I read a fascinating response to the intriguing question of whether Sudan is an African or Arab country, or actually both - by a Sudanese blogger, who goes by the screen name of The Sudanese Thinker.
He says it’s a tough call but that the feels his country is an Afro-Arab nation. This makes perfect sense, given Sudan’s history and heritage, a subject area our blogger-guide seems to know inside out and is good enough to share with us.
The Sudanese Spectrum
Sudan belongs to both the African Union and Arab League, and has around 600 different tribes, some of which are African, some Afro-Arab and others Arab.
Within Sudan’s diverse ethnic landscape you can find purely African tribes such as the Nuer from Southern Sudan. The Rashaida, hailing from the East of country, represent the most recent Arab tribe to arrive in Sudan, having crossed the Red Sea from the Arabian Peninsula around 150 years ago. The Rashaida have remained purely Arab as they haven’t intermarried with local African or Afro-Arab tribes.
All the Arab tribes found in Sudan today came over from the Arabian Peninsula at one time or another, while the African tribes such as the Nuer, Dinka, Nuba and Nubians are indigenous.
The Afro-Arab tribes spring from intermarriages between Arab tribes and African tribes. The Sudanese thinker, is ethnically a Shaigee: an (exotic) combination of Nubian, Nuba and Arab blood.
Names and Numbers
Pure Arab tribes like the Rashaida in Sudan are minorities. The majority of tribes are either African or Afro-Arab. Therefore when it comes to numbers, Sudanese are mainly African and not Arab.
“Whether we’re Arab or African, can’t be fully answered without taking into account how we Sudanese view ourselves though.” Sudanese Thinker explains, adding that Southerners consider themselves Africans, while for many Northern Sudanese, it gets a little more “complicated”.
Northern Sudanese are predominantly Afro-Arab, and have been both “Arabized” and “Islamized” so, culturally speaking, Northern Sudanese are mainly Arab, not African.
Arab culture dominates in Sudan, although many Afro-Arab tribes have retained a lot of African traditions and have not been fully Arabized. Still, according to native wisdom from our trusted source, Arab culture is what ties many tribes together in Sudan, with the other common link being Islam. About 70% of Sudan’s population is Muslim, and the majority of Sudanese people are multilingual, speaking Arabic together with other languages.
The Sudanese Thinker concludes that (not surprisingly) it’s tricky for him to choose between whether he feels more Arab or more African and life would be easier if he could choose both. He rounds off with a very interesting point: Which one plays a bigger role in forming one’s identity? Ethnicity or culture? For him, as for me: the answer is ethnicity.
The Sudanese Thinker has consecutively been a finalist in the Weblog Awards three years in a row. Seems to me, he’s brilliant, openminded, and both ethnically and culturally informed and aware.
Photos courtesy of worldreligion.nielsonpi.com, sudan101.com.