Darfur - Encyclopedia

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DARFUR, a country of east central Africa, the westernmost state of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. It extends from about 10 N. to 16° N. and from 21° E. to 27° 30' E., has an area of some 150,000 sq. m., and an estimated population of 750,000. It is bounded N. by the Libyan desert, W. by Wadai (French Congo), S. by the Bahr-el-Ghazal and E. by Kordofan. The two lastnamed districts are mudirias (provinces) of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The greater part of the country is a plateau from 2000 to 3000 ft. above sea-level. A range of mountains of volcanic origin, the Jebel Marra, runs N. and S. about the line of the 24° E. for a distance of over too m., its highest points attaining from 5000 to 6000 ft. East to west this chain extends about 80 m. Eastward the mountains fall gradually into sandy, bush-covered steppes. North-east of Jebel Marra lies the Jebel Medob (35 00 ft. high), a range much distorted by volcanic action, and Bir-el-Melh, an extinct volcano with a crater t 50 ft. deep. South of Jebel Marra are the plains of Dar Dima and Dar Uma; S.W. of the Marra the plain is 4000 ft. above the sea. The watershed separating the basins of the Nile and Lake Chad runs north and south through the centre of the country. The mountains are scored by numerous khors, whose lower courses can be traced across the tableland. The khors formerly contained large rivers which flowed N.E. and E. to the Nile, W. and S.W. to Lake Chad, S. and S.E. to the Bahr-el-Ghazal. The streams going N.E. drain to the Wadi Melh, a dry river-bed which joins the Nile near Debba, but on reaching the plain the waters sink into the sandy soil and disappear. The torrents flowing directly east towards the Nile also disappear in the sandy deserts. The khors in the W., S.W. and S., - the most fertile part of Darfur - contain turbulent torrents in the rainy season, when much of the southern district is flooded. Not one of the streams is perennial, but in times of heavy rainfall the waters of some khors reach the Bahrel-Homr tributary of the Bahr-el-Ghazal. (For some 200 M. the Bahr-el-Homr marks the southern frontier of the country.) In the W. and S. water can always be obtained in the dry season by digging 5 or 6 ft. below the surface of the khors.

The climate, except in the south, where the rains are heavy and the soil is a damp clay, is healthy except after the rains. The rainy season lasts for three months, from the middle of June to the middle of September. In the neighbourhood of the khors the vegetation is fairly rich. The chief trees are the acacias whence gum is obtained, and baobab (Adansonia digitata); while the sycamore and, in the Marra mountains, the Euphorbia candelabrum are also found. In the S.W. are densely forested regions. Cotton and tobacco are indigenous. The most fertile land is found on the slopes of the mountains, where wheat, durra, dukhn (a kind of millet and the staple food of the people) and other grains are grown. Other products are sesame, cotton, cucumbers, water-melons and onions.

Copper is obtained from Hofrat-el-Nahas in the S.E., iron is wrought in the S.W.; and there are deposits of rock-salt in various places. The copper mines (in 9° 48' N. 24° 5' E.) are across the Darfur frontier in the Bahr-el-Ghazal province. The vein runs N.W. and S.E. and in places rises in ridges 2 ft. above the general level of ground. There is an immense quantity of ore, (silicate and carbonate) specimens containing 14% of metal. Camels and cattle are both numerous and of excellent breeds. Some of the Arab tribes, such as the Baggara, breed only cattle, those in the north and east confine themselves to rearing camels. Horses are comparatively rare; they are a small but sturdy breed. Sheep and goats are numerous. The ostrich, common in the eastern steppes, is bred by various Arab tribes, its feathers forming a valuable article of trade.


