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George Peter Murdock
1897 — 1985

Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

Africa. Its Peoples and Their Culture History

New York. McGraw-Hill. 1959. 456 p.


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Explore also (a) the SemanticAfrica Peoples Vocabulary
(b) Negroes of the Sudan Fringes mind-mapping diagram

Part Four
North African Agricultural Civilization
— 17 —
Negroes of the Sudan Fringe

The early agricultural civilization which arose around the headwaters of the Niger River and gradually diffused eastward across the entire breadth of the Sudan to the Nile Valley also spread northward to the edge of the Sahaa as far as geographical conditions permitted. As we have seen, however, it did not penetrate the desert, where the Negro inhabitants continued to live a nomadic life of hunting and gathering until their Caucasoid neighbors to the north had received from Southwest Asia the Neolithic crops and techniques that could be adapted to oasis conditions. It was not, of course, until much later that the Berbers occupied portions of the Sahara. But they, and presumably the Egyptians even earlier, did establish trade relations across the desert with the Sudan, thus stimulating the adoption of agricultue by the Saharan Negroes.
As this trade developed, its impact was naturally felt first and strongest by the Negro peoples inhabiting the northern fringe of the udan. It was they who enjoyed the resulting economic prosperiy, who benefited by the new products of Mediterranean origin, and who were in a position to enrich their cultures by borrowing adapti,e elements from those with whom they traded. In conseguence, they must then have achieved the cultural leadership in the Sudan which they seem to have held ever since. During the historical period most of them have accepted Islam and much of its associated culture, so that they must be regarded today as consti tuting the African frontier of the Moslem world and of the great Middle Eastern culture area. Elements of Arabic origin now obtrude so prominently, indeed, that it is no easy problem to isolate the features of culture borrowed during earlier period.
The most intensive impact must naturally always have been felt in the immediate vicinity of the Sudanic termini of the four major trans-Saharan caravan routes. At precisely these points, from the dawn of recorded history to modern times, there have existed strong native states with relatively complex cultures and comparatively elaborate political systems, whose antecedents doubt less go far back into the prehistoric past. The spheres of influence of these state enable us to divide the Sudan fringe into a number of distinct provinces. At the termini of the easternmost trail, the Selima, leading from Egypt, lie the states and provinces of Darfur and Wadai. Farther west, the Bilma Trail links Libya with the states and provinces of Bagirmi and Bornu. The Gadames Trail from ancient Carthage and modern Tunisia terminates at the major cities of the Hausa states and province. From Morocco the Taodeni Trail leads to the middle and upper Niger. The states of the latter, notably Ghana and its successors, have already been described, together with the cultures of their surviving populations, in Chapter 11. The alternative terminus on the middle Niger, with Timbuktu as the principal mercantile center, is occupied by the Songhai nation and province. The several provinces in order from east to west, with the peoples who compose them, are br iefly characterized below.

Kanuri Horsemen in Bornu
Kanuri Horsemen in Bornu
(Courtesy British Information Services.)

Darfur Province

Exclusive of Arabic and other intrusive peoples described elsewhere, all the constituent groups of this province speak languages of the Dagu branch of the Eastern Sudanic subfamily, with the single exception of the Fur, who constitute the sole members of the independent Furian stock.
The province has a total population of about 750,000, but no reliable breakdown by tribes is available. Although Darfur was doubtless the first province to experience contact with ancient Egypt, via either the Selima Trail or the Nile Valley, its actual historical record does not begin until the fourteenth or fifteenth century.

