Dongola, Sudan (Province) - Encyclopedia

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'DONGOLA,' a mudiria (province) of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. It lies wholly within the region known as Nubia and extends along both banks of the Nile from about 18° N. to 20° N. The rainfall is very slight, and the area of fertility is mainly confined to the lands watered by the Nile. Beyond stretches eastward the Nubian desert, westward the Libyan desert. The Wadi el Kab (Gab), west of and parallel to the Nile, contains, however, a good deal of arable land. This wadi, which is some 63 m. long, obtains water by percolation from the Nile. Farther west is the extensive plateau of Jebel Abiad, and beyond, some 250 m. due west of Debba, is Bir Natron, or Bir Sultan, a valley whence natron is obtained. In this desert region is found the addax, the rarest of Sudan antelopes. The chief grain crops are durra and barley, and date palms are extensively cultivated. The province is also noted for a breed of strong, hardy horses. The largest town is Dongola, but the administrative headquarters of the mudiria are at New Merawi (Merowe, Meroe), on the left bank of the Nile, below the 4th cataract. Other towns, also on the Nile, are Debba and Korti, whence start caravan routes to Kordofan and Omdurman. At Jebel Barkal, in the neighbourhood of Merawi, and elsewhere in the mudiria, are ancient ruins (see Sudan: Anglo-Egyptian). Old Merawi, on the right bank of the Nile, and Sanam Abu Dom, on the left bank, indicate the site of the Ethiopian city of Napata. From Kareima, on the right or northern bank of the Nile, 6 m. above New Merawi, a railway (opened in March 1906) runs to Abu Hamed, whence there is railway connexion with the Red Sea, Khartum and Egypt. From Kareima downstream the Nile is navigable to Kerma, just above the 3rd cataract. Between 1896 and 1904 a railway ran between Kerma and Wadi Halfa. In the last-named year this railway was closed. It had been built for purely military purposes and was unremunerative as a commerical undertaking.

The Dongolese (Dongolawi, Danaglas, Danagalehs) are Nubas in type and language, but have a large admixture of Arab, Turk and other blood. They are great agriculturists and keen traders, and were notorious slave-dealers. South of Old Dongola the inhabitants are not Nubians but Shagia, and the Nubian tongue is replaced by Arabic. Of the nomad desert tribes the chief are the Hawawir and Kabbabish.

The country now forming the mudiria was once part of the ancient empire of Ethiopia, Napata being one of its capital cities. From about the beginning of the Christian era the chief tribes in the region immediately south of Egypt were the Blemmyes and the Nobatae. The last named became converted to Christianity about the middle of the 6th century, through the instrumentality, it is stated, of the empress Theodora. A chieftain of the Nobatae, named Silko, between the middle and the close of that century, conquered the Blemmyes, founded a new state, apparently on the ruins of that of the southern Meroe (Bakarawiya), made Christianity the official religion of the country, and fixed his capital at (Old) Dongola. This state, now generally referred to as the Christian kingdom of Dongola, lasted for eight or nine hundred years. Though late in reaching Nubia, Christianity, after the wars of Silko, spread rapidly, and when the Arab conquerors of Egypt sought to subdue Nubia also they met with stout resistance. Dongola, however, was captured by the Moslems in 652, and the country laid under tribute (bakt)- 400 men having to be sent yearly to Egypt. This tribute was paid when it could be enforced; at periods the Nubians gained the upper hand, as in 737 when Cyriacus, their then king, marched into Egypt with a large army to redress the grievances of the Copts. There is a record of an embassy sent by a king Zacharias in the 9th century to Bagdad concerning the tribute, while by the close of the 10th century the Nubians seem to have regained almost complete independence. They did not, however, possess any part of the Red Sea coast, which was held by the Egyptians, who, during the 9th and 10th centuries, worked the emerald and gold mines between the Nile and the Red Sea. The kingdom, according to the Armenian historian Abu Salih, was in a very flourishing condition in the 12th century. It then extended from Assuan southward to the 4th cataract, and contained several large cities. Gold and copper mines were worked. The liturgy used was in Greek. In 1173 Shams addaula, a brother of Saladin, attacked the Nubians, captured the city of Ibrim (Primis), and among other deeds destroyed 700 pigs found therein. The Egyptians then retired, and for about ioo years the country was at peace. In 1275 the Mameluke sultan Bibars aided a rebel prince to oust his uncle from the throne of Nubia; the sultans Kalaun and Nasir also sent expeditions to Dongola, which was several times captured. Though willing to pay tribute to the Moslems, the Nubians clung tenaciously to Christianity, and, despite the raids to which the country was subjected, it appears during the 12th and 13th centuries to have been fairly prosperous. No serious attempt was made by the Egyptians to penetrate south of Napata, nor is it certain how far south of that place the authority of the Dongola kingdom (sometimes known as Mukarra) extended. It was neighboured on the south by another Christian state, Aloa (Alwa), with its capital Soba on the Blue Nile.

Cut off more and more from free intercourse with the Copts in Egypt, the Nubian Christians at length began to embrace Jewish and Mahommedan doctrines; the decay of the state was hastened by dissensions between Mukarra and Aloa. Nevertheless, the Nubians were strong enough to invade upper Egypt during the reign of Nawaya Krestos (1342-1372), because the governor of Cairo had thrown the patriarch of Alexandria into prison. The date usually assigned for the overthrow of the Christian kingdom is 1351. Only the northern part of the country (as far as the 3rd cataract) came under the rule of Egypt. Nevertheless, according to Leo Africanus, at the close of the 15th century Christianity and native states still survived in Nubia, and in the 16th century the Nubians sent messengers to Abyssinia to Father Alvarez, begging him to appoint priests to administer the sacraments to them - a request with which he was not able to comply. Thereafter the Nubian Church is without records. The Moslems may have extinguished it in blood, for the region between Dongola and Shendi appears to have been depopulated.

Between Assuan and Hannek the Turks introduced in the 16th century numbers of Bosnians, whose descendants ruled the district, paying but a nominal allegiance to the Porte. At Ibrim, Mahass, and elsewhere along the banks and in the islands of the Nile, they built castles, now in ruins. South of Hannek the kings of Sennar became overlords of the country. As the power of the Sennari declined, the nomad Shagia (or Shaikiyeh) attained pre-eminence in the Dongola district.

About 1812 Mamelukes fleeing from Mehemet Ali, the pasha of Egypt,. made themselves masters of part of the country, destroying the old capital and building a new one lower down the Nile. In 1820 both Mamelukes and Shagia were conquered by the Egyptians, and the Dongola province annexed to Egypt. In consequence of the rising of the Dervishes Egypt evacuated Dongola in 1886. The attempt to set up an independent government failed, and the Dervishes held the town until September 1896, when it was reoccupied by an Egyptian force.

See L. Burckhardt, Travels in Nubia (London, 1819); Naum Bey Shucair, The History and Geography of the Sudan (in Arabic, 3 vols., Cairo, 1903); E. A. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Sudan (2 vols., London, 1907).

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