a Nuer or Dinka woman who is infertile may become, in effect, a social man. She may “marry” a wife who produces children for her.
With the imposition of the Shariah (Islamic law), it seems probable that ethnic variations in family forms will slowly disappear. Patrilineal, patriarchal families, with increasing limitations on women's roles and intolerance for alternative social practices, have been the trend since the early 1990s.
Attempts to control the birth rate in Sudan are slowly making progress. Modern contraception is expensive (in financial and social terms), and there has been a lack of investment in terms of training sensitive fieldworkers to determine individual and family needs, but the high costs of living, coupled with expanding education opportunities for women, is resulting in somewhat smaller families. The fertility rate in 2007 was 4.69 children born to one woman.
Western-style clothing (long trousers, with a shirt) is commonly worn by Sudanese men in professional workplaces. However, elsewhere Muslim Sudanese prefer traditional dress: long pastel-colored robes (jalabiya), with a skullcap (tagia) and length of cloth ('imma) covering their head. Laborers wear baggy pants (sirwal) covered by a thigh length tunic (ragi). Women in public today are bound to wear Islamic dress. For much of the 20th century, this was simply a 9-m (30-ft) length of material (tob) wound round the body, leaving the wearer looking elegant and distinctive. Today some women choose instead to wear an Islamic shawl (hijab) folded tightly over their head, a loose long-sleeved shirt, and a long, plain skirt, a style of dress found throughout the Muslim world. Many women also wear the abayah, a black overcoat more common in the Middle East. In the privacy of their own homes, women simply wear light dresses.
For most Sudanese, the staple food is durra, sorghum, which is grown locally and used to make breads (both leavened and flat) and porridges. These are then eaten with various types of stew, beans, lentils, and salads. Sheep is the favorite meat, though beef and chicken are also consumed. Meat may be fried, stewed, or (occasionally) roasted. For desserts, seasonal fruit is sliced and served fresh, though créme caramelle, jelly, and sugared rice are also common. Meals are eaten communally and by hand from a round tray on which the various bowls of food are surrounded by breads used for dipping. After the Quranic injunction, only the right hand should be used for eating; and great care is taken before and after the meal to ensure its cleanliness. Meals are segregated by gender, younger children usually eating with the women or with each other.
Water is the preferred drink, generally protected in a large clay pot (zir) that keeps it cool. Favorite beverages for guests are tea and coffee. Both are served very sweet and often mixed with spices (known as medicine, dowa, but commonly either cinnamon or cardamom). Tea is served in small glasses, and coffee (roasted and ground fresh, and very strong) is served in thimble-like cups. Another delicious drink is made from freshly squeezed limes, and during the month of fasting either this or a sweet and nutritious drink made from sorghum (known as abrit) are commonly used to break the fast. Several types of homemade cakes, such as ligimat (a type of doughnut) or cak (which resembles shortcake) are served to guests or simply enjoyed for breakfast or supper.
Sudanese eat two, sometimes three meals a day. Sweet tea with milk (or water) is drunk when they awake in the morning, and breakfast is eaten several hours later, usually necessitating a break from work. Lunch, the main meal of the day, is served in mid-afternoon, after work or school is over. A light supper, not unlike breakfast, is sometimes eaten in the evening.
In the past two decades there has been a steady deterioration of the average daily diet, as traditional staples (beans, fruit, meat) become too expensive for poorer families, who are forced to rely on cheaper, less nutritious foods such as macaroni and sugar.
Quranic schooling, based on memorizing the Quran, has a long history in the Sudan and remains popular. More secular forms of formal education go back only to the early years of the 20th century and are still not universal. Adult literacy (measured probably in terms of secular education) is now 61%, and there is intense competition among children for the limited places in schools, particularly higher education. For the most part, parents are anxious for both sons and daughters to receive formal education, seeing this as a path to a more successful future. Unfortunately, their expectations are not always realized, and opportunities for both higher education and jobs in the modern sector are still limited.
Occupations for women are especially limited. Until recently, high school diplomas were seen primarily as their path to a good marriage. Though this began to change as more women entered the professions (medicine, law, education), women generally have fewer opportunities for employment and advancement than men.
The cultural heritage of contemporary Sudanese is particularly evident in their music. Singing, drumming, and dancing are popular, spontaneous activities for children, and are indispensable for any major celebration. Elaborate wedding parties include a group to sing and play, and a microphone to make sure the whole community can share in the festivities. Western, Arab, and Indian, as well as African performers have become popular through film, television, and radio. Their influence is evident in the dynamic and distinctive musical forms of Sudan. The best-known Sudanese singers today include Muhammad Wurdi, Gabli, and Muhammad el Amin, poets as well as musicians.