The population of Darfur consists of negroes and Arabs. The negro For, forming quite half the inhabitants, occupy the central highlands and part of the Dar Dima and Dar Uma districts; they speak a special language, and are subdivided into numerous tribes, of which the most influential are the Masabat, the Kunjara and the Kera. They are of middle height, and have rather irregular features. The For are described as clean and industrious, somewhat fanatical, but generally amenable to civilization, and freedom-loving. The Massalit are a negro tribe which, breaking off from the For some centuries back, have now much Arab blood, and speak Arabic; while the Tunjur are an Arab tribe which must have arrived in the Sudan at a very early date, as they have incorporated a large For element, and no longer profess Mahommedanism. The Dago (Tago) formerly inhabited Jebel Marra, but they have been driven to the south and west, where they maintain a certain independence in Dar Sula, but are treated as inferiors by the For. The Zaghawa, who inhabit the northern borders, are on the contrary regarded by the For as their equals, and have all the prestige of a race that at one time made its influence felt as far as Bornu. Among other tribes may be mentioned the Berti and Takruri, the Birgirid, the Beraunas, and immigrants from Wadai and Bagirmi, and Fula from west of Lake Chad. Genuine Arab tribes, e.g. the Baggara and Homr, are numerous, and they are partly nomadic and partly settled. The Arabs have not, generally speaking, mixed with the negro tribes. They are great hunters, making expeditions into the desert for five or six days at a time in search of ostriches.

Slaves, ostrich feathers, gum and ivory used to be the chief articles of trade, a caravan going annually by the Arbain ("Forty Days") road to Assiut in Egypt and taking back cloth, fire-arms and other articles. The slave trade has ceased, but feathers, gum and ivory still constitute the chief exports of the country. The principal imports are cotton goods, sugar and tea. There is also an active trade in camels and cattle.

The internal administration of the country is in the hands of the sultan, who is officially recognized as the agent of the Sudan government. The administrative system resembles that of other Mahommedan countries.


The capital is El-Fasher, pop. about io,000, on the western bank of the Wadi Tendelty in an angle formed by the junction of that wadi with the Wadi-el-Kho, one of the streams which flow towards the Bahr-el-Homr. Fasher is the residence of the sultan. There are a few fine buildings, but the town consists mainly of tukls and box-shaped straw sheds. It is 500 m. W.S.W. of Khartum. Dara, a small market town, is i io m. S. of El-Fasher. Shakka is in the S.E. of the country near the Bahrel-Homr, and was formerly the headquarters of the slave dealers.