  1. Dagu (Dadio, Dago, Daju, Tagu), with the kindred Bego (Baygo, Beigo).
  2. Fur (For, Forawa), embracing the Dalinga, Forenga, Kamminga, Karakarit, Kungara, and Temurka. They are the dominant people of the province politically and probably also numerically.
  3. Kimr (Erembeli, Guemra, Guimr). They are the inhabitants of Dar Kimr.
  4. Sila (Sula). They are a branch of the Dagu, from whom they split off several centuries ago to settle in Dar Sila. An offshoot of the ila, the Shatt (Dagu), later migrated to Kordofan and settled in the western Juba Hills, where about 2,000 still survive.
  5. Tama, with the kindred Erenga (Djebel, Iringa) and Sungor (Soungor). They are a branch of the Sila who settled Dar Tama, whence they displaced the Kimr.

Wadai Province

Except for two groups, the Merarit and Mubi, all the indigenous tribes of this province speak languages of the independent Maban stock. They have a total population of nearly a million. The historical record begins at the same late date as does that for Darfur.

  1. Maba (Wadaians), embracing the Bandula (Banadoula, Madala), Fala (Bakka), Ganyanga, Kashmere (Kachmere), Kadjanga (Abu Derreg), Karanga (Malanga), Kelinguen (Kelingane), Kodvi (Kudu), Madaba, Marfa, Matlambe, and Moyo. They number nearly 300,000 and dominate Wadai politically.
  2. Masalit (Massalat).
  3. Merarit (Mararet), with the kindred Ali, Chale, Kubu (Koubou), and Oro. These tribes constitute the distinct Merarit branch of the Eastern subfamily of the Sudanic linguistic stock.
  4. Mimi (Mima, Moutoutou).
  5. Mubi (Moubi), with the kindred Karbo (Korbo, Kourbo). These people speak languages of the Chadic subfamily of the Hamitic stock and are doubtless intrusive from the west.
  6. Runga (Rounga). They are the inhabitants of Dar Rounga.

Bagirmi Province

Since the beginning of dependable history in the early sixteenth century, political hegemony in this province has rested with peoples of the Central Sudanic linguistic subfamily, but they are probably in trusive into the area from the south. The Bua group of Eastern Nigritic speech presumably represents an even later arrival from the southwest. The original inhabitants appear to have belonged to the Chadic subfamily of the Hamitic linguistic stock, which is still numerically strong. Cultural and demographic data are nearly as scanty as for Wadai, but a total population of 150,000 was reported in 1925. Islam has not as yet penetrated the entire province.

  1. Bagirmi, with the Busso. The Central Sudanic Bagirmi, who dominate the province politically, were reported to number 31,000 in 1925.
  2. Bua, with the Koke (Khoke), Nielim Njillem, Nyelem), and Tunia (Tounia). This Eastern Nigritic group, reported in 1925 to number about 7,000, is still mainly pagan.
  3. Fanyan (Fagnia, Fanian, Nuba). This tribe, reported to number 1,200 in 1925, is only partially Islamized. The linguistic affiliation of this group, though nor specifically reported, is probably Chadic.
  4. Gaberi (Gabri, Ngabre), with the Chiri (Chere, Shere, Tshire), Dormo, Lele, and Nangire (Nancere). This Chadic group is pagan in religion.
  5. Kenga (Kenya, Khenga), with the Babalia, Diongor, Masmadjc, and Saba. This Central Sudanic group, numbering about 3.000 in 1925, is still pagan.
  6. Kun (Kuang, Kung). The linguistic affiliation of this pagan group is not reported but is presumably Chadic.
  7. Lisi, embracing the Bulala (Boulala, Maga), Kuka (Kouka), Midogo, Medogo, Mudogo), and Semen (Abu Semen). These peoples, who are also found in Kanem, are Central Sudanic in speech, indifferent Moslems in religion, and considerably mixed with Caucasoid elements.
  8. Musgu (Mousgou, Musgum, Musuk). This Chadic tribe, numbering about 35,000, is only slightly Islamized.
  9. Sokoro (Bedanga), with the Barein (Barain) and Yalna. This Chadic group, still pagan in religion, was reported to number about 13,000 in 1915.
  10. Somrai, with the Deressia, Kabalai, Mesme, Milru (Milrou), Modgel, Ndam, Sarwa (Sarua), and Tumak (Toummak, Tummok). This Chadic group is still pagan.