The favorite instrument of the Sudanese is the drum, and small children learn very early how to pound out a rhythm and to dance. For all ceremonies, the daluka (baked mud and cowhide drum) is used to accompany singing and dancing. Another favorite instrument is the rababa, a type of violin that points to an Arab link, as does the classical lud, used on more formal occasions.
In Muslim Sudan, men and women dance separately and have different dancing styles. Men use their arms more and take wider, firmer steps, while women remain stationary and stretch their necks, their feet, and their chests, at the same time demonstrating control of their bodies. Elsewhere, such distinctions are less apparent, and there are other popular styles of dancing such as the “Stomp Dancing” of the Nuba Mountains and further south.
Story telling has long been a popular and admired art form that underlies a rich tradition in poetry and fiction. Sudan's greatest novelist in Arabic is Tayeb Salih (b.1929). His novel Season of Migration to the North (1967), which draws on his country's colonial experience, set in a typical village context, has been translated into many languages. His short story “The Wedding of Zein” has been made into a film by that name. Popular Sudanese writers in English include Leila Aboulela (b.1964), author of several novels including The Translator and Minaret, and Jamal Mahjoub (b. 1960) whose novels include The Drift Latitudes and Travelling with Djinns. Both draw on their own multi-cultural backgrounds in tales that are wide-ranging in time and space.
Despite massive migration to urban areas since independence, many Sudanese continue to work in agriculture. This includes pastoralism (dependence on large herds, particularly camels and cattle) and cultivation: both subsistence cultivation (where the staple crop is sorghum, mixed with vegetables, peanuts, and beans) and commercialized agriculture, particularly on irrigated agricultural schemes. The largest and oldest of these is the Gezira Scheme, between the Blue and White Niles, which produces the bulk of the country's major export crop, long-staple cotton. This has served as the model for other agricultural schemes set up since independence, in which tenant farmers grow export crops under the management of the state-owned company, as well as foods for their own use. These schemes have been less than successful, partly because there appears to be insufficient incentives to farmers to collaborate with the company, and because deteriorating political and economic situations pushed many farmers into joining the exodus to seek alternative work in towns or outside the country, especially to the oil-rich Arab states. Labor migration throughout the Middle East, and to Europe and North America, has had a considerable impact on the Sudanese economy and overseas remittances are a major source of income.
Agricultural work in Muslim areas is also subject to gender segregation. In poorer families, females usually carry out tedious tasks such as picking cotton while males perform the heavier work of clearing the land, digging irrigation ditches, and planting. In families more comfortably situated, women are expected to work only inside the home, while men do the outside jobs, including marketing.
Family work is also very demanding in the Sudan. This includes not only taking care of the family and household, but also demonstrating concern for the wider family and community by a tireless round of visiting, caring for the sick, attending neighborhood ceremonies such as weddings, thanksgivings, and funerals; and providing labor and cash to support these ceremonies.
Sudan, like many African countries, has a love affair with soccer. Most small boys learn to play, even if they have to use a wooden ball, and identify with one of the leading national football teams. Among the educated, tennis and (to a lesser extent) volleyball are played in some of the clubs that continue to serve as reminders of the colonial past. Sudanese regularly compete against other African countries in most major sports but have yet to develop the resources for Olympic competition.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Television is popular throughout the country. Even in rural areas, the men's club usually owns a set that village children are able to watch. Among the most popular programs are the nightly soap operas (musalsal), often acquired from Egypt or Lebanon, though Sudan has begun to produce its own. Islamic programs are also widely enjoyed.
Open-air cinemas are found in all the towns and larger villages and are attended by mainly male audiences. They tend to show some of the worst exports from the East (especially India) and West (Italian gangster movies are popular). Most people, however, prefer to spend their spare time visiting with friends and family, attending neighbor celebrations such as weddings or homecomings, or simply chatting quietly in the shelter of the night. Again this is largely divided by gender: men frequently gather in one of the men's clubs after supper, while women visit with their neighbors at home.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Various traditions reinforce the importance of large families and community closeness among Sudanese. Before marriage, a girl learns from her friends and relatives how to perform traditional dances and to use specific homemade cosmetics (incense, oils, smoke-baths, henna decoration, perfumes) that are believed to enhance sensuality and are very much a part of marital relationships. Throughout the country, people employ charms or amulets to stimulate fertility, as well as to decorate themselves.
