Sudan: Indigenous Ethnic Groups



Paragraph. Justine Major

Sudan: Indigenous Ethnic Groups

Sudan has been controlled by many different rulers and people throughout its history.  It has a long history of violent civil wars between ethnic groups and slave trade.  Sudan is mainly split in two different sections; there is Islam in the north and indigenous ethnic groups in the south along with some Christianity.  Sudan is also has the most diverse ethnic groups, which makes it hard for them to get along.  There are almost twenty major ethnic groups with one hundred different languages.

An ethnic group is people who are connected through kinship, culture, history and geography.  Ethnic groups can grow to be so large that they cross regional boundaries.  Civil wars in Africa are usually because of conflicts between ethnic groups.  In Sudan there are two major groups.  The northern people usually are Arabs and call them selves the Baggaras. The southern usually follow traditional religions. A large group of people that follow traditional religions are the Dinka, but the Arabs are the larger group.  These two groups have had a long history of fighting with each other.  This is where most of the civil wars in Sudan start.  This fighting also affects smaller tribes like the Nubas and Nuer because they just become victims of the fighting.

The Dinkas live in the southern savannas of Sudan.  They are a proud group of people and they consist of about one million people, but it is hard to know the real number.  The Dinkas are cattle herders and the cattle are very important to them.  The cattle provides them with dairy products, protests against illnesses and is a since of spiritual identification.  They are also used as a “bride wealth” for when they get married, and as “blood wealth” to solve disputed among the people.  Before the British rule the Dinka people did not live in villages.  They usually lived in groups with different families.  These territories were places that had access to water year round.  They would live in mud huts that could last up to twenty years.  They believed in one supreme god named the Nhialic, but there was lesser god who controls everyday life.  The Dinka tribe is very close to another grouped named Nuer.  They are so close they could almost be the same people (Middleton).  The major thing that separates them is their religions.  The Dinkas are a strong group of people who will continue to survive (Collins).

The Bagarras lived on the savannas in Darfur and Kordofan.  They have five main tribes.  They are the Messiriya, Humr, Hawazma, Reizegat, and Habbania.  They are Muslims who claim their history starts even before the Prophet of Muhammad.  Since they are Muslim they follow the Five Pillars of Islam, which are declaration of faith, five daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Today people will use the Hajj to find wage labor and will stay for two to three years before coming home (Michael).  Many Baggara men are experts at trading and will trade animals both small and large.  Then the women usually sold milk, chickens or goats.  The men and women would usually work in different trading markets.    

In 1821 Sudan was taken over by Muhammad Ali.  He was the Ottoman ruler from Egypt, and he wanted slaves to build up his army.  When he would go through a city he would take thousands of captives, but many died on the journey to the camps in Egypt.  Muhammad put the Baggaras in charge of recruiting captives and putting them into the slave trading network.  Non-Muslim groups, like the Dinkas, suffered because of this.  The Baggaras would even hold Dinka women and children as slaves.  The Baggaras were able to capture and exploit their neighbors with the guns that the Ottoman Empire gave them.  Before Muhammad Ali came to power the Bagarras and Dinkas were even in terms of hurting each other, but this changed everything.  By the nineteenth century a quarter of the Sudanese populations were in slavery.  Then by 1879 the slave trade had fallen apart, but slavery was still apart of their every day life (Cheeseboro).

European colonization had a large impact in Sudan.  They did do some good things like brought roads, railroads, ports, new technologies, education, jobs, and new markets.  There were still many was the Europeans disrupted Sudan (Impact on People).  They damaged the traditional economies, changed land ownership pattern and it left many Africans poor and landless.  Also the Europeans split up and then combined many ethnic groups.  Then these people had nothing in common with the people around them (Impact on People). The political and social control of African chiefs was destroyed.  Then during World War 1 the Europeans kept control of Sudan by using brutal measure (Impact on People).

In recent history there has still been a lot of fighting in Sudan.  The longest civil war in Sudan’s history started in 1983, between the north and the south.  In the past it was mostly because of religious factors, but now the fighting is because of resources and opposing political opinions.  The main resource they fight over is oil.  This has been a very violent war with 1.5 million people dead.  Since 2003 there has been a lot of fighting in Darfur, and it caused two million people to leave their homes.  In 2005 there was a piece treaty and the north and south decided to share oil, but there has still been many conflicts in Sudan.


 Annotated Bibliography

Burton, John.  “Dinka.”  Encyclopedia of World Cultures.  Eds.  David Levinson and       Timothy O’Leary.  Vol. 9.  New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1996.


This source went into more detail about the Dinka.  It told me all about their life and history. 


Cheeseboro, Anthony Q.  “Sudan: Slavery and Civil War.”  History behind the      Headlines: The Origins of Conflicts Worldwide.  Vol. 1.  Detroit: Gale, 2001.


 This source talked about slavery and how it affected the Dinka and Baggara.  It talked a lot about what the problem was and how it started.


 Collins, Robert.  “Sudan” Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity.  Ed.             Dinah Shelton.  Vol.2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005.


This article told me all about Sudan and how they were involved in the slave trade.  It went through Sudan’s history and told what the slave trade was like in each time.


Collins, Robert O.  “Dinka.”  Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa.            Ed.  Philip Matter.  Vol. 2.  New York:  Macmillan Reference USA, 2004/


This source gave me a brief overview about the Dinka people.  It was a nice start to learning about this ethnic group.


“Colonialism in Africa.”  Africa: An Encyclopedia for Students.  Ed.  John Middleton.     Vol.1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2002.


This site had a lot of information on the impact Europe had on Sudan.  It also talked about the things that helped Sudan and the things that did not.


Michael, Barbara.  “Baggara.”  Encyclopedia of World Culture.  Vol. 9: Africa and the     Middle East.  New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1996.


This Source told me a lot about the other ethnic group I focused on, Baggara.  It talked about their History, Culture and lifestyle.


“Sudan.”  Peoples of Africa.  9 Vols.  New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2001.


This source was helpful because it gave me basic information on Sudan’s history.  Also because it did get a little confusing it gave you a simple timeline as a guide.









Last updated: Justine Major 5/22/09