Bornu Province

The indigenous population of this province, as of Bagirmi, appears to have been Chadic in language but not specifically Hausa. They have long been politically dominated, however, by peoples of the Kanuric linguistic stock akin to the Saharan Negroes who control the Bilma Trail and who very probably penetrated the region from the north with the aid of superior sociocultural techniques acquired from the North African Berbers in the caravan trade. They enter history in the eighth century with the establishment of the Sef dynasty, which held power, first in Kanem and later in Bornu, until 1846—perhaps the longest dynastic reign on record anywhere in the world.

  1. Auyokawa, with the Shirawa and Teshenawa. This Chadic people, now largely acculturated to the Hausa, number about 50,000. They were Islamized in the seventeenth cenrury.
  2. Bede (Bedde). This Chadic group, numbering about 50,000, is still largely pagan.
  3. Beriberi, with the Dogara (Dagra). This Kanuric people, numbering about 110,000, are strongly acculturated to the Hausa, whose language some of them have adopted.
  4. Bolewa (Bole, Borlawa, Fika). This Chadic group, with a semi-independent kingdom, has a population of about 35,000.
  5. Buduma (Boudouma, ] edina. Yedina), with the Kuri (Kouri). These Chadic people, who number about 20,000, inhabit aboout seventy islands in Lake Chad, where they subsist primarily by fishing and animal husbandry with only auxiliary agriculture.
  6. Kanembu (Hamedj), embracing the Bade, Baribu, Chiroa (Tschiroa), Dalatoa, Danoa (Danawa, Haddad), Diabu, Galabu, Gudjiru, Kaburi, Kadjidi, Kankena, Kanka (Konku), Maguemi, Ngejim (Ngischem), and Sugurti (Tsugurti). This Kanuric nation, numbering about 75,000, was Islamized in the late eleventh century.
  7. Kanuri (Beriberi, Kanoury), with the Magumi (Magomi). This Kanuric nation, numbering nearly a million, has been politically dominant since 1380, when the ruling dynasty moved from Kanem to Bornu.
  8. Karekare (Kerekere), with the kindred Ngamo (Gamawa). This Chadic group, still largely pagan, numbers about 55,000.
  9. Koroko (Logone, Makari), with the kindred Ngala. These Chadic people probably) number in excess of 100,000.
  10. Koyam (Kai, Kojam). This Kanuric tribe numbers about 15,000.
  11. Mandara (Ndara, Mandala), width the Gamergu and Maya. This Chadic group numbers about 80,000, mainly Moslems.
  12. Manga (Mangawa). This Kanuric nation numbers abour 100,000.
  13. Mober (Mobber). This Chadic tribe has a population of about 25,000.
  14. Ngizim (Ngezzim). This Chadic tribe, numbering about 25,000 is only partially Islamized.
  15. Tera (Kemaltu, Terawa), with the kindred Hina (Hinna) and Jera (Jara, Jerra). This Chadic group, numbering about 10,000, is incompletely Islamized.

Hausa Province

All the peoples of this province speak languages of the Hausa branch of the Chadic subfamily of the Hamitic stock. As indicated in Chapter 16, at least some of them appear to have come from the north, where they once occupied the central portion of the Sahara, whence they were driven by the Berbers under Arab pressure. That Chadic peoples have long inhabited the Sudan, however, is indicated by the presence of other branches of the subfamily, not only in the Bornu and Bagirmi provinces, but also in the Nigerian plateau area. Though never politically unified until their conquest by the Fulani in the nineteenth century, the Hausa peoples, probably as a result of long experience in the trans-Saharan caravan trade, have achieved a degree of cultural unity comparable to that of the great nation of Europe in modern times and are perhaps the only nation of Negro Africa where this can definitely be said to have happened prior to European colonial occupation. They are likewise literate. Long ago they adopted the Arabic alphabet for writing their own language and have since produced an extensive literature, especially of a historical character. The famous Kano Chronicle, for example, gives us unusual historical depth for this part of the Sudan, although the events recorded before the fourteenth century deal mainly with wars among the various Hausa states.

