Sudan’s Neglected 2010 Centenaries

During 2010, two important centenaries in the history of Sudanese nationalism occur—dates when armies from Darfur resisted colonial occupation. But, these anniversaries have never been commemorated before, and the historical significance of the dates may pass without mention.

The dates in question are two battles in which Darfurian armies fought against colonial invaders. In one battle, they scored a decisive victory, and in the second, narrowly lost. Both were commanded by Masalit generals, at the head of forces that included Arabs and non-Arabs alike. Both were against the French, invading Darfur from the west.

Unlike the Mahdi’s campaigns against the Egyptians and British in the 1880s, and the valiant defeat of the Mahdist armies at Omdurman in 1898, these exploits of resistance are rarely mentioned in histories or known to Sudanese schoolchildren. A rare account of the two battles is contained in Lidwein Kapteijns, Mahdist Faith and Sudanic Tradition: The history of the Masalit Sultanate, 1870-1930 (London, KPI, 1985) (and sadly out of print).

On 4 January 1910, a Masalit army headed by the Masalit Sultan Taj el Din, ambushed a French force at Kirinding, near today’s el Geneina. The French were routed, leaving 280 dead—nearly half the force—including five Europeans, among them the commander. It was a famous victory which kept the French out of Darfur, and was celebrated in Abeche as well as Dar Masalit.

The French played divide-and-rule politics on the borders of Darfur, especially with the Gimir and Tama, creating bitter divisions that last until this day. Later in the year, they regrouped for a second military offensive, entering Dar Masalit with two columns. The southerly force encountered the Masalit armies at Daroti, also close to el Geneina, on 9 November 1910. It was a bloody battle, with eight of the twenty Frenchmen, including the commander, losing their lives, along with 28 Senegalese and Wadaian troops. But the Masalit lost more heavily, including Sultan Taj el Din himself and forty of his relatives killed on the battlefield. The French army busied itself burning what it could of Dar Masalit, while the Masalit and others mounted guerrilla raids, and helped instigate rebellions in Wadai the following year.

These episodes of anti-colonial resistance are almost completely neglected in the versions of Sudanese history taught today. If Darfur is to be a valued and equal part of Sudan, this neglect should be reversed. It would be an appropriate gesture if the Sudan government were to recognize the centenaries of these two battles in 2010, elevating the Darfurian resistance to its proper place in the annals of the nation.

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8 thoughts on “Sudan’s Neglected 2010 Centenaries

  1. Dear Alex
    I totally agree with you that Sudanese history need overall review and correction. Not only the darufri struggle against the French are rarely mentioned in histories or known to Sudanese schoolchildren., but everything which is not related to the central and northern Sudanese history and culture is been deliberately ignored. They want to prove the world that Sudan only came into existence when the Arab Muslims invaded it and the ancient history only existed in the northern Sudan.
    Rare account not only of the two battles is mentioned in the school history books many struggles in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries is totally ignored .I am reading a book written by Janet J. Ewal called Soldiers, Traders, and Slaves , State Formation and Economic Transformation in the Great Nile Valley 1700-1885, mainly about Taqali kingdom in the Nuba mountains in central Sudan, the only part of that history which is mentioned in the Sudanese history books was when AL Mahadi forced to leave Aba Island to Gadair in the nuba mountains hosted by Macck Adam , the king of that kingdom at that time, and that journey helped him to reorganize his army and then moved north to conquered El Obeid before marching to Khartoum and conquered it in 1885. What the Sudanese historian refused to mentioned was how El Mahdi treat Macck Adam and his sons after that and also the Taqali kings and their Islamic clerics challenged Mohamed Ahmed El Madi prophecy as there wasn’t any evidences to support that. He later killed Macck Adam and his two sons. El Mahadi and his successor Khalifa Abdulallia mistreat other Taqali warrior like Hamdan Abu Anja, Macck Al Jobourry of Tagoi, that led them leave Omduraman in 1900 and now one of them joined El Ansar movements or the Umma party later.
    One of the heros in Sudanese school history books is Al Zabair Basha , salves trader, leaved during Al Mahdia and use to collect and sale black Sudanese from the south, kordofan and Darfur, and in many case used by Khlifa Abdulallia to oppress his dissent he killed Madibo the grandfather of the current Madiboas the leaders of Razagat in south Darfur. They named street in central Khartoum by his names, no one of the heroes of the Nuba Mountains or Darfur is given that honor.
    I think the history of Sudan need to be rewritten honestly and lesson for it learnt, properly so the country can advance forward.
    Because the elites used not to tell the truth and always pretend that things are look rosy, that why the existence of the so called Sudan with its current boarders are under serious threat.
    We need to honesty review what the Sudanese historians have written and look for new references and evidence to correctly rewrite that, so we can learn for our past mistakes and honestly move the country forward.

