1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abābda

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ABĀBDA (the Gebadei of Pliny, probably the Troglodytes of classical writers), a nomad tribe of African “Arabs” of Hamitic origin. They extend from the Nile at Assuan to the Red Sea, and reach northward to the Kena-Kosseir road, thus occupying the southern border of Egypt east of the Nile. They call themselves “sons of the Jinns.” With some of the clans of the Bisharin (q.v.) and possibly the Hadendoa (q.v.) they represent the Blemmyes of classic geographers, and their location to-day is almost identical with that assigned them in Roman times. They were constantly at war with the Romans, who at last subsidized them. In the middle ages they were known as Beja (q.v.), and convoyed pilgrims from the Nile valley to Aidhab, the port of embarkation for Jedda. From time immemorial they have acted as guides to caravans through the Nubian desert and up the Nile valley as far as Sennar. To-day many of them are employed in the telegraph service across the Arabian desert. They intermarried with the Nuba, and settled in small colonies at Shendi and elsewhere long before the Egyptian invasion (A.D. 1820–1822). They are still great trade carriers, and visit very distant districts. The Abābda of Egypt, numbering some 30,000, are governed by an hereditary “chief.” Although nominally a vassal of the Khedive he pays no tribute. Indeed he is paid a subsidy, a portion of the road-dues, in return for his safeguarding travellers from Bedouin robbers. The sub-sheikhs are directly responsible to him. The Abābda of Nubia, reported by Joseph von Russegger, who visited the country in 1836, to number some 40,000, have since diminished, having probably amalgamated with the Bisharin, their hereditary enemies when they were themselves a powerful nation. The Abābda generally speak Arabic (mingled with Barabra [Nubian] words), the result of their long-continued contact with Egypt; but the southern and south-eastern portion of the tribe in many cases still retain their Beja dialect, To-Bedawiet. Those of Kosseir will not speak this before strangers, as they believe that to reveal the mysterious dialect would bring ruin on them. Those nearest the Nile have much fellah blood in them. As a tribe they claim an Arab origin, apparently through their sheikhs. They have adopted the dress and habits of the fellahin, unlike their kinsmen the Bisharin and Hadendoa, who go practically naked. They are neither so fierce nor of so fine a physique as these latter. They are lithe and well built, but small: the average height is little more than 5 ft., except in the sheikh clan, who are obviously of Arab origin. Their complexion is more red than black, their features angular, noses straight and hair luxuriant. They bear the character of being treacherous and faithless, being bound by no oath, but they appear to be honest in money matters and hospitable, and, however poor, never beg. Formerly very poor, the Abābda became wealthy after the British occupation of Egypt. Their chief settlements are in Nubia, where they live in villages and employ themselves in agriculture. Others of them fish in the Red Sea and then hawk the salt fish in the interior. Others are pedlars, while charcoal-burning, wood-gathering and trading in gums and drugs, especially in senna leaves, occupy many. Unlike the true Arab, the Abābda do not live in tents, but build huts with hurdles and mats, or live in natural caves, as did their ancestors in classic times. They have few horses, using the camel as beast of burden or their “mount” in war. They live chiefly on milk and durra, the latter eaten either raw or roasted. They are very superstitious, believing, for example, that evil would overtake a family if a girl member should, after her marriage, ever set eyes on her mother: hence the Abābda husband has to make his home far from his wife’s village. In the Mahdist troubles (1882–1898) many “friendlies” were recruited from the tribe.

For their earlier history see Beja; see also Bisharin, Hadendoa, Kabbabish; and the following authorities:—Sir F. R. Wingate, Mahdism and the Egyptian Sudan (Lond. 1891); Giuseppe Sergi, Africa: Antropologia della Stirpe Camitica (Turin, 1897); A. H. Keane, Ethnology of Egyptian Sudan (Lond. 1884); Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, edited by Count Gleichen (Lond. 1905); Joseph von Russegger, Die Reisen in Afrika (Stuttgart, 1841–1850). (T. A. J.)