  1. Adarawa (Aderaoua), with the Azna (Anna. Arna, Asna, Azena), Gubeiand Tulumi (Touloumey). They number about 250,000 and are incompletey Islamized.
  2. Hausa (Haoussa), embracing the indigenous inhahitants of the former states of Daura (the Daurawa), Gobir, Kano (the Kanawa), Katsna (the Katsenawa), Kebbi (the Kebbawa), Zamfara, and Zaria (the Zazzagawa). With their pagan kinsmen, the Maguzawa, they number about 5 million.
  3. Kurfei (Kourfey, Soudie). They number about 40,000 and are largely pagan.
  4. Maguzawa (Pagan Hausa). These people are pagan in religion but otherwise indistinguishable from the Hausa proper. Since they are geographically interspersed with the latter, the mapping of their territory is arbitrary.
  5. Mauri (Maouri). This pagan tribe numbers about 75,000.
  6. Tazarawa, with the Tegamawa and substantial remnants of the Hausa of Daura and Gobir now residing in French territory. They number about 600,000, of whom approximately a third are still pagan.

Songhai Province

West of the Hausa, along the Niger River where it great bend touches the edge of the Sahara Desert, reside the peoples who contitute the sole representatives of the independent Songhaic linguistic rock. They appear to have come from the western part of the Hausa country, whence they ascended the Niger to their present location. They enter history about A.D. 700.

  1. Dendi. These people, who number about 40,000, occupied their present rerrirory by conquest from the Mlande-speaking Tienga abour 150 years ago.
  2. Songhai (Songhoi, Sonhray). This nation, numbering abour 330,000, has usually exercised political domination in the province.
  3. Zerma (Djerma, Dyerma, Zaberma). These people number about 250,000.

Since actual recorded history begins earlier in the western than in the eastern provinces of the Sudan fringe, we may present our historical summary in reverse geographical order. When the Songhai first appeared in history, they were ruled by a dynasty of pagan Lemta Berbers who had been driven from Tripolitania in the first Arab conquest. From their capital at Kukia on the Niger below Gao they gradually extended their sway up the river and, in 1009, removed their administrative center to Gao. The conversion of the people to Islam began at about this time. In 1325 the Malinke of Mali captured Timbuktu and Gao and dominated the middle Niger until 1433, when they lost Timbuktu to the Tuareg. In 1465 a Songhai prince of Gao, named Sonni Ali, drove the Tuareg from Timbuktu and, in 1473, occupied Djenne. After his death one of his principal lieutenants, a Soninke named Askia, overthrew Sonni Ali's son and founded a new dynasty in 1493. Askia tried unsuccessfully to reduce the Mossi state, but he wrested large territories from Mali and, in 1512, launched a series of attacks against the Hausa states, conquering Gobir, Zamfara, Katsena, Zaria, and Kano in rapid succession. In 1515 he turned against the Tuareg, occupied Agades, expelled the bulk of the local population, and e tablished there a Songhai colony, of which remnants surive to the present day. Under Askia the Songhai enjoyed enormous property, a university was established at Timbuktu, and the fame of the kingdom was spread throughout the Moslem world by a pilgrimage, which the ruler made to Meca with a large force of retainers and a huge gift in gold for charitable foundations in the holy city.
The wealth of the onghai state aroused the cupidity of the Sultan of Morocco, Ahmed el Mansur, who seized the rich salt mines of Terhaza in the Sahara in 1585 and, in 1591, dispatched an army equipped with firearms which took Gao by surprise. Within a year hi forces had also occupied and sacked Timbuktu and Djenné. The Moroccans withdrew their military forces in 1618 and left the administration in the hands of a pasha. After 1660 the pashas of Timbuktu achieved independence, but the Moroccan regime of pillage and extortion had so disrupted the economy of the region that the trans-Saharan trade shifted to more ea terly routes and prosperity vanished. After 1780 the Tuareg achieved political dominance on the middle Niger and held it, except for a brief period of Bambara rule around 1800, until the French occupation in 1893.
The Hausa peoples received their first knowledge of Islam from the fourteenth in the fourteenth century, when the Malinke kingdom of Mali, then at its apogee, dispatched merchants and emissaries to their country. The conversion of King Yaji of Kano (1349-1385) initiated the penetration of this new religion, which has proceeded at fluctuating rates ever since and is today nearly complete. After their conquest by King Askia of Songhai, the Hausa gradually recovered their independence. With the Moroccan conquest of Gao and Timbuktu in 1591 they entered on a period of great economic prosperity. Under the disturbed conditions prevailing on the middle Niger the bulk of the trans-Saharan caravan trade, which had heretofore followed the Taodeni Trail to Timbuktu, shifted to the Gadames Trail, whose termini, Kano and Katsena, now became the great mercantile metropoles of the Sudan. A new threat soon appeared from the south with the rising power of the Jukun state of Kororofa, which repeatedly invaded the Hausa country and exacted tribute from Kano and some of its neighbors throughout most of the seventeenth century.