The most elaborate folk craft is basketry. Some of the finest baskets come from the west of the country, from Darfur, in the form of large round food covers, used to protect the food tray from insects and dust. Even more common is the manufacture of rope beds and stools, staple items of furniture that appear to have changed little since Pharaonic times, and that are still widely used.
The 2005 peace agreement (CPA) between North and South has so far withstood the death of the former Southern leader Colonel John Garang and escalating hostilities in western Sudan. Peace and security remain elusive in much of southern Sudan, however, and provisions for a referendum for the south in 2011 make fragmentation of the present state seem likely. Meanwhile more than 2 million people have been displaced and at least 200,000 people have died as a result of the violence in Darfur, which in 2008 showed no sign of abating, despite the presence of African Union troops in the region. Indeed many innocent bystanders have lost their liberty and even their lives in the violence.
Ongoing environmental issues also present serious problems. Changing climatic patterns, including the inexorable movement of al-Sahara (the desert), declining forest and woodland, expanding urbanization and increasing pollution are all taking their toll on human life. Within the congested squatter settlements in the towns particularly, new and old diseases add to human difficulties: malaria and tuberculosis, diabetes and bilharzia, various gastro-intestinal and respiratory problems. Despite a much expanded medical profession, not everybody can afford help. The cost of living has risen so dramatically that even former staple food items have become luxuries that few can afford. The benefits of oil revenues have yet to trickle down to the poorer in society.
In addition, the massive relocations of people to larger villages, to towns (especially to the greater Khartoum area) and even outside the country, have led to breakdowns in many Sudanese families. The elderly are no longer automatically surrounded by their caring children, while the young may not have the support of their parents. The immediate future for the Sudanese, therefore, does not look bright, but most remain optimistic that better times lie ahead.
Many gender issues in Sudan today are part of a larger complex of problems associated with war, violence, and poverty that affects society as a whole, though particularly those in the south and west. Women in Darfur have suffered disproportionately in recent years, from displacement, violence, rape, sickness, and hunger, as their male relatives have been killed or fled. A peace settlement, a return to their homes, and some measure of stability is desperately needed by women of all ages.
Women's roles have also been targeted by the reforms of the Islamist government. Their dress, their public appearance, and their occupations have all been variously subject to political scrutiny and censure. Invariably it is poor women and non-Muslims in particular who suffer most as Sudanese society is variously redefined by those in power.
Female circumcision (including excision and infibulations, and known locally as fironi, pharaonic circumcision) has long been practiced in Muslim Sudan, alongside male circumcision. In the past decade there are clear signs that this is now a contested tradition; many parents are either giving up the practice for their daughters or are preferring more moderate forms of cutting. It remains to be seen how far this trend will become lasting.
De Waal, Alex and Flint, Julie. Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. London: Zed Books, 2005.
Gruenbaum, E. The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.
Holt, P. and M. Daly. History of Sudan. London: Pearson Educational Group, 2000.
Hutchinson, S. Nuer Dilemmas: Coping with Money, War and the State. Berkeley: California University Press, 1996.
Kenyon, Susan M. Five Women of Sennar. Culture and Change in Central Sudan. 2nd edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2004.
Lesch, Ann M. The Sudan—Contested National Identities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
Warburg, Gabriel. Islam, Sectarianism and Politics in Sudan since the Mahdiyya. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
—by S. M. Kenyon
POPULATION: 25 million
LANGUAGE: Arabic; English; 100 distinct indigenous languages
1 • INTRODUCTION
The history of the Sudan, "Land of the Blacks," has been predominantly one of invasion and conquest. The earliest known events date back to 750 bc.
Between the years of 1898 and 1956 the Sudan was ruled primarily by Great Britain. The present boundaries of the People's Republic of the Sudan were finalized during this period by agreements between the British and other European nations trying to establish interests in the region. They largely disregarded local tribal, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. This disregard has been responsible for much of the contemporary political upheavals and distress in the Sudan. The country has been sharply divided between north and south, and people from the south have struggled unsuccessfully to either secede or gain a voice in the government.
In the forty years since independence (1956), three periods of parliamentary rule have alternated with three of army rule. The longest period of stability and prosperity was during the administration of Jaafar Nimeri (1969–85). In the first ten years of his presidency, Sudan's economy boomed. By the early 1980s, however, Sudan faced recession, drought, and political instability caused partly by large numbers of refugees from neighboring countries. Opposition to Nimeri quickly mounted when he introduced a severe form of the Shari'a (Islamic law). He was ousted in a peaceful coup (overthrow) in 1985. However, after a brief period (1986–89) of democratic rule the army once again seized power. The country has since become increasingly isolated, both politically and economically. The civil war shows no sign of abating (as of 1998). Innocent bystanders from both north and south have lost their liberty and even their lives for attempting to disagree with the government's harsh interpretation of Islamic rule.