  2. Sayyid Hafiz and Alex,

    When MAHDIST FAITH AND SUDANIC TRADITION was published I referred in a review to its “lasting value”. It has certainly proven a prescient and invaluable guide to the history of Dar Masalit and, therefore, for understanding the background of the multiple crises that have unfolded there since the early 1980s. I have relied heavily upon it. But as the reference to Ewald’s book on Taqali also indicates, there has indeed been original and important “spade work” done on the history of other regions treated as “peripheral” in the Sudan – in which category we should include not only the South and far west, but also even parts of the east and, for that matter, Nubia!

    In the 1970s it struck me as remarkable that the Institute of African & Asian Studies of the University of Khartoum offered language instruction in Hausa, Amharic, and Swahili, but not in any indigenous language of the Sudan itself. Has that changed? Do, say, Fur and Dinka merit study by Sudanese?

  3. Sudan’s history has always been a deliberate distortion and omission of the stories of those deemed to be from the periphery: South Sudan, Nuba, and the Hadandowa. This deliberate distortion and omission reached new heights during the NIF rule in the 1990s.

    In line with its imposition of an Arabo-centric identity on Sudan—despite the fact that less than half of the country’s population claims Arab descent and a third and non-Muslims—the Islamic fundamentalists attempted to white-wash a significant aspect of Sudan’s history regarding Arabs. A chapter in history textbooks alluding to the entry of the Arabs into Sudan was reportedly re-jigged to read “The entry of people into Sudan.”

    Whether this preposterous move ever came to fruition or not, this ludicrous claim presupposes that before the Arabs came into the country, there were no people.

    If you were from the areas deemed periphery and not a member of the so called “awlad al balad,” you would be hard-pressed to find a story about your people resisting colonial rule, for instance. In high school, students from South Sudan, would only read a short paragraph about Dinka, Nuer and Azande resistance to colonial rule. Yet the folklore of other ethnicities in the South is replete with stories about resistance to slavers from the north, the Mahdi’s expansionist ambitions, and colonial rule.

    Those in the centre of power in Khartoum have never bothered to compile a comprehensive history of the peoples of Sudan to show inclusiveness. Surely, if you can name a street in the honour of one of the country’s notorious slavers like Zubeir Pasha, why can’t you also name a street in Chief Gbudwe’s honour (a fearless Azande leader who fought the British)?

    Is it any wonder then, that a sizable portion of the population wants to break away from the entity called Sudan? Is it any wonder that there are a lot of disgruntled people who have picked up arms in the Sudan?

    If it is already not too late, it is imperative upon the powers that be to re-think the history of the Sudan. It is equally important for those whose stories have been deliberately omitted to keep up the fight to rewrite Sudan’s history. Alternatively, the “other lesser” Sudanese should write their own history and ensure that it is available to the rest of the country, that is if they don’t find themselves in Kober prison.

  4. Darfurians were a vital part of Sudanese colonial resistance, with the Khalifa Abdullahi himself being from the region. However Sudanese historians have been fixated with the resistance against the British, ignoring many other significant events that happened during that period.
    I agree that celebrating this solely Darfurian successes on a national level would be a worth while thing to do and make Darfurians feel more valued with in Sudan.

  5. ” A chapter in history textbooks alluding to the entry of the Arabs into Sudan was reportedly re-jigged to read “The entry of people into Sudan.”

    Brian do you want to tell me what chapter that is exactly?, your accusations are ridiculous and unfounded never has any sect or group with in Northern Sudan claimed that the Arabs were the first to inhabit the country, and In fact the the Nubian history that dates back thousands of years is celebrated in Sudan as a culture that far pre dates the Arabs, and almost all Sudanese Arab tribes appreciate their African roots, and this is expressed in Sudanese poems for example “We are the proud Arabs mixed with the Hot blood of Africans” a line out of a poem which is often invoked by the president.
    You are making up accusations based on your own prejudices against those with Arab roots in Sudan. This attempt to portray Sudanese Arab or northern tribes as being racist or hateful has to be refuted for the untruth it is.
    your writings show what you think Sudan is not what it is, clearly you have no understanding of this country at all beyond your prejudices.

  6. Mohanad,

    The facts on the ground in Sudan are salient; that the history in the text books is skewed in favour of one group, so stop playing the ‘prejudice-against-Arab’ card.

    I agree that if you had your history ignored for a long time, you would by default be “prejudiced” against the powers that perpetrate this injustice. And This is not the same thing as being “hateful” of people of who claim Arab stock in Sudan. I hope you note the difference.

  7. there was no slavery in sudan because the british were sold as slaves in north africa during barbary
    millions of european were sold as slaves

    necause of this the british tried to ruin the rich legacy of sudan as nubians and egyptian pharaohs

  8. sudan has a rich legacy dating to nubian egyptian times what about christian nubia
    which lasted from
    3000 years to azande empire south sudan of gubwde of 1880 to 1905
    and SPLA RICH LEGACY OF NEW SUDAN of John garang 1984

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