The pastoral Fulani, who had begun to infiltrate the region in the fifteenth century, had become a significant element in the population by the eighteenth century, but the story of the holy war warred by Osman dan Fodio and of his conquest of the Hausa states (1804-1809) must be reserved until Chapter 55.
Islam penetrated the Bornu province in the latter part of the eleventh century. During the early thirteenth century, political and military expansion carried the borders of the state of Kanem to Fezzan in the north, Wadai in the east, and the Niger River in the west. In 1380, however, the Bulala tribe of Lisi from Bagirmi occupied Kanem, and the ruler fled to the west of Lake Chad, where he founded the state of Bornu, the center of political power in the province ever since. King Idris Alowa (1571-1603) of Bornu, obtaining firearms from the Turks of Tunisia, embarked on an ambitious career of conquest. He subjugated the Asben Tuareg of ir, the Hausa Hare of Kano, and the Kotoko, Mandara, Margi, Musgu, and Ngizim tribes to the south and, in the seventeenth century, also reduced Bagirmi to tributary status. During the latter part of the eighteenth century the Fulani began to infiltrate the country, but an attempt by the followers of Osman dan Fodio to conquer Bornu was repulsed in 1809. Kanem, however, suffered invasions by the Bagirmi and the Soliman Arabs, and Bornu, weakencd by these struggles, was conquered by Wadai in 1846, bringing to a close the long reign of the Sef dynasty. In 1894, Rabeh, an Arabized Negro slave raider and adventurer from Sennar on the Nile, after a career of depredation and conquest in the central Sudan, reduced Bornu and established there the capital of a completely exploitative state. He was defeated and slain by the French in 1898, and shortly thereafter his country was parceled among the British, French, and Germans.
Although Islam was introduced into the Bagirmi province around l 600, its spread there has been relatively limited. Throughout much of their history, the dominant Bagirmi have fought and frequently subjugated the Lisi, Kotoko, Mandara, Sokoro, and Somrai. Wedged in, however, between the stronger states of Bornu on the west and Wadai on the east, the Bagirmi have usually been tributary to one or the other and at best have been able only to harass them by an occasional attack without the prospect of conquest. Tribes of Baggara, or Cattle Arabs, began to infiltrate the province from the east during the seventeenth century, and the Fulani from the west somewhat later. In the early nineteenth century the Soliman Arabs from Tripolitania ravaged Bagirmi, which survived only with help from Wadai.
Rabeh conquered the province in 1892 and, from his subsequent capital in Bornu, subjected it to nearly a decade of systematic plunder.
The Arabic-speaking Tungur arrived in Darfur in the fourteenth or fifteenth century and later spread to Wadai. Because of their language the Tungur have usually been assumed to be Arabs, but they do not regard themselves as such, and the assumption is further contradicted by indications that they did not accept Islam until the seventeenth century, the period of the conversion of the other peoples of Darfur and Wadai. The fact that they still use the sign of the cross suggests that they may formerly have been Christians, and there are other intimations that they were originally Arabized Berbers or Nubians who reached the Sudan from, or by way of, the Christian kingdom of Dongola in Nubia. They intermarried with the Dagu, who had previously been politically dominant in Darfur, and succeeded them in power. Soon afterward they extended their sway to Wadai. Race mixture and acculturation continued, and after 1600 dynasties of native origin replaced them in both states. Since then the Fur have been the dominant group in Darfur and the Maba in Wadai. The two states, traditional rivals, have waged war intermittently throughout their history. Darfur, the stronger until the seventeenth century, also had political ambitions in the east and ewen conquered Kordofan and temporarily reduced the Fung kingdom of Sennar. Wadai dominated Bagirmi and frequently warred with Bornu. Both yielded considerable territory to the Baggara, or Cattle Arabs, in the expansion of the latter into the central Sudan, and Darfur succumbed ro the Egyptians in 1875 and to the Mahdists in 1883 before the establishment of British rule.
The basic economy differs remarkably little throughout the Sudan fringe. With the sole exception of the Buduma of Lake Chad, all peoples depend for subsistence primarily upon hoe cultivation. The influence of North Africa reveals itself in the fairly widespread practice of irrigation, the occasional appearance of the Egyptian shadoof, the use of animal manure as fertilizer, and the cultivation of a few of the crops of the Egyptian complex, notably garlic, melons, onions, and occasionally even wheat and the date palm. Newertheless, the Sudanic complex unquestionably takes precedence. Sorghum and millet are everywhere the staples, and the sources attest every other crop of this complex except coleus, the Guinea yam, the oil palm, and yergan. Ambary, fonio, and rizga, however, are confined to the two westernmost provinces. Borrowings from all other sources, omitting very exceptional occurrences, include rice and yams from Southeast Asia, cucumbers and mangoes from India, and maize, manioc, peanuts, peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and tomatoes from the New World.