2 • LOCATION
The People's Republic of the Sudan is the largest country in Africa. It is located in the northeastern part of the continent along the Red Sea and borders Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Its landscapes include rocky desert, savanna (grasslands), and mountainous rain-land. Its most important physical feature is the Nile River, which traverses the entire length of the country.
The Sudan has a population of approximately 25 million, with almost 600 distinct ethnic or tribal groups. The country remains predominantly rural, but towns have expanded rapidly since the Sudan gained its independence from Britain in 1956.
3 • LANGUAGE
Arabic is the official language of the Sudan. Many other languages continue to be used in the home. At Independence, it was estimated that one hundred distinct languages were spoken in the country. Today, all educated people speak the local or colloquial form of Arabic—the language of government, schools, and of most northern Sudanese. In the south and west, English is spoken alongside the variety of indigenous languages, of which Dinka is the most widespread.
4 • FOLKLORE
The Sudanese have a rich and varied folklore that embodies much of their indigenous wisdom. It continues to be passed on orally, at least in the countryside. Stories center on human rather than animal or supernatural themes. A favorite character in Muslim Sudan is Fatima the Beautiful. She outwits a variety of male relatives and rivals in a series of amazing feats. She usually ends up marrying the man of her choice, and often vindicates her whole family as well. Umm Ba'ula, the mother of bogeys, is a supernatural figure in warning stories told to small children. She bears a large basket for carrying away disobedient children.
5 • RELIGION
Sudan is now an Islamist state, and the majority of its population is Muslim. Islam was introduced to the northern Sudan by Arab traders in the seventh century ad. Islam coexisted for many centuries with an earlier branch of Christianity, though Islam ultimately absorbed it. Many peoples, particularly in southern and western Sudan, are not Muslim. Some are Christian, and others continue to practice indigenous beliefs.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
The major holidays in the Sudan are religious holidays. In Muslim areas, the celebrations at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and to mark God's sparing of Ishmael (the Eid of Sacrifice) are most important. They are marked with special foods, new clothes, and family visits. The birthday of the Prophet (the Moulid ) is also celebrated. In Christian areas, the major holidays are also religious events. The day independence was gained from Britain is officially recognized on January 1.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
The major rite of passage for most children in northern Sudan is circumcision. It is routinely performed on both girls and boys between the ages of four and eight. (Female circumcision is often referred to by outsiders as "female genital mutilation" and is becoming an international human rights issue.) After circumcision, gender segregation becomes marked. Young girls help their mothers and aunts with domestic chores and childcare. Young boys spend more time with male peers and enjoy a greater freedom.
Marriage is celebrated with great ritual even in poor neighborhoods. It is at least partly arranged, seen as an alliance between families rather than simply between two individuals. Payment of bride-price by the groom's family to the bride's family is an essential part of the marriage process.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
The Sudanese are intensely social people. Greetings are warm and often effusive. Accompanied by handshaking, the Arabic greeting Izeyik is exchanged, followed by inquiries about each other's health, Qway-seen? (Are you well?), to which the standard reply is to thank God—Al-humdulilah.
When greeting a man outside her own family, a woman is expected to keep her eyes down. In public, a woman generally assumes a more modest manner than within her home. The Western concept of dating is virtually unknown in Muslim parts of Sudan.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Although Sudan is regarded as one of the poorest countries in the world, its people have long found ways to accommodate their harsh environment. In the rural areas of the north, the mud-baked flat-roofed houses remain cool even in the hottest temperatures. In the south, conical grass huts provide warmth and safety from heavy rains and more variable climates. In towns and cities, housing ranges from European-style villas to make-shift huts and lean-tos (rakuba).
10 • FAMILY LIFE
The family is at the heart of Sudanese life. Large families are universally desired. Women's roles are primarily those of homemaker and mother. An emphasis on male offspring and the male line is found throughout the country. Families are overwhelmingly patrilineal (tracing descent through the paternal line) and patriarchal (ruled by men). While nuclear families (husband, wife, and children) are becoming common, extended families are still found and are often polygynous (with more than one wife).
With the imposition of the Shari'a (Islamic law), patrilineal, patriarchal families and increasingly limited women's roles are the trend of the 1990s.