The Dago or Tago negroes, inhabitants of Jebel Marra, appear to have been the dominant race in Darfur in the earliest period to which the history of the country goes back. How long they ruled is uncertain, little being known of them save a list of kings. According to tradition the Tago dynasty was displaced, and Mahommedanism introduced, about the 14th century, by Tunjur Arabs, who reached Darfur by way of Bornu and Wadai. The first Tunjur king was Ahmed-el-Makur, who married the daughter of the last Tago monarch. Ahmed reduced many unruly chiefs to submission, and under him the country prospered. His great-grandson, the sultan Dali, a celebrated figure in Darfur histories, was on his mother's side a For, and thus was effected a union between the negro and Arab races. Dali divided the country into provinces, and established a penal code, which, under the title of Kitab Dali or Dali's Book, is still preserved, and shows principles essentially different from those of the Koran. His grandson Soleiman (usually distinguished by the Forian epithet Solon, the Arab or the Red) reigned from 1596 to 1637, and was a great warrior and a devoted Mahommedan. Soleiman's grandson, Ahmed Bahr (1682-1722), made Islam the religion of the state, and increased the prosperity of the country by encouraging immigration from Bornu and Bagirmi. His rule extended east of the Nile as far as the banks of the Atbara. Under succeeding monarchs the country, involved in wars with Sennar and Wadai, declined in importance. Towards the end of the 18th century a sultan named Mahommed Terab led an army against the Funj, but got no further than Omdurman. Here he was stopped by the Nile, and found no means of getting his army across the river. Unwilling to give up his project, Terab remained at Omdurman for months. He was poisoned by his wife at the instigation of disaffected chiefs, and the army returned to Darfur. The next monarch was Abd-er-Rahman, surnamed el-Raschid or the Just. It was during his reign that Napoleon Bonaparte was campaigning in Egypt; and in 1799 Abd-erRahman wrote to congratulate the French general on his defeat of the Mamelukes. To this Bonaparte replied by asking the sultan to send him by the next caravan 2000 black slaves upwards of sixteen years old, strong and vigorous. To Abd-er-Rahman likewise is due the present situation of the Fasher, or royal township. The capital had formerly been at a place called Kobbe. Mahommed-el-Fadhl, his son, was for some time under the control of an energetic eunuch, Mahommed Kurra, but he ultimately made himself independent, and his reign lasted till 1839, when he died of leprosy. He devoted himself largely to the subjection of the semi-independent Arab tribes who lived in the country, notably the Rizighat, thousands of whom he slew. In 1821 he lost the province of Kordofan, which in that year was conquered by the Egyptians. Of his forty sons, the third, Mahommed Hassin, was appointed his successor. Hassin is described as a religious but avaricious man. In the later part of his reign he became involved in trouble with the Arab slave raiders who had seized the Bahr-el-Ghazal, looked upon by the Darfurians as their especial "slave preserve." The negroes of Bahr-el-Ghazal paid tribute of ivory and slaves to Darfur, and these were the chief articles of merchandise sold by the Darfurians to the Egyptian traders along the Arbain road to Assiut. The loss of the Bahr-el-Ghazal caused therefore much annoyance to the people of Darfur. Hassin died in 1873, blind and advanced in years, and the succession passed to his youngest son Ibrahim, who soon found himself engaged in a conflict with Zobeir, the chief of the Bahr-el-Ghazal slave traders, and with an Egyptian force from Khartum. The war resulted in the destruction of the kingdom. Ibrahim was slain in battle in the autumn of 1874, and his uncle Hassab Alla, who sought to maintain the independence of his country, was captured in 1875 by the troops of the khedive, and removed to Cairo with his family. The Darfurians were restive under Egyptian rule. Various revolts were suppressed, but in 1879 General Gordon (then governorgeneral of the Sudan) suggested the reinstatement of the ancient royal family. This was not done, and in 1881 Slatin Bey (Sir Rudolf von Slatin) was made governor of the province. Slatin defended the province against the forces of the Mandi, who were led by a Rizighat sheik named Madibbo, but was obliged to surrender (December 1883), and Darfur was incorporated in the Mandi's dominions. The Darfurians found Dervish rule as irksome as that of the Egyptians had been, and a state of almost constant warfare ended in the gradual retirement of the Dervishes from Darfur. Following the overthrow of the khalifa at Omdurman in 1898 the new (Anglo-Egyptian) Sudan government recognized (1899) Ali Dinar, a grandson of Mahommed-elFadhl, as sultan of Darfur, on the payment by that chief of an annual tribute of X oo. Under Ali Dinar, who during the Mandia had been kept a prisoner in Omdurman, Darfur enjoyed a period of peace.

The first European traveller known to have visited Darfur was William George Browne, who spent two years (1793-1795) at Kobbe. Sheik Mahommed-el-Tounsi travelled in 1803 through various regions of Africa, including Darfur, in search of Omar, his father, and afterwards gave to the world an account of his wanderings, which was translated into French in 1845 by M. Perron. Gustav Nachtigal in 1873 spent some months in Darfur, and since that time the country has become well known through the journeys of Gordon, Slatin and others.

AuTnoxi'rIEs. - Browne's account of Darfur will be found in his Travels in Africa, Egypt and Syria (London, 1799); Nachtigal's Sahara and Sudan gives the results of that traveller's observations. The first ten chapters of Slatin Pasha's book Fire and Sword in the Sudan (English edition, London, 1896) contain much information concerning the country, its history, and a full account of the overthrow of Egyptian authority by the Mandi. See also The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (London, 1905), edited by Count Gleichen, and the bibliography given under Sudan.

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