Animal husbandry regularly provides an important supplement to agriculture. All tribes possess cattle, sheep, goats, dogs, and chickens in substantial numbers, and many of them also keep horses, donkeys, pigeons, bees, and, at caravan centers, camels. In sharp contrast to most of their southern neighbors, the fringe peoples milk their cows and goats and make butter—an indubitable reflection of orth African influence. Hunting is negligible everywhere, but fishing assumes considerable importance except in the Hausa province. The tribes around Lake Chad gather wild rice and waterlily roots, and the Hausa peoples collect substantial quantities of locust beans, shea nuts, and wild baobab and tamarind fruits. Regular markets, both local and regional, are universal, with cowrie shells and strips of cotton cloth serving as the most widespread media of exchange. Specialized handicraft manufactures are highly developed, and the caravan trade, of course, plays a dominating role in the economy. In Bornu, to select but a single example, caravans bring cotton fabrics, leather goods, and kola nuts from the Hausa country and salt, narron, and Mediterranean manufactured articles from the north, returning with dried fish, ivory, ostrich feathers, and slaves. In the division of labor by sex the men hunt, do most of the fishing, clear the land for agriculture, herd the larger animals, and conduct the caravan commerce, whereas women engage in petty trade and do most of the milking.
Agricultural field work and the care of smaller animals, once shared nearly equally by the two sexes, tend to become increasingly masculine concerns where Islam has become firmly established.
The prevailing pattern of rural settlement is a compact village of round huts with conical thatched roofs and cylindrical walls of mars or mud, grouped in rectangular compounds fenced with sorghum talks or earth walls. Many groups in the Hausa and Bornu provinces, however, live in neighborhoods of dispersed family homesteads, and in the Buduma and Kanembu tribes the dwellings more commonly assume a beehive shape without distinct walls. The larger towns and cities in all provinces, however, diverge from this characteristically Sudanic pattern toward one more typical of North Africa. Usually divided into wards, or quarters, they are frequently fortified with turreted walls of brick or stone laid in mud and often contain rectangular houses with flat roofs of beaten earth. battlemented walls of sun-dried bricks, and interior courtyards. The urban Musgu build dwellings of a unique and architecturally striking type. These are very tall and of beehive shape and are constructed of mud with a waterproof coating of clay and dung and with ribbed projections to prevent erosion from rain.
Marriage unisersally involves a bride-price in livestock or money, and the Karekare, Tera, and some Tazzarawa also require premarital bride-service. In all reported cases the preferred union is with a cross-cousin, and wherever Islam is strong, marriage with a parallel cousin is almost equally favored. Polygyny prevails everywhere in the nonsororal form and has a high incidence except among the Fur. The first wife enjoys a privileged status, but each co-wife ha her own hut and the husband circulates from one to another in regular rotation. The Ngizim practice cicisbeism; a man may pay another man half of the normal bride-price for the privilege of sleeping with the latter's wife. Moslem tribes ordinarily forqib levirate and sororate unions, but pagans commonly permit them, especially in the junior form.
The Fur, who constitute the only exception to the otherwise universal rule of patrilocal residence, are organized in matrilocal extended families, each with a common men's mess. Elsewhere the residential unit varies between an independent polygynous household and a patrilocal extended family. Except for the Dagu, who follow the matrilineal rule of inheritance, property is always transmitted in the male line, usually in accordance with the Koranic provision that sons participate equally while daughters receive half share.
With the possible exception of the Fur, descent is invariably patrilineal. Pagan tribes like theMaguzawa are often organized in exogamous but noncorporate patrisibs with totemic food taboos, but Moslem groups have only agamous patrilineages. Kinship terminology of the Iroquois type is reported for the Buduma, Songhai, and Tera; of the Hawaiian type for the Bolewa, Hausa, Karekare, Maguzawa, and Ngizim. Clitoridectomy is not customary, but all tribes save the Musgu apparently practice circumcision. The Bolewa and Tera formerly took the heads of slain enemies as trophies, but cannibalism is completely unknown in the area.
All except the most marginal groups reveal a complex social stratification. The major classes are:

  1. A privileged nobility, often headed by a royal lineage
  2. Free commoners, frequently divided into wealthy merchants, artisans, and peasant farmers
  3. Slaves, including debt slaves.

In addition, endogamous depressed castes of smiths, leatherworkers, hunter, and griots are commonly differentiated in the westernmost provinces.
The cultures of the Sudan fringe, as described up to this point, represent a mixture of element derived from a variety of sources (see Table 3). We may now face the moot problem of the culture-historical affiliations of the political institutions of the area, already alluded to in Chapter 6.

Table 3: Affiliations of the Cultures of the Sudan Fringe

Segment of culture Historical affiliation
Language Negro African except for the very old connection of Chadic with Hamitic
Religion Preponderantly recent Southwest Asian, i.e., Islamic
Agriculture Overwhelmingly Sudanic with modest Egyptian and American increments
Animal husbandry Exclusively Southwest Asian, ranging from Neolithic through Greco-Roman times
Commerce and industry Predominantly North African, especially Berber and Carthaginian
House type and settlement pattern Basically indigenous Sudanic but with strong North African increments
Marriage, family, and kinship Fundamentally Sudanic with important Arab-Islamic modifications
Social stratification Primarily North frican Arabic, overlying an indigenous foundation

All the major societies of the udan fringe: together with those previously encountered among the uclear Mande, Voltaic, and Plateau Nigerian peoples, as well as others to be examined in future chapters, are characterized by monar chical bureaucratic states which conform to a strikingly uniform pattern. Because of certain basic resemblances to Oriental despotisms in other parts of the world, we have designated this pattern as the African despotism. The question arises whether this type of political system represents an indigenous development in the Sudan or has been derived from North Africa, and, if the latter, from what specific source. We can quickly eliminate a series of North African societies as the primary source:

  1. The Berbers and Carthaginians because their republican institutions diverge from the despotic ones of the Sudan in almost every conceivable respect.
  2. The Arabs both because their advent in North Africa is much too late to have provided a model for the Sudan states and because their characteristic political organization in North Africa, described in Chapter 52, also differs sharply from the Sudanic pattern.
  3. Roman, Byzantine, and Turkish North Africa because their political systems, though also despotic, were themselves derivative with elaborate protocol, and etiquette demand extreme obeisance toward those of superior status.

The ecclesiastical and military organizations integrate closely with the administrative. The ruler normally serves as the chief mediator with the supernatural; he himself is frequently, though not universally, considered a divine figure and hedged in with ritual taboos; and he commonly has a chief priest as one of his principal ministers.. Provincial governors bear military as well as administrative obligations, and the council of ministers typically includes such figures as the commander in chief of the army and the captain of cavalry.
