The tribes of Sudan

I am reading quite a lot about the many fascinating tribes of the Sudan at the moment – their different cultures, where they live, who they are traditionally at war with. That kind of thing.

I am also starting to impress the Sudanese that I meet by my knowledge of the tribes – maybe other foreigners don’t take such an interest. An acquaintance of mine was explaining to me the other day about an incident concerning a tribe in the East of Sudan; I think he was relating this story to me as a caution against being too gung-ho with my journalism in the country.

He told me about a woman of a particular tribe that went to the dentist to have a tooth extracted, because she was in a lot of pain. She was summarily killed by her husband. Why? Because the tribal custom mandated that she had to have her mouth covered at all time, and letting any man see her mouth was akin to doing this. And then my conversational companion opened his legs wide, to imitate a woman doing the same. I was quite alarmed to see a Sudanese man doing this, particularly given that we were in the presence of a woman, albeit a Western woman.

“You mean the Rashaida?” I interjected, guessing the tribe from the details I had been told (location, custom, etc.)

“Yes,” he said, visibly surprised that I knew the name.

Since I am reading a lot about the tribes, I have taken to asking acquaintances and friends of mine which tribe they are from. I gather that it’s pretty common to do this when you meet someone here.

“What’s your name?”

“Where are you from?”

“What is your tribe?”

That pretty much tends the line of introductory questions that people follow here.

Then, the other day, at a wedding, I asked a good friend of mine which tribe he belonged to. We were discretely sipping Heineken in one darkened corner.

To my surprise, my friend refused to answer, and I still do not know which tribe he is from – though I can make a fairly good guess, given his round face and lighter complexion.”

“I never answer this question,” he said, though reassuringly added that it is a quite acceptable question to ask. “You see, I think that the main problem in this country is that people get hung-up on tribes – which tribe they are from, and who they should be speaking to and not speaking to. Who they should offer a job to and who they should walk away from. I think the best thing to do is to ignore all this tribal history. We are all Sudanese.”

I thought this a very good comment to include in this journal, for it sums up my understanding of the country so far. If you are of a certain tribe, you have one set of opportunities. If you are from another, you have a different set of opportunities.

Maybe things aren’t all that different in the UK, with the class divisions, but here I find things to be much more pronounced.

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6 Responses to “The tribes of Sudan”

  1. Amal Says:

    Hey Blake,

    Why did you think your friend’s light complexion and round face meant he was from a specific tribe?
    He could be from a number of tribes, maybe Jaalyia, Shayqia, Koahla, Zubydia, Baggara, or a nubian tribe(e.g.Mahas, Danagla).
    I cant tell the difference between different Sudanese unless they are from the South due to their height and unique look.

  2. John Grant Says:

    Interesting article, and great insight. I am a pastor, and I have a Sudanese congregation that meets in our church. It was ‘born’ from among our predominately ‘white’ congregation and now worships in its own service, with its own pastor. One of the things that has struck me is that they (Sudanese – which are the only group with which I’m really familiar) tend to be very mindful of shades, even going so far as to be somewhat discriminatory towards Sudanese who are of a different shade than theirs. I haven’t mentioned the actual tribe, because I don’t want to ‘paint them all witht he same brush’ – this may be a local tendency, but I don’t think so.

  3. MIchael Says:

    He told me about a woman of a particular tribe that went to the dentist to have a tooth extracted, because she was in a lot of pain. She was summarily killed by her husband. Why? Because the tribal custom mandated that she had to have her mouth covered at all time, and letting any man see her mouth was akin to doing this. And then my conversational companion opened his legs wide, to imitate a woman doing the same. I was quite alarmed to see a Sudanese man doing this, particularly given that we were in the presence of a woman, albeit a Western woman

    The Rashiada are muslims and cannot be expected to live sensibly.

  4. Khalaf Says:

    Hi

    I am from Sudan and I like this blog.

    Regards

  5. Christmas top ten « Blake Evans-Pritchard’s Weblog Says:

    […] 1. The tribes of Sudan […]

  6. abu omar Says:

    Being muslims is far valuable than valuing ourselves in accordance with triabal or other criteria. when decomenting facts, I think we must include all facts related to the issue regardless our motives and or our attidudes towards that particular issue.

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