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a people of the eastern sudan.

The indigenous people of eastern Sudan are a people of great antiquity who have had a variety of names; since medieval times they have been known as the Beja. They inhabit the hills and the coastal plain along the Red Sea. Much of their past is uncertain, but they were known to the pharaohs, and certainly to the British in the modern age. The British viewed them as a people who had survived the interest and the impact of more powerful nations without losing their character. They are composed of five clans: Ababda, Bisharin, Hadendowa, Amarar, and Beni Amir. They are nomadic, and are known for a mental and physical toughness that has helped them to overcome the harshness of their environment and blood feuds. Despite contact with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, it was the Muslims who finally had a real and lasting impression on the Beja. The Beja Conference is a political and armed opposition to the central military government ruling Sudan since 1989.

There are a number of cultural markers of the Beja. Some of these are shared with neighboring people groups; others are uniquely Beja. The men wear a typical Sudanese white jallabiya (a long, loose-fitting shirt with baggy pants underneath), and a white turban. Usually they add a colored vest to the outfit. Men usually own a sword that can be used as a weapon or for special ceremonial dances at celebrations. Often, Beja men have a big bush of hair composed of large curls. It is common to see a carved wooden comb sticking out of the top of a man's head as a decoration. Beja women wrap a brightly colored cloth called a tawb around their dresses. Often, both Beja men and women have three decorative vertical scars on each cheek. The women often wear beaded jewelry and large nose rings.

The dominant Beja language in Sudan is the TaBedawie, which is a Cushitic language influenced by Semitic languages such as Tigre and Arabic. Until the early 1990s TaBedawie was an unwritten language, and therefore it has no literature. It is common for Beja to speak Arabic (Sudanese dialect) as a second language. The Beja like to sing and play musical instruments, in particular the rababa, which is similar to a guitar. Since they are renowned camel herders, camels are the most popular subject matter for songs, but many songs also describe the beauty of women or express a longing for a special place such as a village, a mountain, or good grazing lands.

The coffee ceremony is one of the most dominant elements of Beja life, because it is the main setting for socializing and sharing news. In the ceremony, first the beans are roasted and mixed with ginger root and pounded into a powder. Next, the powder is poured into a jebana or coffeepot, which is then filled with water. When the pot has boiled, the coffee is strained through a hair filter into small china cups the size of espresso cups, which are half-full of sugar. Once the pot has been emptied, more water is added, and the coffee is reboiled to produce a second, weaker round. This is usually repeated at least three times, and sometimes five or six. Coffee is very important to the Beja. The Beja, particularly the Hadendowa, spend 15 to 25 percent of their monthly incomes on coffee. It is a common saying in Sudan that a Hadendowa would rather starve than go without coffee.

see also sudan.


"The Beja of Sudan." Sudan 101. Available from <>.

Hjort, Anders. Responsible Man: The Atmaan Beja of Northeastern Sudan. Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology, in cooperation with Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, Uppsala, 1991.

Jacobsen, Frode F. Theories of Sickness and Misfortune among the Hadandowa Beja of the Sudan: Narratives as Points of Entry into Beja Cultural Knowledge. London and New York: Kegan Paul International, 1998.

Palmisano, Antonio. Ethnicity: The Beja as Representation. Berlin: Arabische Buch, 1991.

Paul, Andrew. A History of the Beja Tribes of the Sudan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1954.

Robert O. Collins

Updated by Khalid M. El-Hassan

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BEJA , town in S. Portugal, capital of the region of Alemtejo; one of the seats of the subordinate rabbinates set up under the general control of the *Arraby Moor in the 15th century. When the kingdom of Portugal was established in the 12th century, Jews are said to have been living already in Beja. In the charter (foro) granted to the town in the 13th century, nine clauses deal with the Jews, both resident and transient; most of them speak of established local usage. A tombstone found in the castle of Beja has a fragment of a Hebrew inscription referring to the death of R. Judah. Another tombstone from Beha was found in the 18th century and was brought to Evora in 1868. It is probably from 1378. After the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal in 1496–97, Beja became a center of crypto-Judaism and many natives of the city appeared at autos-da-fé or escaped abroad. In the early years of the 18th century, a physician named Francisco de Sá e Mesquita spitefully denounced persons from Beja – on one occasion 66, on another 92 – who, he said, had come together to observe Jewish rites. The name Beja was common among the Sephardim of the Orient: e.g., Ḥayyim Beja (c. 1810–1870) of Salonika, who subsequently became rabbi of Tyria in Asia Minor; and the scholar-preacher Isaac b. Moses *Beja.


J. Mendes dos Remedios, Os judeus em Portugal, 1 (1895), 422f.; Rosanes, Togarmah, 3 (1938), 115–7; A.da Silva Carvalho, Noticia sôbre alguns medicos judeus do Alentejo (1930), 47–48. add. bibliography: F. Díaz Esteban, in: Proceedings, 10th World Congress of Jewish Studies (1990), Division B, Vol. 2, 122–3.

[Cecil Roth /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]