Official positions at all levels are associated with a graded series of honorific titles, some but not all of which are confined to the aristocracy. Since they are rarely strictly hereditary, competition and intrigue to obtain t!lem are rife. At the apex of the structure stands a privy council of higher ministers, who in the Sudan usually combine offices in the territorial organization with specialized functions at the capital. They commonly include, in addition to ecclesiastical and military functionaries, a prime minister or vizier, a chief justice, a supervisor of public works, a chief of police, and an heir designate. Succession, however, is rarely automatic, as by primogeniture, although it is regularly confined to sons of former kings. In many states, a small group of leading ministers who are not themselves eligible for the succession serve as an electoral college with power to select the new ruler without reference to the wishes of his predecessor.
This generalized description of the Sudanic state accords closely with what we know of the political organization of Pharaonic Egypt. Since, however, it reveals no notable inconsistencies with the structure of Oriental despotisms in other parts of the world, it cannot be taken as proof of Egyptian derivation. Even the use of elevated slaves as ministers and territorial officials, attested for the Bagirmi, Hausa, Kanuri, Lisi, and Maba, has precedents elsewhere. However, the Sudanic and Pharaonic states share a few highly specific features that are absent or rare in historically independent absolutistic and bureaucratic systems. Particularly striking among these is the high prestige accorded to certain female statuses of royal rank.
The Pharaonic Egyptians recognized two such statuses, each associated with independent landed estates: the Queen-Consort, or status wife of the king, and the Queen-Mother, the widow of the previous monarch, the mother of the reigning one, or commonly both at the same time. The Queen-Consort occurs, as might perhaps be expected, in practically every Sudanic state, while a prestigeful Queen-Mother, a much less universal status, is specifically attested for the Bagirmi, Bolewa, Kanuri, Maba, and Mandara. In addition, a number of Sudanic states, notably those of the Bagirmi, Fur, and Kanuri, recognize a third great royal female figure, a Queen-Sister, who is usually the eldest sister of the monarch with authority over all the women of the palace or court. Among the ancient Egyptians, who practiced dynastic incest, the Queen-Consort was commonly also the king's sister. If the Negroes of the Sudan borrowed their political institutions from Egypt, it is quite understandable that, with the prevailing strong taboos against primary incest, they might have separated the dual status of the Pharaonic queen into its constituent functional elements of Queen-Consort and Queen-Sister.
As already indicated in Chapter 6, the writer feels incapable of rendering a final decision between the two alternatives, although he suspects a combination of original independent parallelism with subsequent cultural borrowing.

Selected Bibliography