11 • CLOTHING
Western-style clothing (long trousers, with a shirt) is commonly worn by Sudanese men in professional workplaces. Elsewhere they prefer traditional dress: long pastel-colored robes (jalabiya), a skullcap (tagia) and a length of cloth ('imma) covering their head. Laborers wear baggy pants (sirwal) covered by a thigh-length tunic (ragi). Women in public today are bound to wear Islamic dress. For much of the twentieth century, this was simply a 30-foot (9-meter) length of material (tob) wound around their body. Today it also includes an Islamic shawl (hijab) pulled over the head, and may include a sort of heavy overcoat (chadur) common for women in Iran. In the privacy of their own homes, women simply wear light dresses.
12 • FOOD
For most Sudanese, the staple food is durra (sorghum), used to make breads and porridges. These are eaten with various types of stew, beans, lentils, and salads. Sheep is the favorite meat. Meals are eaten communally and by hand from a round tray on which various bowls of food are surrounded by breads used for dipping. Meals are segregated by gender.
13 • EDUCATION
Quranic schooling, based on memorizing the Quran (or Koran, the Islamic holy book), has a long history in the Sudan. Secular (nonreligious) formal education goes back only to the early twentieth century and is still not universal. Adult literacy (ability to read and write) is only 30 percent.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
The cultural heritage of contemporary Sudanese is particularly evident in their music. Singing, drumming, and dancing are indispensible to any major celebration. Western, Arab, and Indian, as well as African, performers have become popular through film, television, and radio.
Sudan's greatest novelist is Tayeb Salih. His novel Season of Migration to the North, which draws on his country's colonial experience, has been translated into many languages.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Despite massive migration to urban areas since independence, many Sudanese continue to work in agriculture. This includes both subsistence cultivation—growing sorghum, vegetables, peanuts, and beans for family consumption—and commercialized agriculture.
Agricultural work in Muslim areas is subject to gender segregation. In poorer families, females usually carry out tedious tasks such as picking cotton while males perform the heavier work of clearing the land, digging irrigation ditches, and planting. In families more comfortably situated, women are expected to work only inside the home.
16 • SPORTS
Like many African countries, Sudan has a love affair with soccer. Most small boys learn to play, even if they have to use a wooden ball. Among the educated, tennis and (to a lesser extent) volleyball are played. Sudanese regularly compete against other African countries in most major sports but have yet to develop the resources for Olympic competition.
17 • RECREATION
Television has become very popular throughout the country. Even in rural areas, the men's club usually owns a TV that village children are able to watch. Among the most popular programs are nightly soap operas (musalsal) and Islamic programs.
Open-air cinemas, found in all the towns and larger villages, are attended by mainly male audiences. Women spend their spare time visiting with friends and family, attending celebrations, or simply chatting quietly.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Before marriage, a girl learns how to use specific homemade cosmetics including incense, oils, smoke-baths, henna decoration, and perfumes. These are believed to enhance sensuality. Throughout the country, people employ charms or amulets to stimulate fertility, as well as to decorate themselves. The most elaborate folk craft is basketry.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Since independence, the Sudan has undergone a series of upheavals that have intensified in recent years. The major problems stem from divisions between the Arab Muslims of the north and the Negroid, non-Muslims of the south; and the political and cultural domination of the whole country by the government. A civil war that broke out in 1983 shows no sign of abating as of mid-1998.
Desertification (increasing barrenness of the land) and widespread hunger are other problems. As crops wither on the stalk, whole villages have been abandoned and large numbers of animals have been left to die. Food shortages are common. In addition, there have been massive relocations of people to larger villages, to towns, and even outside the country.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Evans Pritchard, E. E. Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1951.
Gruenbaum, E. "The Islamist State and Sudanese Women." Middle East Report (Nov. 1992).
Holt, P., and M. Daly. The History of the Sudan. 3rd ed. London, England: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979.
Karrar, Ali S. The Sufi Brotherhoods in the Sudan: Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1992.
Kenyon, Susan, ed. The Sudanese Woman. London, England: Ithaca Press. 1987.
Kenyon, Susan, ed. Five Women of Sennar. Culture and Change in Central Sudan. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1991. Mohamed-Salih, Mohamed A., and Margaret A.
Mohamed-Salih, eds. Family Life in Sudan. London, England: Ithaca Press, 1986.
Pons, V., ed. Urbanization and Urban Life in the Sudan. Khartoum: Development Studies and Research Centre, University of Khartoum, 1980.
al-Shahi, A. and F. C. T. Moore. Wisdom from the Nile. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.
Spencer, W. The Middle East. 4th ed. Guilford, Conn.: Dushkin Publishing Group, 1992.
ArabNet. [Online] Available http://www.arab.net/sudan/sudan_contents.html, 1998.
World Travel Guide. Sudan. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/sd/gen.html, 1998.